The miners in my mind: L'Itinéraire vendor Siou’s portrait project of Québec factory workers

A sketch of a Quebec factory worker. He has a receding hairline and is wearing glasses. The writing underneath the portrait shows his name 'ROLLAND LAFLEUR' and, in French, his job title: "Contremaître de quart four à réverbère"

Article and all portraits by L'Itinéraire vendor Siou

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Originally published:
L'Itinéraire, street paper, Canada

Siou is a L'Itinéraire vendor who sells the magazine on the corner of Mont-Royal and Bordeaux in Montréal, Canada. Here he presents portraits he illustrated from photos in an old magazine he came across celebrating the loyal service of factory workers at the Horne division, a smelting facility in northern Québec. He explains why this had personal significance for him, how it related to his own life and memories of his father, and how it is a document of working class men from a bygone era and industry. Later, in a quest to understand what each of the portrait subjects did at the factory, Siou asked his customers to describe their responsibilities from their peculiar job titles alone.


Here is a series of portraits I drew from an old magazine that belonged to my father. At the time, this paper was printed to mark 10, 15, 30 and even 45 years of loyal service by men who had worked in various sectors of the Horne division [a smelting facility in northern Québec].

It was a tribute publication issued by the Noranda mine, as it was known in Abitibi, where I come from. Black-and-white photos of workers with features marked by hard labour really impressed me, so much so that I took the liberty of slipping the document into my luggage when I left the fold.

I was sure that one day I'd do everything in drawing, an interesting art project with these dozens and dozens of shots.

Since then, time has flown by. The pages have yellowed and almost fallen apart.

As I gently leaf through the object, I look at these portraits of workers with new eyes, and I inevitably think of my father.

Of course, he never worked in the mining industry, but he did work very, very hard all his life.

He first owned a farm, then worked in the forest as a foreman, then as a storeman at the Taschereau lumber mill. Amid all this, he also found a way to get involved in his parish, being re-elected school trustee on several occasions.

At home, he worked with us to sow, weed and harvest the vegetable garden and potato patch. And as if that wasn't enough, he also found spare time to make furniture, chairs and tables for the garden.

You could hear him talking, sometimes under his breath, about the long-deserved moment when he would retire. But time decided otherwise, and he died well before retirement.

Looking back, I find it incredible what he was able to do, and this illustrated project helps me to better understand why, as soon as he sat down in an armchair, he fell asleep immediately!

I have to confess that, even if I don't do a thousandth of what he did, I'm the kind of person who falls asleep all over the place.

But for me, it's something else entirely. All I have to do is a little more than nothing, and I'm already tired for the rest of the day! How I wish I had my father's capacity for work. I have two brothers like that: great workers, they don't stop, they need to move, build, demolish, tinker, create.

Voilà! In a way, with my drawings, I'm also paying tribute to all those men from another era, who had to work very hard to earn a living for themselves and their families.

Not your run-of-the-mill job titles

Some of these job titles are almost poetic, others are intriguing or even make us smile: crushing operator, skimmer and matte tapper, lubricant dispenser operator, and so on.

After repeated attempts to find out more about these jobs, call after call, we were unable to find anyone capable of answering us properly.

At the same time, we came up with the idea of doing a vox pop with my clients, to find out what they thought were the tasks of these workers with their sometimes peculiar titles.

Some answered spontaneously, others hesitated, some searched hard and came up with several different definitions. But everyone had fun trying to find an answer.

According to Edith: an ANODE WINCH ATTENDANT is… "A winch is normally something that lifts. And anode, I would say something like screws or nuts or something like that. I think it's weird because... No, it doesn't work because a winch is normally for lifting something big. So an anode winch? I don't know about that! Are you telling me it's in a mine? Look, I have no idea! Anode, I'll look it up in the dictionary when I get home. Maybe an anode winch, we could say that instead of being an electric winch, but it's an anode winch. And anode, you could say hoist, something to make the counterweight if you didn't have electricity."

Marie-France thinks that a SLAG LOCOMOTIVE OPERATOR is… "Well, a locomotive is something that runs on rails, and it's in a copper mine? It would be like a locomotive in which there would be a kind of box in which we'd put rocks containing copper filaments, and then they'd be treated in another way to bring out the copper. It's just a hypothesis."

Marie guesses that an ANODE FURNACE OPERATOR is… "It's someone who puts fuel of some kind into a furnace. He'd put in, I'd say, coal with a shovel so that the furnace heats up, to make energy or to do something! To melt something, like copper? It's a foundry!"

According to Jean-Paul a REVERBERATORY FURNACE SHIFT FOREMAN is… “A foreman supervising metal melting operations!? A foreman who supervises metal melting in reverberatory furnaces."

Marco humorously describes a LUBRICANT DISTRIBUTION ATTENDANT as… "Someone responsible for distributing lubricants either for machine mechanics…or for human mechanics...!"

In Guylaine’s mind a CONVERTER SKIMMER is … "For me, a skimmer is the person who removes the junk from a material to be purified, like copper or gold. That's what I'd say, because when you skim, as in the case of milk, you remove some of the foam. And the word converter is the machine for converting the raw material."

Martin gives his own definition of a MATTE TAPPER… "The word itself, the way it rings, it tells me that it could be someone who, by sound, by tapping the walls, by sound could detect veins of ore. Hmm... an ore vein."

Jean believes that a BOCARDAGE ATTENDANT is… "It might have something to do with shippage. My father worked in the asbestos mines, and there were workers who carried bags of asbestos on their shoulders and put them on the train. But this is the first time I've heard the term 'bocardage'.”

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