After a 120 year history, Asbestos, Quebec is putting its asbestos past behind. Asbestos is known throughout the world as a deadly mineral comprised of microscopic fibers. These fibers, when inhaled, can cause diseases such as lung cancer, the deadly mesothelioma, and asbestosis. There is no safe level of exposure according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
History of Asbestos, Quebec
In 1879, the Jeffrey Mine opened. This was the beginning of the town that bore the name of the mineral that brought wealth, high-paying employment, and – eventually – a negative notoriety to Asbestos, Quebec.
By the 1920s, the dangers of asbestos were known, but ignored. The mining companies were not willing to lose the large profits from the mines. The mineral was becoming recognized throughout the world for its many properties including insulation and fire-retardance. Products and new ways of using the mineral were rapidly created. Asbestos, Quebec became a well-known exporter of asbestos for the world. By 1969, Asbestos had to relocate from its original site to allow room for the Jeffrey Mine expansion.
However, by the 1970s and 1980s, demand began to decrease as the dangers of asbestos, known to mine owners and manufacturers since the 1920s, became known to the public as well.
It was 2011 before the mines closed, along with Jeffery Mine tours the public could take into the western world’s largest mine. With the mine closures, Asbestos was hit hard with unemployment, bringing about a need for new industries bringing jobs to the small town.
Bringing new business to Asbestos, Quebec
Town officials began a search for new businesses, but immediately ran into objections based on the town’s name. As far back as 2006, the idea of a name change was suggested to the citizens. At that time it was rejected by those who remembered the history of their town with pride, despite the reputation of asbestos. Even today, many people in Asbestos believe there is a use for asbestos under safe and controlled circumstances.
In 2019, Mayor Hugues Grimard stated, “If we want to go further in terms of economic development, then we don’t have the choice. The media attention of our past stays with us any time we do anything.” Not only the media is a roadblock, but also the reputation of the word, “asbestos.” Many corporations do not want that negative image attached to their company and products.
A few new businesses located to the town, but not nearly enough to replace the enormous economic impact of the asbestos mines. Companies that did relocate to Asbestos have to fight the town’s name with customers who often think their products contain asbestos.
And the new name is?
A notice says the “city council remains aware that the history of Asbestos and its heritage are very dear to everyone. This is why these elements will be taken into account throughout the process.”
To give everyone a chance to rename the town, the council opened the search for a new name to the citizens of Asbestos – even those as young as 14. There were several requirements for suggestions: they must reflect the area or people, no saints or other names of persons, and it must be in French. After collecting all the suggestions, a committee will review and select five or fewer to be voted on by the people. The winner will be announced in May, 2020 and Asbestos, Quebec will take on a new character – one without the dark history of asbestos.