By Malone Mullin
In Baie Verte, N.L., a mine that once brought prosperity now symbolizes pain, suffering and death. Nobody knows how to get rid of it.
This is Part I of a three-part series on contaminated sites in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In Émile Zola’s 1885 novel Germinal, a French mining town, filled with families dependent on coal, is plotting a strike.
It’s not an idyllic existence, living in 19th-century Montsou. Workers and their families sleep in shacks, eat mostly bread and rarely embrace leisure.
Eventually, they’re consumed by the massive beast whose tendrils reach deep underground.
The mine, named Le Voreux, holds such sway over the townspeople’s lives that it transforms into a character in itself; figuratively speaking, by the end of the book, it eats its servants alive.
Conditions have improved since Zola’s scathing portrait of the extraction industry.
But for workers who toiled somewhat more comfortably a century later — afforded lunch breaks, pensions and good salaries — in the now-defunct Baie Verte Advocate Mine in central Newfoundland, Germinal’s vicious ending, at least for some, still rings true.