The procession following Campbell House, March 31, 1972. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 146.
Anyone crossing Adelaide Street between Jarvis and University on the morning of March 31, 1972, would have noticed a slow procession moving in the opposite direction of the street’s normal traffic flow. A crowd had gathered to follow the move of Campbell House, a century-and-a-half-old building that was spared a date with a wrecking ball that other historic buildings in Toronto had experienced during the preceding decade. The relocation was due, as Joni Mitchell might have said, to one company’s desire to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.
Coutts Hallmark bids Campbell House adieu, March 31, 1972. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. Cityof Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 147.
When jurist Sir William Campbell built his Georgian-style home overlooking the intersection of Frederick Street and Duke (now Adelaide) Street in 1822, it was said that he had a clear view of the peninsula across the harbour. Following Campbell’s death in 1834, growth of the city obscured that view from a building that served at various times as a home, factory, office space, and warehouse. By the dawn of the 1970s the property owner, greeting-card maker Coutts Hallmark, was eager to demolish the building to make way for an expanded parking lot. When the Advocates’ Society purchased Campbell House, it was on the condition that the building had to be uprooted. Negotiations with the city’s planning department to find a new home were underway by July 1970. The Advocates’ Society’s original choice on Simcoe Street south of Dundas was rejected by the city due to development plans for the area. The law group didn’t have to look far for a suitable alternative: the south end of Canada Life’s property at Queen and University.
A long-distance view of Campbell House being moved, March 31, 1972. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 144.
In August 1971, the city approved a request by a trustee of the Sir William Campbell Foundation to designate the chosen site as a tax-free zone, which would save the operators forty-three thousand dollars a year. Within a month, tax-free status was granted. A further request for the city to pitch in over fifty thousand dollars a year to maintain Campbell House drew the ire of several councillors, especially Aldermen David Rotenberg and John Sewell. As the plans called for half the building to open to the public as a museum and the rest to be used as space for the Advocates’ Society, Sewell noted “it’s a perfect place to have a private club, particularly for lawyers, but I question whether that club should be subsidized in any way, shape or form.” Rotenberg, then the city budget chief, called the proposal “a new curve that has been thrown at us.” These reservations did not prevent Rotenberg from attending a party held in Moss Park in December to celebrate the preservation attempt, which now included local architecture expert Eric Arthur among its consultants.
Almost there! University Avenue south of Queen Street, March 31, 1972. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 148.
Plans for the move went ahead. Envisioned for fall 1971, it wasn’t until mid-February that preparations were undertaken for the route. To ensure a clear ride for the three-hundred-ton, forty-one-foot-high building, streetcar power lines and traffic lights were removed and manhole covers were shored up. The move took six-and-a-half hours, with the house arriving at its new site only five minutes later than anticipated. A city council meeting on moving day endorsed a resolution to push for a stronger policy on building preservation from the federal government. The lone dissenter was Sewell, still miffed about Campbell House’s “obscene” tax-free status and uprooting. He felt it was “hypocritical” for the city to seek federal aid when it rarely made motions on its own to preserve historic sites. Mayor William Dennison felt the resolution would increase preservation and dismissed Sewell’s comments as “whining.” Stronger heritage regulations eventually came into effect that saved all or portions of similarly threatened structures. As for the parking lot that prompted the move? It proved to be a less permanent element of the city than Campbell House, as the site is now occupied by George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts.
Sources: the August 5, 1971 and February 16, 1972 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the July 18, 1970, September 23, 1971, December 3, 1971, and April 1, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star.
Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on March 20, 2010, marking the 50th anniversary of the Hogg’s Hollow Disaster. Images have been revised for this version.
Artist Laurie Swim and her quilt “Breaking Ground” at York Mills Station. Photo by Larry Goldstein, Wikimedia Commons.
This week saw the installation of a quilt at York Mills subway station to honour five men who lost their lives in what became known as the Hogg’s Hollow Disaster. The deaths of Pasqualle Allegrezza, Giovanni Correglio, Giovanni Fusillo, Alessandro Mantella, and Guido Mantella while working on a watermain under the Don River on March 17, 1960, and the press coverage of the exploitation of their fellow Italian immigrant construction workers led to the strengthening of Ontario’s labour laws.
