Hans Brasch: Retired Miner Keeps Sudbury Mining History Alive – by Laurel Myers

Northern Life, Greater Sudbury’s community newspaper, gave Republic of Mining.com permission to post Laurel Myers’ article. www.northernlife.ca (Originally published on September 16, 2008)

LMYERS@NORTHERNLIFE.CA

Hans Brasch has been an avid photographer since the time he was 16. What started as a hobby, developed into a passion and a means by which to keep the history of mining alive.

At the age of 76, Brasch has now compiled three books, documenting the past 100 years of mining in the Sudbury basin. The books – Structure and Operation of the Steelworkers, Mining: Then and Now in The Sudbury Basin, and Garson Mine: 100 years of Mining Excellence – are a mixture of maps, timelines, general information and photography, courtesy of the author, that show an evolution underground from a miner’s perspective.

The retired miner, who spent 40 years – from 1952- 1992 – working in nearly all of the most hazardous underground jobs at Vale Inco’s Levack Mine, admitted the pictures took a bit of undercover work.

“At that time, we weren’t really supposed to take pictures (in the mine),” he said, explaining he used to sneak his camera into the mine with him. “But I’m glad I did. I recorded a very nice history.” Despite his camera being bulky with a big light on it, the private eye, of sorts, was
able to document Inco’s ever changing past.

“In my 40 years working in the mining industry, many things have changed,” he wrote in one of his books. “The last 100 years of mining have been even more incredible – going from pick and shovel to computerized and mechanized mining. This is a collection of information that I have compiled in order for you to appreciate these vast achievements.

“I always wanted to make a history of my life, but I thought, who wants to know about my life?” the German immigrant said in an interview with Northern Life. “So I decided to write these mining books about the whole history of Inco. “The company was very helpful and co-operative with making my books possible,” he added.

In his books, Brasch ventured into an area untouched in the past – he published the names of all the workers who had lost their lives in the mines over the years. “You can’t just sweep people under the rug,” he said. During his four decades of work at Inco, and as is the sad truth for many other miners, Brasch has experienced his share of loss and devastation in the mines. He has experienced first-hand the sheer chill that rips through a mine when a life is lost.

“It felt like someone poured a cold bucket of water on my head and it was running slowly to my feet,” he said about an incident he was involved with, where four miners were crushed at the bottom of the shaft. The memory brought tears to his eyes.

“They stick with you for a while. It’s sad, but it was an accident,” he said. “When something like that happens, you take precautions that something like that will never happen again. “Every time somebody was killed in a mine, it was like a shock wave going through the entire mine, and you questioned who would be               
                   
“It felt like someone poured a cold bucket of water on my head and it was running slowly to my feet,” he said about an incident he was involved with, where four miners were crushed at the bottom of the shaft. The memory brought tears to his eyes.

“They stick with you for a while. It’s sad, but it was an accident,” he said. “When something like that happens, you take precautions that something like that will never happen again. “Every time somebody was killed in a mine, it was like a shock wave going through the entire mine, and you questioned who would be next,” he continued. “Today, safety is the top priority.”

He recalled three of his own near death experiences over the years. The first involved a rock collapse in the mine, the second he was hit in the chin with an airborne chunk of rock, and the third he was nearly crushed by steel buckets.

“I’m lucky I was never killed,” he said, adding there was very little in the way of investigation following a mining accident in his time.

“The Coroner would come in and usually just ruled an accidental death and that was the end of it,” he said. “But in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the union got strong, others became part of the investigation – the Ministry of Labour, the police – so the same accident didn’t happen again.

“Times have changed drastically since then.”

When Brasch retired, he received a certificate from the company, commemorating his 40 years with an unblemished safety record, as well as an astonishing zero missed days of work.

In his four decades of service to Inco, Brasch was involved in all of the strikes. “You have your ups and downs when you work with a company,” he said. “I spent 929 days on strike in my forty years.”

And as for the ups, Brasch met his wife, Christine, through a friend at the mine. 53 years later, the two are still happily married with two children and three grandchildren.

“When I look back, I’ve been very lucky in all aspects of my life, in work and family,” he said. “There’s a lot of happy times.”

Since his retirement, Brasch has continued to work with Inco by going into schools and educating
students about the history of mining. He also volunteers at Dynamic Earth.

“I don’t want to lose my personal history,” he said of his passion for record-keeping and photography. “Your mind plays tricks, but when I go back and look at the pictures or read about something, it all comes back to me.

“There is not much out there about mining,” he added. “This is my heart, this is what keeps me young.”

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