The Sinter Plant Boys: Jean Gagnon and the Personal Costs of Fighting to Compensate Sudbury Families


  • Stacey Zembrzycki Dawson College



From 1948 to 1963, the International Nickel Company of Canada (Inco) operated a sintering plant in Copper Cliff, Ontario, to produce nickel and nickel oxide from sulphur matte. Sintering created a refined dust made of nickel sulphides and other oxides, and also produced considerable sulphur dioxide. The workers who were exposed to this dust without protective equipment—ingesting these toxic particles—later developed various forms of lung, sinus, and throat cancers. Spearheading the push to seek redress and proper remuneration for survivors and their families was Jean “Johnny” Gagnon, an 11-year veteran of the sinter plant and the Chairman of the Sinter Plant Action Committee for United Steelworkers Local 6500. Through his tireless efforts, Gagnon won compensation for many workers and their families. However, his victories came with a price: he incurred mental, physical, and personal costs while fighting to obtain compensation for his “boys.”

Author Biography

Stacey Zembrzycki, Dawson College

Teaches in the Department of History at Dawson College