Work conditions for the thousands of Italian immigrants who laboured during Toronto’s postwar suburban boom were anything but ideal. While union-fought guarantees of lunch breaks and certain safety requirements eased the workday of those working on sites within the city of Toronto, workers on suburban projects faced conditions that included lack of proper sanitation, poor safety inspections, illegal withholding of vacation pay, unpaid overtime, cheques that often bounced, and groundless threats of deportation. The fear of going without work and being unable to support their families in Canada and Italy forced the workers to tolerate the exploitation of their labour. Toothless provincial regulations, some drafted during the Edwardian era, offered little protection. The “sandhogs” who worked in underground tunnels faced constant dangers from cave-ins, exposure to gas leaks, electric shocks, small fires, and maladies related to air decompression, like the bends. It was only a matter of time before tragedy occurred.
Toronto Star, March 18, 1960.
The Hogg’s Hollow watermain project was dogged by bad luck. The new line was intended to connect a pumping station on Wilson Avenue in Armour Heights with the water distribution network at York Mills Road and Victoria Park Avenue. The project was scheduled for completion during the summer of 1959, but the original contractor ran into financial difficulties. Guarantee Co. of North America took over the contract in July and appeared to be committed to expediency more than safety. Foremen concerned with the lack of proper safety precautions were ignored or fired. Former workers later testified that the tunnels lacked fire extinguishers and resuscitators, the timber supports weren’t strong enough, grout was not used on the floor of the tunnel to keep out sand and silt, and there were no extra air compressors. Despite these problems, the site was deemed to meet existing safety standards.
Globe and Mail, March 18, 1960.
Around 6 p.m. on March 17, a dozen workers were underground in a compression chamber west of Yonge Street, welding steel plating. The welding was supposed to have stopped several hours earlier, but the site boss overruled the concerns of superintendent Murray Frank. It was believed that an electric wire that fed the torches overheated and caught fire. Two foremen noticed smoke drifting into the main shaft. Half of the workers escaped through a tunnel to the east and emerged on York Mills Road. They headed to the main shaft to release a valve that would allow the smoke to blow out of the tunnel, but found it was stuck. North York firefighters soon arrived and were instructed to wait at least thirty minutes before watering the tunnel in the hope the blaze would extinguish itself—otherwise the tight tunnel would collapse once water hit it. The air compressor was left on to clear the smoke.
The six men still in the tunnel found themselves trapped by rising temperatures, toxic smoke, and rising levels of sand, silt, and water. Frank and foreman George Sandor attempted to go down and thought they heard at least three voices moaning. Sandor later told the Globe and Mail that he “wanted to go farther but the heat was terrific. I could feel my lungs as though they were going to burst. God only knows I tried, but I couldn’t make it. I had to come out.”
Toronto Star, March 18, 1960.
Among the trapped, Belgian Walter Andruschuk tried to keep the others calm:
I tore my shirt off, soaked it in water and covered my face with it. The other five did that but kept their heads up. They started screaming “Mama Mia.” They got down on their knees and started to pray. I couldn’t keep them quiet. I told them to stay put, that the boys upstairs would come down and get us out. They wouldn’t keep their heads down and conserve energy. The smoke was awful and then the water hit us. It came up to our knees. I was scared but I knew they would come and get us out. But the heat was draining our energy. There was a glimmer of hope; I could see a light from the shaft and I just knew we would be all right. I started back toward the shaft. The other five wouldn’t come with me. They were screaming and down on their knees praying. I grabbed Pasquale Allegrezza by the shirt and started dragging him along the pipe. There was no room to carry him and I couldn’t fight the smoke any longer. I had to let go of Pasquale. Another few feet and I had to put my face down on the pipe. I was sleepy. And then I guess I passed out. Just before I passed out I was afraid for the first time that I would not get out.
The Telegram, March 18, 1960.
Confusion reigned on the surface, as various emergency agencies, civic officials, priests offering last rites, and bystanders gathered at the site. The lack of onsite backup safety equipment only fuelled the lack of coordinated effort among all (the next day, a civil defence rescue expert told the Telegram that “people were phoning all over the place for equipment they knew nothing about”). Several workers volunteered to go down to find the trapped men, including foreman Jack Corigliano:
When they told me a bunch of the fellows were trapped at the other end, I felt sick. But I said I would help try and get them out. They told me I would have to wait. I guess it was too hot for anybody in there at first. After an hour, maybe two, the boss asked me if I still wanted to go in and look for the others. I said I’d go. It was hotter than hell down there. The going was rough. I had to crawl on my hands and knees. There wasn’t much room to move—sand, water everywhere. And smoke. It took me about five minutes to reach them. By that time my eyes were running from the smoke. My head was dizzy. It kept turning around and around. Then I could see them lying there. They were dead. I could tell they were dead. I could feel it. I tried to lift one. I don’t know who. But there wasn’t enough room to get a grip and pull him. If there were two of use, we could have done it. But I was all alone on that side of the pipe. It was no use, the smoke was killing me. I had to get back. When I got out I told the boss that they were in there. He started to cry. I begged him to let me go back in—but he sent me to the hospital.
