Lamps Forever Lit
New Book Belongs in Home and the Hearts of Families
I told Dobie author Bernie Jaworsky that I would review his upcoming book: "Lamps Forever Lit" which chronicles the deaths of 310 men in Kirkland Lake and area mines from 1914 to 1996.
It is a tragic toll and a terrible waste of life. Before Bernie dropped off his manuscript I was having second thoughts about the review. I figured it would be a long, heart wrenching read.
I thought it would also be tempting to launch into a diatribe against the mining industry. It was a pleasant surprise on both counts.
While the book details the deaths of all these men in a straightforward, journalistic style, Bernie's writing infuses a human dimension to the subjects which allow us to see the victims as real people who had lives.
They were somebody's brothers, fathers, husbands, uncles or cousins.
They came from near and far and probably would have lived lives of relative
obscurity had their fates not been imprinted on the public
Growing up in Kirkland Lake in the 1950s and 1960s I well remember the many days death visited the mines. In retrospect, it seems to me that when word spread of yet another rockburst (they were commonly known as air blasts then) or other accident, the entire town held its collective breath.
Death in the mines was spoken in hushed tones as if the very act of talking about it would cause more to happen. Such accidents always got big play in the media but were soon banished from the public eye, except perhaps for the regurgitation of events in our local beer parlours.
Bernie Jaworsky has taken a very painful subject for any mining community
and has presented it in such a way as to neither idealize the events or
to sensationalize them. If a member of my family had died
In his introduction Mr. Jaworsky makes this telling comment: "Death in a mine is not gentle." It is not. And yet the author did not have to play on those circumstances to tell the miners' stories.
As I mentioned earlier, the book contains more than a recounting of individual accidents. Carefully interspersed through "Lamps Forever Lit " are tidbits of mining and local history in abbreviated form.
What this gives the reader is the sense of the times, a picture in miniature of the area at any given time.
It is a literary device that might not work in other circumstances but adds to the overall effectiveness of this book of four years or so in the making.
Adding to the overall quality is the use of pictures. Where available,
Bernie included "head shots" of the individual miners. In other
cases he showed them with their families. This also made for a very compelling
The book opens with an overview of the Kirkland Lake mining camp and some bits of historic fact before it goes into the first recorded mine death on July 12, 1914 at the Tough-Oakes Mine. Murdoch G. Lloyd died after being scalded when a boiler on which he was working ruptured.
In his introduction, Bernie writes: "All these stories are sad. In each a miner dies. An accident is usually sudden. Hard rock, steel and blasting powder are not considerate of flesh and brittle bone."
The book ends with the poem from which the title was taken. It reads:
A parent may have lost a son,
This is a book that reminds us of the frailty and uncertainty of life
in a difficult and potentially dangerous occupation. It reminds us that
those who have died were people whose lives were cut short in a tragic
This book belongs not only in our homes but our hearts, and tells of ordinary men, living ordinary lives who are remembered for more than their deaths.
On the title page is this short homily: "To be remembered may be the secret to immortality." Indeed.