Beyond Asbestos: A Revisionist History of Thetford’s Working-Class Community
The industrial history of asbestos in Canada begins in 1876, when the first asbestos mine opened in the town of Thetford Mines, and ends on December 30, 2018, when the nationwide regulations on the prohibition of asbestos came into effect. Because the history of asbestos’s legacy has predominantly been discussed from a national perspective, some questions at the local level remain overlooked. What about asbestos’s spatial agency on working-class mining communities? To what degree has the asbestos industry negatively impacted the living environment of asbestos miners and their families? These important questions are best addressed from a community perspective and through the critical lens of environmental sociology.
Using the town of Thetford Mines in rural Québec as a case study and drawing upon local municipal archives, this paper sheds light on the spatial stories of displacement inflicted upon Thetford’s working- class community, with a particular focus on the twice-displaced Saint-Maurice neighbourhood. I argue that these urban displacements, caused by the hostile control of mining companies on the town’s ground and underground, showcase how mining capital supplanted any other form of capital. Using class and language as social categories for the basis of my analysis, I pay particular attention to the role that power and social structures played in shaping the interactions between Thetford’s community (working-class residents), its asbestos industry (economic elite), and its territory (extraction sites). The overarching goal, therefore, is to complicate and reinterpret the history of Thetford’s community by revealing the environmental and spatial inequities that the town’s population suffered due to its close proximity to mining infrastructure.