Toronto Star, March 18, 1960.
Meanwhile, Andruschuk had continued to crawl slowly westward toward an exit shaft. Around 9 p.m., rescuers pulled the delirious sandhog to the surface and sent him to hospital. Hope for the others faded when Allegrezza’s corpse, which took half-an-hour to move three hundred feet, was brought up around 2 a.m. Relatives who had come to the site screamed. The other bodies were found over the next day, with recovery hampered by the unbearable heat and shifting silt. The Mantella brothers were found huddled together, while efforts to free Correglio took six hours.
Toronto Star, March 18, 1960.
Within a few days a “Tunnel Tragedy Fund” was set up to benefit the families of the victims on both sides of the Atlantic. Metro Toronto Chairman Frederick Gardiner initiated the fund with a one-hundred-dollar donation. Through events such as an April benefit concert at Massey Hall organized by Johnny Lombardi, the fund raised thirty-five thousand dollars by October. An anonymous contractor also offered Correglio’s widow and children an apartment rent-free for a year.
Diagram of the disaster. The Telegram, March 24, 1960.
A week after the disaster, a requiem mass was held at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church for Fusillo and the Mantella brothers. Among the attendees was Telegram reporter Frank Drea, who had followed the story from the start. In Canadese: A Portrait of the Italian Canadians, Kenneth Bagnell noted that Drea had been tracking the construction industry for some time:
Drea was in the prime of his career as a reporter with a special interest in labour matters. He had contacts with the unions, the companies, the government, at every level, and his stories were often dramatic, written not in the cold language of economics, but in moving prose, about human suffering. He was the son of an Irishman, and while not a socialist, his underlying sympathy and passion were with the rank and file, with immigrant tradesmen like his father. Over his desk on the fourth floor of the Telegram building on Bay Street, he argued passionately with editors over union issues, declaring time after time that tradesmen and labourers, so many of them Italian, were mistreated in Toronto as a matter of course—from the unsafety of their working conditions, to the integrity of their paycheques.
An editor approached Drea to write a front-page story about the issues facing Italian labourers, which the editor figured would keep the story in the public eye. After the headline on the March 25 edition of the paper screamed “SLAVE IMMIGRANTS,” Drea and the editor were called into publisher John Bassett’s office. Expecting Bassett to be angry (as developers were among the Telegram’s advertisers), the publisher uttered one word: “tremendous.” Bassett then told his audience about how his father had told him stories of the awful conditions Italian immigrants worked under in Montreal at the turn of the century and how he was shocked that similar practices still existed in Metro Toronto. He told Drea that he could write as much as he wanted—“I want you in the paper every day with it…I want this covered from start to finish. I want to see the Telegram lead in putting a stop to it.”
The Telegram, March 25, 1960.
For the next two weeks the front page of the Telegram was filled with accounts of workers being ripped off and forced to endure unsafe worksite conditions. Among those reading Drea’s articles was Ontario Premier Leslie Frost, who sensed action needed to be taken as soon as possible to both bring the province’s labour laws out of the Dark Ages and to build support among the Italian community for the Progressive Conservatives, who had often been viewed suspiciously. His labour minister, Charles Daley, had claimed immediately after the tragedy that provincial regulations had been followed and made other statements that fuelled the rage of Italians and the Telegram. After the coroner’s inquest determined that callous management, incompetent foremen, inexperienced workers, a disorganized rescue, and inefficiency at the Department of Labour caused the disaster, Frost ordered a Royal Commission to look into construction safety and exploitation of immigrants. Though no criminal charges were ultimately laid, the sacrifice of the five men at Hogg’s Hollow brought about improvements in the conditions that had led to their demise.
Sources: Canadese: A Portrait of the Italian Canadians by Kenneth Bagnell (Toronto: Macmillan, 1989), Such Hardworking People: Italian Immigrants in Postwar Toronto by Franca Iacovetta (Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992), and the following newspapers: the March 18, 1960, and March 19, 1960, editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 18, 1960, March 19, 1960, March 22, 1960, March 24, 1960, March 25, 1960, April 4, 1960, and April 8, 1960, editions of the Telegram; and the March 18, 1960, edition of theToronto Star.