My Flemingdon Park: The Human Cost of Constructing a Neighbourhood
The construction of Flemingdon Park was fraught with fatalities. March through May of 1968 proved particularly deadly. Five workers at three separate sites died as a result of workplace mishaps.
Giuseppe Mazzagatti, 32, had been in Canada only 18 months when he fell seven feet from scaffolding to his death in March. Like countless others immigrating to this country, he arrived ahead of his wife and 4-year-old son. While he worked hard to save money and prepare them to join him, Mazzagatti lived with his older brother Fortunato and his family. Fortunato, himself a tradesman, had secured his kid brother the job that cost him his life.
An inquest concluded Mazzagatti's death resulted from his negligence.
At the time, placing blame for their death on the deceased was not unusual in the building sector. Inquests and coroner's juries often came back with this finding.
The majority of workers who built Flemingdon Park were Italian. Many were recent arrivals with limited English language skills. Because of a lack of familiarity with safety methods and devices, some workers did not adhere to required safety practices.
In the previous year, there were forty-five deaths in the province's construction sector. A little past the halfway mark in 1968, deaths already stood at fifteen. Bafflingly, not a single construction contractor had been held responsible for accidents occurring on their sites. Fault was routinely placed on the workmen. An inspector who performed site safety audits told the Toronto Star, "They come straight off the boat and go into construction. The employer will furnish them with goggles and safety boots and things, but they just won't use them."
The Workmen's Compensation Board spent approximately 1.5 million dollars per year on educational campaigns, including full-page newspaper advertisements and television commercials in English language media outlets.
Two weeks after Mazzagatti perished, Rocco Collello worked alongside his older brother Gaetano at the base of an unfinished apartment tower at 5 Dufresne Court. The brothers were preparing a load to be hoisted to the upper floors by the crane when a sudden movement caught Rocco's eye. A gust of wind had blown a mislaid length of wood over the edge somewhere near the top. It hurtled toward the earth, on course to strike Gaetano.
Disregarding his own safety, Rocco shouted at his brother and then lunged toward him, shoving Gaetano out of harm's way. The selfless act cost Rocco his life. The four-foot-long timber struck Rocco in the head with force equal to 1000 pounds dropped from a height of eleven feet. His hardhat, unable to withstand a force 300 times greater than it was designed to resist, offered no protection, splitting in half.
Rocco Collello died a short time later in the back of an ambulance en route to East General Hospital. The deceased had left the southern Italian town of Anzano eleven months earlier, saving his wages to bring additional family to Canada. The 22-year-old worked at the 5 Dufresne Court site for only two months before his death.
It was suspected the object had been intentionally dislodged from the heights. The coroner's jury tasked with investigating Collello's untimely death criticized uncooperative co-workers who refused to give evidence at the hearing. A few days later, the Toronto Star's editorial board eulogized Collello in its opinion page under the decidedly flippant title, "Some must die."
The third, most grisly accident occurred during the construction of 55 Wynford Heights Crescent. Construction of the 21-storey high-rise was nearing completion. It was the first day on the site for Giovani Catalanotto, 53, Santino D’Angelino, 63, and Camillo Palumbo, 59.
The trio, employees of DiLorenzo Construction Co., visited various building sites around the city, cleaning debris. Palumbo and D'Angelo were both from Roccamorice, a village in central Italy. Their friendship reached back to boyhood. Before leaving Italy, both worked together in an asphalt mine.
Catalanotto had been a farmer in Sicily. His wife, three children and himself arrived in Canada in October of the previous year.
None were skilled tradesmen. They performed menial work to better their family's circumstances. The men spent the morning collecting debris in the basement level of 55 Wynford Heights Crescent. At noontime, they prepared for their lunch break and gathered their lunch pails. Up at ground level, they wandered the sun-drenched site searching for a place to eat, settling on a spot near the building under construction.
Seated side by each on the shaded ground, the friends leaned against what, by all appearances, looked like a sturdy concrete wall. In the distance, the sound of vehicles racing up and down the Don Valley Parkway could be heard. They hadn't even opened their lunch pails when D'Angelino — proud grandfather of eight — removed a photograph of his youngest granddaughter from his flannel shirt pocket to show his paisanos.
A gust of wind came from nowhere — followed by a whooshing sound, snatching the photograph of D'Angelino's adorable di nonno from his grasp.
It came to rest on the ground nearby.
Later in the afternoon, the agitated site foreman with an Anglo-sounding surname was in a huff because he couldn't locate the clean-up crew. Suspecting the trio had skipped out before their shift's end, the foreman angrily tasked other workers to find Catalanotto, D'Angelo, and Palumbo.
The search turned up nothing until a co-worker bent to retrieve a screwdriver and spotted a foot sticking out from under a form, a ubiquitous structure on construction sites used in forming walls. A crane hurriedly lifted the one-ton concrete-coated plywood structure, revealing the remains of the three men crushed beside their unopened, crumpled lunch pails.
Investigators concluded the deceased mistook the massive form, lowered from the building and placed there three days earlier as fixed and secure. Tipped by an unexpected blast of wind, they didn't stand a chance when it toppled suddenly.
Hours after the tragedy, three bodies lay side by side under brown tarpaulins. Ministry of Labor officials determined the incident that took three lives was an "unfortunate, freak accident but there may have been some negligence involved."
In cases where lives were lost during the construction of Flemingdon Park, survivors received a pittance. The Workmen's Compensation Board provided widows with $75 a month for life or until they remarried. Children received $40 a month in compensation for the loss of their fathers. Families were eligible for a one-time $300 emergency allowance and $300 to cover funeral expenses. The Compensation Board made a social worker available to assist survivors.
Selfless, nameless construction workers built Flemingdon Park, some of whom paid with their lives.
Additional material from The Globe and Mail, May 24, 1968, pg.1;
Toronto Star, April 17, 1968, pg.A6; Toronto Star, July 13,1968, pg.7;
The Globe and Mail, April 16, 1968, pg.5; Toronto Star, March 7, 1968, pg.60
Ed Brown lived in Flemingdon Park at 58 Grenoble Drive from 1969-1991