Black Lung & Tab… Memories of my Childhood

My hometown, Hamilton…. Steeltown – although I will always carry the fond memories only childhood can create – I remember it being significantly more grimy than Vancouver. Thousands upon thousands of hard-working men headed into Stelco & Dofasco each day… to make steel. The very material on which much of society is built, from cars to fences, huge I-beams and countless miles of rebar, gigantic rolls of steel, ingots and pre-made forms to be shipped around the world. It was hard, exhausting work, running in never-ending shifts, 24 hours a day. The positives were, as with all things, off-set by the negatives. The positives included, steady, stable employment and a sense of having accomplished something with your day, a confidence rooted in having a hand in taking raw ingredients pulled from the earth and through sheer force of will and massive, fire-belching coke ovens and blast furnaces, creating one of the most important and versatile materials ever discovered by man. The negatives were evident to anyone who spent time on the lakeshore or found themselves driving over the Skyway.

Making Steel is a dirty business, employing iron ore, coal and elements of limestone and carbon, amongst others – the ore is melted down and then the molten steel is either finished and shaped or combined with nickel or chromium, creating alloys. Obviously, I’m simplifying but for our purposes, its detailed enough – if you are about to make your own Steel and need more specific instructions, I’ll invite you to look elsewhere…

The purpose of my little lesson is as background, so I can tell you a story I remember from my childhood. As I mentioned, the majority of my childhood memories are positive, as is the one I’m about to tell you about. One of the consequences of your father being an employee of the steel mill, was that as his first-born, it was mandatory I worked in the Iron Ore and Coal mines, it’s one of the reason for my alabaster/porcelain skin, spending my formative years just about a mile below the surface of the earth.


To this day I'll never understand why they made us wear turn of the century clothing... This was taken in 1974.

I’m not going to sugar coat my experiences, it was difficult and we lost plenty of good kids down there in the sweaty, choking darkness. I can’t even begin to relate everything that happened, suffice to say, down there, in tunnels 7 & 8 – heaving shovelfuls of coal hour after hour was how I played Lego, swinging a tiny pick-axe time and again, into black, brittle igneous rock was how I practiced baseball… carrying tiny, life-less bodies of kids too new or too stupid to have made it out alive was how I played Doctor as a kid…

I remember this one time in particular – it had been a particularly heavy week for casualties – I had just finished giving little Terry Larabie a field tracheotomy using a sharpened rock and the leftover straw from one of the umpteen Tabs I would drink in a day to stay hydrated, when it hit me…. no really, the sharpened rock hit me and I blacked out. Can’t remember a thing after that… ha ha – I love that story….  hope you enjoyed.

Have a Great Day