The explosion at the Point Tupper mill on Feb. 8, 1982 must never be forgotten.

At approximately 1:40 p.m., a steam-plant evaporator at the pulp and paper mill, owned at the time by Nova Scotia Forest Industries (NSFI), was being prepared for a chemical wash when an explosion in the plant’s nitric acid storage tank ripped through the building and filled the plant with deadly fumes.

The blast immediately took the lives of two NSFI employees, while three others would later succumb from respiratory and chemical-burn injuries. Another seven workers suffered serious injuries from the explosion and its aftermath.

Witnesses at the mill recall a loud bang, followed by a cloud of yellow smoke.

The day after the explosion, one long-time employee, who was part of the start-up crew recalled that when he arrived at the mill, “emotions were running high” with heated arguments taking place.

Upon entering the mill, John Dan “Smoky” MacNeil told The Reporter, sections of the plant were in darkness, there were chemicals everywhere and there was a lot of damage.

Interviewed in 1982 shortly after the accident by The Reporter, the plant’s general manager, Ralph Keefe, confirmed that concrete from the nitric acid storage tank “was blown across the yard just like a missile,” sailing a distance of 100 to 200-feet before it blasted through the wall of the NSFI maintenance building and struck two employees working inside.

Iron worker Hugh Arnold Campbell, 29, of Brook Village and welder James Charles Mason, 48, a father of five from Ashdale, Antigonish County, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Four other NSFI employees – Malcolm Fancy, Mike MacNeil, Ray Britten, and Ian Duncan – were sent to the burn unit at New Glasgow’s Aberdeen Hospital to deal with chemical burns on their faces.

Another six workers – steam plant foreman Tom Hardiman, Jr., Claude Roach, Alfred Richard, Patrick King, Paul St. Pierre, and Glen Sampson – were taken to the Strait-Richmond Hospital in Evanston, having inhaled fumes from the explosion.

While King, St. Pierre, and Sampson were casually playing cards after their initial hospital examination, their situation quickly deteriorated and the trio was transported to the Halifax Infirmary later that afternoon.

The Strait area would soon bid a sad farewell to all three – King, 37, a father of four from Evanston, St. Pierre, 43, a father of three from Port Hawkesbury, and Louisdale native Sampson, 20, one of 15 Canso Regional Vocational School (CRVS) students taking work training at NSFI that week.

The remaining injured employees were released from their respective hospitals and pronounced “stable and out of danger” nearly two weeks after the explosion.

Even those who survived the blast dealt with lasting injuries.

According to a subsequent Nova Scotia Labour Department investigation of the explosion, metallurgists who examined the remains of the acid tank said that they could find no evidence of metal fatigue or defective welded seams. No action was taken against NSFI in the aftermath of this probe.

Despite the explosion, those who worked at the mill still recall its reputation as a safe workspace.

And now 40 years later, while some still carry physical injuries, former employees and residents report that the mental scars and memories of that fateful day remain.

While those who were old enough to remember will never forget where they were or what they were doing on that day, now is the time to make sure that other generations fully understand and remember what happened on Feb. 8, 1982.

This is an event that must always be remembered to ensure that those who died and were permanently injured did not do so in vain.