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Day of Mourning to be observed in Quesnel

A ceremony will be held on April 28 where a deadly explosion occurred
Beverly Anderson is organizing this year’s Day of Mourning event in Quesnel across from Circle K where a natural gas explosion killed six people on April 16, 1997. (Rebecca Dyok photo — Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

Shock waves were felt throughout Quesnel on Wednesday, April 16, 1997, after a horrific natural gas explosion flattened a building claiming six lives.

Beverly Anderson wasn’t in town or even the country when it happened late in the afternoon, destroying The Cariboo Closet and Centre Ice Sports Cards which were housed in the same building at the corner of Abbott and Anderson Drives.

Dozens were injured.

“I did come back and I talked to a lot of people who knew somebody, or was friends or neighbours of somebody that had been there and was either injured or helped in the aftermath,” Anderson, a former local executive member of the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), said.

“As events go in Quesnel, that was huge.”

Years later, the annual Day of Mourning will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 28, 2022, at the corner of Abbott and Anderson Drives across from Circle K to remember those who have been injured or lost their lives on the job.

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While former Quesnel Mayor Steve Wallace called the West Quesnel blast the worst disaster in the city’s history, Anderson says there have been other tragedies in the area.

Two people died in a sawmill explosion in 2012 in Burns Lake, and another two people were killed in a similar blast several months later in Prince George at Lakeland Mills.

“It’s something that can happen and be very devastating not only to a community which loses workers but industrial sites, and many, many livelihoods are affected by things like that,” Anderson said.

Anderson recalled more recent workplace tragedies, including last year’s deadly crane collapse at a construction site in Kelowna.

She is concerned because there is an acceleration of retirement by experienced baby boomers, younger inexperienced people could be put in positions and dangers they do not necessarily understand.

“We need to keep an eye out for young workers and make sure that they’re aware that they need proper safety training when they’re onboarded as an employee.”

In 2021 a total of 161 lives were lost in B.C. from a workplace injury or disease such as mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, according to WorkSafeBC.

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