Victims of 1907 Quebec Bridge disaster honored

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KAHNAWAKE, Quebec - Hundreds of community members lined the streets of Kahnawake, a Mohawk community just outside Montreal, on Aug. 29 to witness a parade and join in on ceremonies to honor the victims of the 1907 Quebec Bridge disaster. A total of 76 men died when the bridge suddenly collapsed 100 years ago. Among them were 33 of some of Kahnawake's finest ironworkers.

Aug. 29, 1907 is a day which will forever be a part of Kahnawake's history. The members of the Quebec Bridge Project Committee are hoping that Aug. 29, 2007 can be added to Kahnawake's history book. But this day will not be remembered for a horrific loss. Rather, it will honor the brave Mohawk men who dedicated their lives to working on steel to support their families. This day will also be remembered for the unveiling of a memorial dedicated to those men.

A group of community members, including Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Chief Warren Lahache, traveled to Quebec City to take part in various activities there, including reenactments of the disaster at the St. Romauld Church and a special groundbreaking ceremony for a monument dedicated to the victims of the collapse. The monument will be placed in a recreational park in Levis, Quebec, near the present-day bridge.

After a special luncheon, the group of Kahnawa'kehro:non boarded a bus and headed home for another set of activities and ceremonies.

Kahnawake community members gathered at an iron cross erected in memory of the lost men before the parade began. A ceremony took place, during which a special flag featuring pictures of the 33 Kahnawake men who died was raised.

The parade, which featured many floats constructed by community businesses and organizations, commenced shortly thereafter.

The special events included speeches by community members, including Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Michael Delisle, former MCK Chief Tiorahkwathe Gilbert, local elder Rita McComber, and community members Donald Angus and Akwiratekha Martin.

At 5:35 p.m., the time of the collapse, all those in attendance took part in a moment of silence. During this time, a bell was rung 76 times for each of the men who died. Churches across Quebec also rang their bells during this time.

MCK Chief Johnny Montour helped unveil the council's monument. Then descendants of the fallen Mohawk men placed 36 stakes in the ground all around the memorial, in remembrance of the 33 men who perished and three survivors. Each of the stakes featured a name of one of the men. Stakes bearing names of the men whose bodies were never recovered were placed closest to the seaway.

Local elders and retired ironworkers Watio Bordeau, Mike Deer and Alex McComber helped raise a banner on the monument, which featured the Quebec Bridge Project logo.

All participants and community members were then invited to a potluck dinner at the Karonhianonhnha School. The dinner was followed by a traditional social.

''The day was very special,'' said Connie Meloche, lead coordinator of the Quebec Bridge Project. ''The trip to Quebec was great and I was so pleased with the turnout for the parade and ceremony here in Kahnawake. It was wonderful.''

Meloche said the committee will now focus on completing the memorial by spring 2008.

Jordan Standup can be reached at jordans@easterndoor.com.