Descendants of William Henry Somers joined up with staff from Hydro One Friday to unveil a commemorative plaque for Somers and to mark the National Day of Mourning.
On a cold, wet and windy day, they gathered in front of the Kent Transformer Station on Maple Leaf Drive in Chatham. That’s where Somers died on May 21, 1918 in an industrial accident.
Somers, an electrical inspector with the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario, was electrocuted while working on a dead switch at the station. He inadvertently came too close to a live high-voltage power line and was hit by 26,000 volts of electricity.
Family came from as far away as Ottawa and Owen Sound to mark the dedication on Friday.
Brad Taylor of Hydro One said Somers came to Chatham when hydro was first being installed in the city. He was recognized as an expert electrician.
“It was 101 years ago, but the work doesn’t sound much different than what our staff does today,” he said.
About two dozen of Somers’ descendants attended the dedication.
Somers was survived by his wife, Charlotte, and their eight children, who ranged in age from just four months old to 13 years old.
His death left the family without a father and wage earner. According to a media release, his wife kept the family going by doing other people’s laundry and taking in boarders.
Dianne Moore, one of Somers grandchildren, said Friday’s dedication underlines that he did not die in vain.
“His tragic death contributed to the development of important safety strategies,” she said. “We didn’t know him, but it means a lot to us for him to be recognized.”
The Kent Transformer Station takes in electricity at 230,000 volts and steps it down to 115,000 volts for distribution to Chatham.
Taylor said the National Day of Mourning is a time for people to recognize those who have been killed or badly injured while on the job, as well as “their family, friends and coworkers who have been deeply affected by their tragedies.
“As we remember those who died or were seriously injured as a result of an industrial accident, I ask you to make a serious commitment to workplace safety,” he added.
Meanwhile, more than two dozen people gathered in the atrium of the Civic Centre Friday morning to conduct a brief ceremony and hold a moment of silence in observance of the Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured in workplace accidents.
Denise Lidster, manager of occupational safety for the municipality, spoke of the origin of the day, which is officially observed on April 28.
Although the day of mourning began in 1984, it didn’t become a national observance until 1990. It is now observed in more than 80 countries.
She noted that 951 workers died in Canada in 2017 and urged everyone to “speak up for safety.”
Mayor Darrin Canniff said in addition to fatalities, thousands of people are injured each year. He stressed that injuries happen at home as well as at work, and urged vigilance everywhere.
The flags at municipal locations across Chatham-Kent were lowered in remembrance of the victims of workplace deaths or injuries.