'The community does care': Public gathering planned to support Eastway Tank families, employees

·4 min read
Diane Vena lives 15 minutes from the Eastway Tank site and her husband's uncle once worked for the company. She says she felt compelled to organize an event to show the families they're not alone.  (Guy Quennville/CBC - image credit)
Diane Vena lives 15 minutes from the Eastway Tank site and her husband's uncle once worked for the company. She says she felt compelled to organize an event to show the families they're not alone. (Guy Quennville/CBC - image credit)

Diane Vena doesn't want to call the event she's planning a vigil.

"More of a support ceremony," she said.

Vena lives about 15 minutes from the site of Eastway Tank, Pump and Meter Ltd., the Merivale Road tanker truck manufacturer that was rocked by an explosion two weeks ago.

Five Eastway employees died in the blast, which remains under investigation by a mix of provincial and municipal agencies. A sixth person died in hospital the next day, while a seventh worker was taken to a Toronto hospital. His current condition is unknown.

Vena's husband came home that day to tell her "something big" had happened on Merivale Road.

"So like everybody else, I got on Google and realized it was a location where my husband's uncle had once worked," she said. "It hits home a little bit."

At 1 p.m. on Feb. 5, Vena and co-organizer Solange Goulet will host a gathering in a room inside Merivale Bowling Centre, just two blocks north of the Eastway site.

"I think it would be difficult to have it on site for obvious reasons," Vena said, adding that there will be no candles as that "may cause a trigger for some."

Guy Quenneville/CBC
Guy Quenneville/CBC

The wider Ottawa public is welcome, though all attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 before entering. Under the relaxed Ontario rules that will go into effect five days before, indoor meeting and event spaces will be allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity.

Vena is asking guests to sign memory books for workers' families, who are invited to come too.

"I hope that they can witness that the community does care and is feeling some of the grief," she said. "But if they don't come, we completely understand."

As of late last week, investigators had retrieved five sets of remains from the Eastway site and were beginning the process of officially identifying them.

CBC has already independently verified the workers' identities.

"When we have a death, we are able to get together and mourn the loss of a loved one," Vena said. "I can't imagine what [the families] are going through, waiting for bodies."

'Something to hang on to'

The families of two dead Eastway workers — Rick Bastien, 57, and Danny Beale, 29 — have confirmed to CBC News that the Office of the Chief Coroner has identified their loved ones from recovered remains.

Josh Bastien — Rick Bastien's son and a former Eastway employee himself — said his family is planning a service for this summer.

Danny Beale's father, Mike Beale, said his son's remains are being released to a funeral home and that having them will help with his grieving process.

"It's just part of being human," he said. "I guess you want to have something to hang on to. It does lend some comfort."

Mike Beale said Danny's remains will likely be cremated, with a service planned in the spring "when our families can get back together."

Guy Quenneville/CBC
Guy Quenneville/CBC

The Office of the Chief Coroner said via email on Tuesday it does not want any families to be waiting for details surrounding the death of their loved ones.

"Families of the victims are being notified as identities are confirmed so they can make arrangements for their loved ones. As the investigation progresses, there have been opportunities for early confirmation of the identification of some of the victims."

Families will be notified and consulted before any public release of the names of the victims, the statement added.

Submitted photos
Submitted photos

The family of 26 year old Kayla Ferguson will hold a ceremony in her memory on Saturday, according to her obituary. The event will be livestreamed on YouTube starting at 02:55 p.m.

Ferguson and another victim of the explosion, Russell McLellan, 43, were graduates of Algonquin College, according to the school's student newspaper.

Etienne Mabiala was the fifth Eastway employee who died in the explosion.

Matt Kearney was taken to hospital after the blast — believed to be the worst workplace fatality incident in Ottawa since the 1966 collapse of the Heron Road Workers Memorial Bridge — and died there the next day.

A moment of silence

A group of Eastway employees met in Chalk River, Ont., last week to console each other, Mike Beale said.

"They were just all in total shock."

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson began his state of the city address Wednesday by naming the victims of the fire and asking for a moment of silence.

Vena has invited both Watson and Lisa MacLeod, the MPP for Nepean, to the Feb. 5 gathering.

Ontario's Ministry of Labour issued four orders to Eastway after a June 2017 visit to the site found issues related to ventilation, welding safety and training, and exposures to hazardous chemical substances. Eastway was in compliance with the instructions to remedy the issues by the time of a followup inspection two months later.

The initial 2017 field visit was made in response to a complaint about health and safety in the workplace — though the ministry has declined to say if an employee lodged the complaint.

"It is confidential and could reveal the identity of the complainant," the ministry said via email Wednesday.

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