November 2009

Private company, public resource

The Inco Triangle archives are home to a rich collection of historically important documents

By R. Bergen

“I hope my comments won’t seem picayune, but Inco’s history is an integral and important part of our heritage in the Sudbury Basin. As with any locale, I suppose, some local legends have been embellished a little over time.”

— Marty McAllister, in a 1989 letter advising a correction in the Inco Triangle

Twenty years after his first dispassionate contribution to the Ontario division of Inco’s now-defunct community news magazine, Marty McAllister no longer bothers to mince words. “If a magazine could be a legend, that one was,” he declares unabashedly, referring to the Inco Triangle from his Barrie, Ontario, home. His attention to the historic record earned him a regular heritage column. As a Greater Sudbury native, lifetime reader and career Inco employee, McAllister understands better than most the unique role of the publication in the hundreds of Sudbury area households that received the Triangle each month.

Of course, the operations were often featured in its pages and trumpeted for their forward thinking, but the Triangle was far more than a company mouthpiece. From the 1930s to the 1990s, the paternal influence of the Triangle helped tie together the communities that Inco had built to support its mines. Workers named Salfi, Kanga, Levesque and Rainville, whose birthplaces were scattered across Europe and North America, featured as a fraternity in the Triangle. Marriages, births, deaths, bonspiel winners and expert gardeners were fixtures in the magazine. Sports always featured prominently.

“There’s a lot of foul play going on at the Copper Cliff Club these nights as 36 teams battle it out in the annual bowling tournament for Christmas chickens and turkeys,” a story began in December 1948. Inco built the facilities and wanted them well-used and their workforce athletes celebrated. “An employee wasn’t going to be in the beer parlour then coming to work the next day with a hangover if he was playing sports,” says Jim Fortin, a curator for Greater Sudbury Heritage Museums.

“The Triangle was always done with an eye for quality,” says McAllister. “It seemed to be on the mark all the time. It was able to create a rapport between the workforce and the company. Other publications distributed outside the gate would end up in the nearest trash bin. You never saw that with the Triangle. It was read and reread and taken home.” McAllister began at Inco in 1957 as an electrician and over the next 34 years wended his way through various departments of the company.

Every month, Inco employees would see their families and their neighbours showcased in the “Family Album.” A generation later, photographers would revisit the families for the “Then and Now” photos, a series that Fortin and McAllister agree was one of the Triangle’s finest. Those featured were invariably dressed in their Sunday best, and the treatment they received matched the occasion. McAllister’s free-ranging column “Heritage Threads” melded personal memories with company history. “The odd time, Jerry Rogers  [Inco public affairs manager] would grumble that I was more interested in personalities than the company history, but I’d say ‘people are the history too, you know.’ He’d grumble a bit more, but he never changed anything I wrote.”

Last year, the entire catalogue of Triangle issues was made available online through the cooperation of Vale Inco, the City of Sudbury, its library and museums, and Cambrian College. Fortin was involved in the project and has seen how tightly bound the Triangle is to people in the area. As a feature of the centennial celebration for Garson Mine, the museum had a computer terminal available to access the archives. Family histories lay buried in the Triangle. “All I did for seven hours was type in the names of Inco employees,” he says.

The value of the Triangle, Fortin continues, extends beyond the missing roots of the family tree. “If we are doing research on the evolution of first aid and mining safety or on the evolution of re-greening in the area, the Triangle is a great resource.”

Between every line of the June 1998 issue of the Triangle — a litany of articles on cost reduction and restructuring — the story of the magazine’s demise was written. It was, after six decades, the last issue published. The unceremonious end is still a raw spot for McAllister who had continued to contribute for a few years after he retired in 1991. That the Triangle thrived long after the era of the company town had ended, however, seems an unembellished testament to its legendary status.

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