|On May 16, side cutters in hand, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau snipped the No. 4 bare copper wire marking the opening of a permanent monument to the men and women of Canada’s building trades.
“Let this memorial inspire us to always push for progress and never forget the importance of the building trades in shaping the country we know and love,” Trudeau said to the assembled crowd, which included Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hadju, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, First District International Vice President Bill Daniels and International Executive Council member Ross Galbraith.
Located in Major’s Hill Park, just a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Canadian Building Trades Monument is the result of a near-decade-long effort to erect a tribute to Canada’s working men and women.
Featuring two oversized plumb bobs carved from Quebec-quarried black granite, the 11.6 meter by 7.5 meter (38 feet by 24 feet) plaza is surrounded by benches featuring etchings of tools from each of the 14 represented trade unions. Plumb bobs are among civilization’s oldest-known builder’s tools, tapered weights that, when attached to string, serve as the vertical equivalent of a level. For its bench, the IBEW selected a pair of old-style side cutters representative of the early days of the electrical trade.
“Tradesmen and women built this country,” Trudeau said at the unveiling, “and we are so proud to host this monument in our nation’s capital to celebrate the work of the building trades in creating our communities, to remember sacrifices made and to inspire a better future.”
That sentiment, said Robert Blakely, chief operating officer for Canada’s Building Trades Unions, is what inspired his organization to seek a permanent monument to tradespeople nearly a decade ago.
“This was a long time coming,” Blakely said. “We have worked hard and long to create a national monument in Canada’s capital that will celebrate the contributions made to society by the women and men who work in the building and construction trades and commemorate the losses they have endured in carrying out their work.”
The monument’s prominent location just across the canal from Parliament Hill was the product of years of work behind the scenes. About a dozen sites were considered, but Blakely said the Major’s Hill Park site, situated between Parliament, the National Gallery of Canada and the U.S. Embassy, offered the most visibility. That was important because members of the CBTU wanted the monument in part to raise the profile of working people.
“If you look around Ottawa, there’s a monument to the firefighters, there’s a monument to the Famous Five [suffragettes] and there’s a monument to a number of other people. But the people who actually built every darn thing there is, there’s no monument to,” Blakely told the Ottawa Citizen.
The IBEW was a part of the process from the early stages, from assisting in site selection to fundraising to planning the unveiling event.
First District Political Action/Media Strategist Matthew Wayland, who escorted the prime minister into the ceremony, brought up the idea for the unique “ribbon” cutting after attending the opening of the Henry Miller Museum during the IBEW’s 39th International Convention last September in St. Louis. CBTU leaders tweaked the wire-cutting from that event to include other trades as well, having the prime minister and union apprentices cut a board, glass and copper pipe, snip a wire and break bricks to open the monument.
Ottawa Local 586 fifth-year apprentice Sam Lapierre was one of three IBEW apprentices to participate in the wire-cutting with Trudeau. “This means a lot, not just for us working now, but for everyone who paved the way for us,” he said. “It’s exciting to know a part of me will always be there at that site for when my kids grow up and visit it.” The other Local 586 apprentices included Christian Smith and Amanda Kelly, all of whom used Greenlee side cutters manufactured by members at Rockford, Ill., Local 364.
Singer/songwriter Marion Brown, who works at Kitchener, Ontario, Local 804, was selected to perform an original song, “Standing Together,” which she co-wrote with her husband, Robert. Brown spoke of her union plasterer father, who died of asbestos-related cancer, and said she wrote the song to acknowledge “the contributions and sacrifices made by men and women in the building trades every day.”
“It was an honor and privilege to participate in the unveiling of the monument,” said Daniels, who led the First District effort for the IBEW. “IBEW Canada members played an integral role in making the monument a reality, and we’re extremely proud of all of their many contributions.”
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Manager Galbraith marveled at the new monument’s prime location. “You could look out over the crowd there and see Parliament on one side and the National Gallery on the other,” he said. “This monument will get a lot of traffic. It was a great day to recognize the work and sacrifices of the building trades.”
Stephenson, who joined a dozen other trade union general presidents for the ceremony, said the effort to erect a memorial to tradesmen and women is one he’s proud the IBEW was able to support.
“Our members and the working men and women of Canada’s building trades deserve this monument,” he said. “Our work is right there for everyone to see, but it’s easy to forget whose blood, sweat and tears are in every stone, every wall and every wire. I hope this monument helps those outside of the trades remember our members’ contributions to this fantastic country.”