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OPG helps ex-employee’s family get his war medal 60 years after death

Antonella Artuso, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief

, Last Updated: 3:38 PM ET

TORONTO – It was 58 years ago that an Ontario Hydro truck crossing a frozen northern Ontario lake crashed through the ice, plunging 16 men into its dark waters.

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John Essex, or Jack to his family back home in England, was one of five men who never made it out of Gunn Lake alive.

The other four men who died in that remote lake north of Kenora were Charles Franklin, Alec Morrisseau, Leon Morro and I.A. Frits.

“Jack had taken the 10 pound emigration option once he left the Royal Navy and travelled to Canada in 1956 to try his luck at working in mining originally,” his nephew, Richard Nichols, of Leicestershire, England, said. “He took a job working on the electricity systems with The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario.”

Essex was buried in Kenora following a funeral where his fellow Ontario Hydro workers acted as pallbearers.

The Compensation Board of Ontario paid $ 200 for his funeral and the company covered the remaining costs. The personnel officer with the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario took on the difficult task of notifying his mother in England and explaining how he died.

The men were just 12 metres from shore and had been crossing the 60-cm-thick ice all day. However, the -40 C weather was thought to have made the ice so brittle it just gave way during their truck’s eighth pass.

“John’s winning personality and ability to make friends was certainly exemplified by the way in which all of his friends and associates responded at such a time, and by the number who attended his funeral,” the personnel officer wrote. “We would greatly appreciate hearing further from you, and will be only too glad to do anything in our power to assist you at this time.”

Almost 60 years later, the family took the successor company Ontario Power Generation (OPG) up on that offer.

Nichols’ mother, Christine, Essex’s sister and only surviving sibling, would frequently tell her son how much he reminded her of her long-lost brother and mentioned he died before claiming his Korea Medal.

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