laurence butet-roch – the last mine

Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls 




Laurence Butet-Roch

The Last Mine

play this essay

It is still nighttime. The sun has yet to rise and the sky is a dreary dark grey that forecasts a cloudy day. Gilles, 55, is getting ready for another day at work. He lives amidst an unorthodox landscape. The path to his home zigzags through mining properties and large looming, lifeless tailings, which he has grown fond of. Gilles was born here and, like his father and grandfather before him, he started working in the asbestos mine as soon as he was allowed, at the age of 22. Thirty three years later, he still works there.

Over breakfast, he shares his worries. The asbestos industry continues to face a growing number of critics, especially in Canada. In the 1970s, medical reports highlighted the devastating impacts that continued exposure to asbestos can have on health. Since then, over 40 states have banned asbestos. This measure has caused most of the mines to be decommissioned. Nowadays, the Black Lake Operation, located in Thetford Mines about two hours from Montreal, is the last asbestos mine in the country. The region once boasted ten mines that employed over 3,500 men.

Today, most of the controversy arises from the sale of asbestos to developing countries where health regulations are either non-existent or lack proper implementation. Repeatedly those working in the asbestos industry have been called no less than “merchants of death”. The miners are aware of the controversy, yet remain proud of the town and industry that feeds it. Their fear of losing what they know and work for shows on their faces and in the way they speak. “If they close this one, what is left” wonders Gaëtan who worked for 32 years in the asbestos industry before retiring two years ago.

These men are not worried about their health. They don’t believe that they are at risk of contracting asbestosis or mesothelioma – two diseases related to asbestos dust inhalation – because of the precautionary measures put in place by the industry. Yet what they are gripped by is the precarious nature of their current situation, by the constant possibility of losing their job, their livelihood.

By focusing on the workers’ viewpoint, I sought to highlight a human aspect to which it is difficult to remain indifferent and that is often overlooked within this ongoing national and international debate. These photographs demonstrate the pervasive impacts of the asbestos industry on a Canadian town, its scenery and the life of its residents. This project is also part of a much larger and complex debate that is fundamental to Canada’s future economy and international role: how can we support Canadian workers while maintaining an ethical commercial policy?


Laurence Butet-Roch (born 1985) is a Canadian freelance photographer. She completed a B.A. in International Relations from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver before attending the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa. She is currently exploring the impacts of Canada’s natural resource industries on the lives of Canadians. The first part of this study, “The Last Mine” has been exhibited in Ottawa, the nation’s capital. In 2010 Laurence won the 1st prize at the Montreal Mois de la Photo Young Photographer Contest. She is represented by La Petite Mort Gallery in Ottawa.

Related links

Laurence Butet-Roch

One thought on “laurence butet-roch – the last mine

  1. web hosting

    Reading this article was an experience. I enjoyed all the information you provided and appreciated the work you did in getting it written. You evidentially did a lot of research.

Comments are closed.