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Oct. 25, 2021 | Monday
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NOTL remembers the tragic death of GM worker Joel Murray on National Day of Mourning
Lucas Froese, grandson of Joel Murray, attends the memorial ceremony for workers killed on the job. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

Losing a loved one in a workplace tragedy is heartbreaking, but the family of GM worker Joel Murray gathered on Sunday morning to honour his memory and call for continued job safety improvements.

Across Canada on April 28, families and community came together to remember those who died or suffered illness or injury in the workplace, and to bring awareness to the need for proper safety and training on the job.

Murray was killed in an industrial accident at General Motors Plant One in St. Catharines in 1998. For his family, the pain is still fresh.

Dave Backshall, Murray’s brother-in-law and friend, also worked at General Motors at the time of the accident. He said when he was told what happened, he was in a state of shock.

“I remember the day it happened as vividly as if it was yesterday … I was at one plant and (Murray) was at the other.”

He said he was told someone had been killed and when he heard the name, he was devasted.

“He said, ‘Joel Murray’ and my knees buckled. You can’t imagine how you’d feel when you heard that kind of news.”

On every Day of Mourning since then, Murray’s family has gathered at the Centennial Arena where his memorial is located, to pay tribute to him.

Backshall said Murray was very active in kid’s sports and was a hockey coach, which is why the memorial is located at the Virgil arena.

“When you go to work in the morning, you expect to come home at night,” Backshall said. “And, once in a while, something like that happens and you’re reminded that they’re not there yet as far as safety in the workplace goes.”

Workplace accidents are on the rise, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s website. It states that in 2017, 951 workplace deaths were recorded in Canada, 46 more than the previous year.

“I don’t think Joel’s accident precipitated this day of mourning. It was happening all the time, but I think because this happened to Joel, who was vocal in the community where we have the ceremony, he was added to the list of locations,” Backshall said.

Murray’s death was particularly tragic because he was so involved in the community. “So (the ceremony at the arena) was specifically for him.”

This kind of tragedy brings families together, though it leaves them permanently scarred, he said.

“The family was always close, but it certainly brought us closer together in that regard. It’s something you endure. If you haven’t been through it, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like.”

Likening the experience to being in a black hole, Backshall said the family is in a depressed state of mourning.

“There’s nothing you can do to get out of it because it’s all you can think about. You never forget, but only time makes it a little better.”

Calling for more diligent workplace safety measures, Backshall said the General Motors union has an active health and safety committee.

“They’re constantly the watchdogs for GM in St. Catharines. That’s not to say that accidents don’t happen, though.”

MPP Wayne Gates was also in attendance on Sunday and has been championing for the family since the accident, Backshall said.

“Wayne Gates, he’s been good all along. When he worked at GM, he was good with the family and he was good with Wendy (Murray’s wife). He really took care of us, and a couple of other guys, too, who weren’t there today. They really kind of took Wendy especially under their wing and helped her through the mess that happened that day.”

Backshall said he hopes the day of mourning continues to shed some light on workplace tragedies.

“After 20 years, we still do this. It brings the family closer together, but it devastates the family at the same time. It changed us all, it changes you forever. We’re left with fond memories.”