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Inside the Canadian town named after asbestos.

Asbestos, Quebec

The word asbestos rightly has many negative connotations. We immediately associate the hazardous material with danger and death. After all, asbestos is a carcinogen known to cause fatal diseases, and raising awareness of its impact has been a decades-long struggle.

In the United Kingdom, we tend to squirm and grind our teeth at any mention of asbestos. Often, people are not entirely sure what the substance is, but they know it is less than ideal. A raft of construction site hearsay and internet horror stories has seen to that. Asbestos is not to be taken lightly.

Why is there a town named after asbestos?

Accordingly, the concept of naming anything in tribute to asbestos is alien to most people around the world. Attracting negative attention by celebrating products that have caused untold devastation is ill-advised. To do so is to ignore every rule in the playbook of positive branding.

Nevertheless, in a small slither of Quebec, Canada’s second-largest province, you will find a town called Asbestos. Yes, that is correct – a town, as in a place where people live, work and establish lifelong roots. In fact, Asbestos, Quebec is home to 7,000 people, and after years of campaigning, they are fed up of their overarching moniker.

In November 2019, the town’s council bowed to external pressure, announcing plans to pursue a new name fit for the modern age. “As the word ‘Asbestos’ does not have a good connotation, particularly in English-speaking circles, it is a brake on the city’s willingness to develop economic relations abroad,” read an official statement by the authorities. “It is therefore in keeping with the will of the municipality to be dynamic on both the citizen and economic levels that the decision to change the name was made.”

Quebec boasts a multilingual society, and many locals consider French to be their first language. In French, the town is known as Amiante, a literal translation. Accordingly, some locals refuse to acknowledge any problems with regard to the name. Nevertheless, resistance from international companies refusing to do business in the town because of its English title has ultimately won out, and Asbestos, Quebec will soon be consigned to history.

A potted history of asbestos in Quebec, Canada

In many ways, Quebec can be seen as a spiritual heartland of asbestos, which was used in thousands of building materials over an extended period. Around the world, industrial-scale asbestos mining was first attempted in Thetford Mines, Quebec during the 1870s. Such was the quality of Quebec asbestos, excavated minerals were displayed at a geological exhibition in London, helping to spread the popularity of asbestos internationally.

When the Quebec Central Railway opened in 1876, asbestos mining entrepreneurs flooded to the region, sensing an opportunity. Advancements in machine technologies and workplace regulations increased potential productivity, making asbestos a huge consideration for businessmen of a certain ilk.

The so-called Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, Quebec quickly became the world’s largest asbestos mine. Indeed, at one point, the town of Asbestos provided half of the world’s supply of asbestos, a staggering revelation. Powered by Asbestos, Quebec and other towns like it, Canada became the world’s largest asbestos exporter by the 1970s. The Canadian asbestos industry surpassed US$200 million in value during that era, or more than US$1 billion in today’s money.

As knowledge of asbestos dangers grew, Canada gradually backed away from its unhealthy reliance upon ‘grey gold.’ A ban on crocidolite asbestos was a harbinger of regulation to come, and Canada has gradually fallen in line with many Western powerhouses, abandoning asbestos amid mounting evidence of its toxicity.

A final Canadian ban on manufacturing, importing, exporting and using all forms of asbestos was enacted in 2018. However, in the build up to that conclusive legislation, the asbestos industry in Canada ran on fumes. As countries around the world began to ban asbestos, demand plummeted and Canadian asbestos companies went bankrupt.

In late 2011, the country’s last two asbestos mines – including the large facility in Asbestos, Quebec – halted operations. Negotiations for government funding to keep the industry alive ultimately fell through, and the town has subsequently embarked on a journey towards autonomy from its unwanted past.

How Asbestos, Quebec plans to rename and rebrand itself

While some residents admire the Asbestos name, drawing civic pride from it like any other dwelling around the world, sentiment has waned in recent years, leading the council to spearhead change. Now, after years of debate and argument, studies and research, this otherwise nondescript outpost 95 miles east of Montreal is in the process of carving a new identity for itself.

Asbestos, Quebec has been hit hard by slumping tolerance for its eponymous product. Economic revival is sorely needed, and the name has been a consistent roadblock for prospective commercial partnerships. “We have lost many businesses that don’t want to establish themselves here because of the name,” said Mayor Hugues Grimard in an interview with CBC News. A new approach was needed.

Despite repeated efforts to introduce new slogans, colour schemes and promotional campaigns to Asbestos, Quebec, the negative connotations have been difficult to overcome. In this era of globalised business and advanced marketing perception, something had to give. It is hoped that a successful rebrand will stimulate growth and sustainability in the region, allowing it to flourish.

Key powerbrokers have promised to consult local people in the renaming process. Residents have an opportunity to submit suggestions for the new name, which may end in farcical scenes if managed incorrectly.

The local government has set aside $100,000 to complete the rebranding project, and it will sift through suitable suggestions before presumably running some kind of procurement process. Asbestos, Quebec plans to unveil its new name at some point in 2020, closing one chapter of Canadian asbestos history and opening a new frontier in the quest for environmental safety.

About Greenfield Removals

Here at Greenfield Removals, we feel it would be unfair to interfere with the renaming process, so we won’t add any suggestions to the debate nor endorse any particular concept. However, we are always on hand if people want to learn more about asbestos.

While we don’t cover Canada just yet, you never know what lies ahead, so call our friendly team today on 0161 302 1900 and let’s discuss your asbestos issues. Renaming a town may not be top of your to-do list in 2020, but removing those pesky asbestos floor tiles or finally arranging that asbestos survey should be. In that case, we have got you covered, so there is no need to worry. Let’s get to work.


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