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

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

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


The setup appears to be like like an out of doors COVID-19 testing centre, however in truth, 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 ready to announce the winner on Monday night.


As one can think about, the title Asbestos garners numerous response from outsiders, most of it unhealthy, however additionally it is steeped in historical past and complex 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 significant producer of asbestos merchandise. 


Within the 1870s, farmer William H. Jeffrey found land within the space was stuffed with the pure mineral and opened what grew to become generally known as the Jeffrey Mine.

“The title Asbestos got here due to the historical past of the city, the fact of the city, that it’s situated on a big asbestos deposit,” defined Jessica Van Horssen, a historian and the writer of A City Known 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 identification of lots of its residents. 1:00

“Within the 19th century, the Royal Mail simply determined to begin calling that place Asbestos.”

It grew to become the largest chrysotile asbestos mine on the earth, and because it grew, so did the city round it.


“There was numerous pleasure within the work that the residents have been doing within the mine,” stated Van Horssen.

“It is very straightforward for us to neglect that there was a time earlier than folks knew asbestos was poison.”

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


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

There have been inklings of the hazard of asbestos as early because the 1900s, however its impact on mine employees was clear by the tip of the Second World Warfare. Frequent signs like hacking coughs and chest ache led partially 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 — specifically, that it triggered life-threatening ailments reminiscent of 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.

Out of the blue, being generally known as the city referred to as Asbestos wasn’t so nice anymore.

Workers 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 ‘gradual, hacking dying.'”


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

“As soon as upon a time, we now have been very pleased with that title, however now it’s totally troublesome as a result of asbestos means a fibre that individuals are afraid of,” stated Louise Moisan-Coulombe, spouse of Bernard Coulombe and mayor of the city from 1997 to 2002.

“Each time you say, particularly in america, that you’re coming from Asbestos, or they learn Asbestos on a bundle, they’re at all times afraid that it is going to be poison,” she stated.


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

Moisan-Coulombe says the title has had financial disadvantages, as nicely. She stated a couple of firm determined to not arrange in Asbestos purely due to the title. Others rented publish workplace packing containers within the neighbouring city of Danville in order to not have Asbestos of their deal with.

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


Title change not unanimous

Flag down residents after they’ve voted on the brand new title, and you will immediately notice the choice to resign 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, folks typically did not imagine her when she stated the place she was from.


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

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

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


“At our age, we do not see it the identical approach as youthful folks or folks within the enterprise world,” he stated.

“Now we have ancestors right here who died at 100, and so they did not die due to asbestos.”

Boutin shushes him and interrupts.


“Nicely, let’s not discuss that. My dad died of mesothelioma,” she stated.

For others, the difficulty 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 accordance with the 2016 census, 6,786 folks dwell in Asbestos, and 96 per cent of them name French their mom tongue.


“Us older individuals 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 stated.


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