Set to be renamed, Asbestos, Que., grapples with historical past, id

“I used to be born in Asbestos and I need to die in Asbestos,” a person shouts from his automotive earlier than peeling out of the car parking zone.

Outdoors the one area in Asbestos, Que., automobiles are lining up.

The setup seems to be like an out of doors COVID-19 testing centre, however in actual fact, residents are there to vote in town’s new title.

Among the many contenders: L’Azur-des-Cantons, Jeffrey-sur-le-Lac and Larochelle.

The city council is about to announce the winner on Monday night.

As one can think about, the title Asbestos garners a number of response from outsiders, most of it unhealthy, however additionally it is steeped in historical past and sophisticated by language.

Now the city council needs to sheds the stigma connected to the title.

‘Magical mineral’

The city owes its very existence to asbestos, as soon as touted as a fireproof “magical mineral” by Johns Manville Inc., as soon as a serious producer of asbestos merchandise. 

Within the 1870s, farmer William H. Jeffrey found land within the space was filled with the pure mineral and opened what turned often known as the Jeffrey Mine.

“The title Asbestos got here due to the historical past of the city, the truth of the city, that it’s positioned on a big asbestos deposit,” defined Jessica Van Horssen, a historian and the creator of A City Referred to as Asbestos.

WATCH | Historian Jessica Van Horssen explains why the city was named Asbestos:

Asbestos, Que. has been laughed at, vilified and rejected, however the city’s title is steeped in historical past, sophisticated by language and intertwined with the id of a lot of its residents. 1:00

“Within the nineteenth century, the Royal Mail simply determined to start out calling that place Asbestos.”

It turned the largest chrysotile asbestos mine on this planet, and because it grew, so did the city round it.

“There was a number of delight within the work that the residents had been doing within the mine,” mentioned Van Horssen.

“It’s totally simple for us to overlook that there was a time earlier than individuals knew asbestos was poison.”

Essential to urbanization plans, in addition to the manufacture of fuel masks filters and insulation for ships throughout the First and Second World Wars, the mineral was marketed as important to any constructing venture.

The now-abandoned open Jeffrey Mine pit that was as soon as thought-about the biggest chrysotile asbestos mine on this planet. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

There have been inklings of the hazard of asbestos as early because the 1900s, however its impact on mine staff was clear by the top of the Second World Conflict. Frequent signs like hacking coughs and chest ache led partly to the well-known 1949 Asbestos strike at 4 mines, together with the Jeffrey Mine.

The broader well being implications of asbestos would come out later — particularly, that it precipitated life-threatening ailments comparable to asbestosis and mesothelioma. It was declared a human carcinogen by the World Well being Group in 1987.

The Jeffrey Mine closed in 2011, however Canada did not ban asbestos merchandise till 2018.

Abruptly, being often known as the city referred to as Asbestos wasn’t so nice anymore.

Staff of the Asbestos and Asbestic Firm Ltd. pose for a photograph in 1904. (Japanese Townships Useful resource Centre/P031 William G. Clark assortment)


In 2011, the favored American information satire program The Each day Present aired a phase about Asbestos.

“Does ‘asbestos’ imply one thing totally different in French than it does in English?” comic and correspondent Aasif Mandvi requested Bernard Coulombe, then the president of the Jeffrey Mine.

“As a result of in English, it means ‘sluggish, hacking loss of life.'”

It wasn’t the primary time residents of Asbestos had been made enjoyable of.

“As soon as upon a time, we have now been very happy with that title, however now it is very tough as a result of asbestos means a fibre that persons are afraid of,” mentioned Louise Moisan-Coulombe, spouse of Bernard Coulombe and mayor of the city from 1997 to 2002.

“Each time you say, particularly in the USA, that you’re coming from Asbestos, or they learn Asbestos on a package deal, they’re at all times afraid that it will likely be poison,” she mentioned.

Louise Moisan-Coulombe was mayor of Asbestos for eight years in addition to a prefect for the world. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Moisan-Coulombe says the title has had financial disadvantages, as effectively. She mentioned multiple firm determined to not arrange in Asbestos purely due to the title. Others rented put up workplace packing containers within the neighbouring city of Danville in order to not have Asbestos of their deal with.

“Individuals need to keep right here, they need to make investments right here, however they need one other title with out that stigma,” she mentioned.

Identify change not unanimous

Flag down residents after they’ve voted on the brand new title, and you may immediately notice the choice to surrender Asbestos is not altogether agreed upon.

For a lot of, the title is the city and the city is the title. The one concern is how outsiders understand them.

Gisèle Boutin notes that when she travelled, individuals usually did not consider her when she mentioned the place she was from.

“They really backed away from me. Two individuals really modified benches — as a result of they had been scared? I did not perceive it,” she mentioned.

“I believe altering the title is a good suggestion.”

Sitting subsequent to her within the automotive, Gaétan Lemieux does not agree.

“At our age, we do not see it the identical means as youthful individuals or individuals within the enterprise world,” he mentioned.

“We’ve ancestors right here who died at 100, they usually did not die due to asbestos.”

Boutin shushes him and interrupts.

“Properly, let’s not speak about that. My dad died of mesothelioma,” she mentioned.

For others, the problem is that the title is an English one, and a correct noun at that. The problematic mineral is referred to in French as amiante.

In keeping with the 2016 census, 6,786 individuals reside in Asbestos, and 96 per cent of them name French their mom tongue.

“Us older persons are all in favour of the title Asbestos. You do not change names for nothing!” grumbled André Thibodeau. The 76-year-old has referred to as Asbestos residence his entire life.

Van Horssen, the historian, found that sentiment in the middle of her analysis.

“It is extra sophisticated than simply ‘It is a horrible title, let’s change it,'” she mentioned.

“There is a deep historical past there and actual cultural id entwined in that.”

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