Sudbury

Wanted: stories, memories and tales from the Inco strike of 1958

A professor of social studies in Saskatchewan is putting out the call for stories from people who remember the Inco strike of 1958.

Elizabeth Quinlan wants to hear from people who lived through the 3-month strike

September marks the anniversary of the 3-month long Inco strike in Sudbury. (Twitter- @Inco1958Strike)

A professor of social studies in Saskatchewan is putting a call-out for stories from people who remember the Inco strike of 1958.

The strike involved 17,000 workers who were part of Mine Mill — then, one of the largest unions in Canada —  who were pitted against Inco, a powerful company supplying 90 per cent of the world's nickel.

Elizabeth Quinlan from the University of Saskatchewan is writing a book about the historic event and is looking for anyone who has memories of being affected by the strike.

"I want to understand the strike by speaking with people who have memories of the days and weeks of that strike," Quinlan said, adding that she realizes 62 years later, many of the workers may have passed on.

"So I'm also keen to speak with the wives of the strikers and their now adult children," Quinlan said. "Also the Inco salaried employees, the managers, the members of the board of directors who would have crossed the picket line to go to work for the three months of the strike ... or the descendants of any of these people."

In September 1958, the Mine Mill union voted to go on strike, pitting its 17,000 members against Inco, an industrial giant that produced 90 per cent of the world's nickel. (Twitter- @Inco1958Strike)

Quinlan's plan is to compile all the stories in a book, but rather than take an institutional look at the historic period of time, she wants it to speak from the perspective of the day-to-day experience of those who lived it.

"I'm hearing stories about the sintering plant where the dust was so thick you had to take a shovel to find the toilet," Quinlan said. "The Copper Cliff and Coniston smelters, where you froze in the winter because the vents had to stay open year round."

"The furnaces were blasting out such a heat. So you fried in the summer and you froze in the winter, all the while breathing in noxious fumes that gave people perpetual nosebleeds," she said. 

"I've had some conversations with wives and adult children of these men ... one woman told me after going on a tour of the mine where her husband worked. She turned to her husband and she said, 'I'm going to kiss every dollar you make because now I know what it takes for you to earn it.'"

Women showing their support during a 1958 strike vote in Sudbury. (Twitter- @Inco1958Strike)

Although she's based in Saskatchewan, Quinlan said she has a personal connection to the story.

"My father was the research director for Mine Mill union," she said. "The union itself was one of the first to hire a research director."

"During the strike, all the organizers and staff of the union took a pay cut to support the strikers. So my I remember my mother having to cut corners," she said. 

"Like many, my family had just bought a house. So there was a lot of insecurity economically. And so it was very much a topic of discussion in my household as I was growing up."

People interested in contributing to Quinlan's reasearch can reach her by email or visit her website.

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