Momentum builds for unique young worker memorial
A recent flurry of key public events has spurred remarkable growth in support for an exciting project appropriately named the LifeQuilt.
Toronto visual artist, Laurie Swim first conceived of the LifeQuilt in June 2001. A quilt mural, it will commemorate young lives taken before their time through fatal or serious workplace injuries, but it will also serve as a lasting reminder to those left behind of the need to protect future generations of young workers.
The focal image for the quilt showcases a figure holding its hands to the heavens. It will eventually be overlaid with thousands of organza ribbons imprinted with the name, age and type of injury suffered by a young worker. One hundred commemorative quilt blocks will surround this image, each sharing the precious face of a victim of a fatal workplace injury. The finished quilt will measure nine feet by 18 feet.
Swim approached the Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) and Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) to support this unique project last summer. Understanding the power of art to inspire the IAPA and WHSC set out to form the Friends of the LifeQuilt Committee.
This Committee represents a partnership as unique as the quilt itself. It is a growing group of volunteers drawn from public and private sector organizations nationwide, united in their belief that injuries in the workplace are unacceptable and completely preventable. Together, they are asking the public and other concerned organizations for their help in building this one-of-a-kind memorial.
The first public showing for the LifeQuilt took place at last fall’s Knowledge Transfer conference in Toronto sponsored by the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada. There the project, which relies solely upon volunteers plus financial and in-kind donations, got off to a heartwarming start. The London Occupational Safety and Health Information Service (LOSH), who won the $1,000 first prize for best poster presentation at the conference, signed their cheque over to the LifeQuilt project. “It seemed like a natural thing to do and builds upon the work we’re already engaged in,” says Frank Stilson, LOSH executive director. LOSH’s poster presentation promoted their student safety handbook.
Since then activities at several conferences including those held by the Canadian Auto Workers union and the Ontario Federation of Labour have raised considerable funds and interest. The LifeQuilt media launch in February also met with success. Pearce Shannon, president, Ontario Teachers’ Federation, was on hand to present a cheque for $1,500. Also on hand was Rob Ellis, Honourary Chair of the Friends of the LifeQuilt Committee. Ellis lost his son David to a workplace incident in February, 1999.
Ellis and his son used to ride an old yellow school bus into the east end of Hamilton to help feed single mothers and their children. “We listened to these people, walked with them, gave them food but more importantly gave them hope,” Ellis says. He didn’t realize then some of the most vulnerable and in need of protection were young workers like his son. Ellis adds, “If David were here he’d say, ‘Dad, we need an old school bus too.’”
The media event was held at Toronto’s Marc Garneau Collegiate. In attendance were some 100 co-op students and another 50 special guests. Ellis invited all present to take a different kind of walk with him. He recounted the painful moments, days and now years following David’s death. He suggested the hands featured in the quilt might be his or his younger son’s Caleb’s for instance, raised in grief, but willing to join with others to prevent similar needless tragedies.
While fundraising is critical, Friends of the LifeQuilt are just as interested in gathering names and stories from affected young workers and their families. According to statistics there should be no shortage. Each year across Canada more than 60,000 young workers between the ages of 15 and 24 are injured seriously enough to require time off work. Nearly 100 young workers have been killed on the job in the last two years alone. With each loss goes unfulfilled potential and lost contributions to our communities, not to mention the untold suffering felt by families left behind.
To learn more about the quilt, to volunteer, make a contribution either financial or in-kind visit their website www.youngworkerquilt.ca
or call 1-800-669-4939 ext. 458. To contribute the name and story of a young person (aged 15 to 24) who has been seriously or fatally injured as a result of a workplace incident contact Laura Pascoe at the Workers Health and Safety Centre, 416-441-1939 ext. 3039 or toll free (Toronto) 1-888-869-7950, or e-mail her at email@example.com