John Marceau wasn’t supposed to be sitting in the food court that Saturday afternoon. He was walking through the shopping mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., looking for a friend, when a former co-worker waved him over to his table and convinced him to stay for a few minutes.
“I just bought a cup of coffee, and I just sat down,” Marceau later recalled. “I didn’t even have time to drink nothing out of it. In front of me, about maybe 10 or 15 feet, a big cement beam fell down. I was thrown from where I was sitting to another table. Then I passed out.”
The collapse of the Algo Centre’s rooftop parking lot killed two women—Doloris Perizzolo, 73; and Lucie Aylwin, 37—and wounded nearly two dozen others. But, of all the injured, none required more medical attention than John Marceau, who suffered two broken ribs and needed five stitches over his left eye. The photograph of his battered face, published in Maclean’s, remains one of the most powerful images from that terrible weekend.
“When I woke up, I was lying down beside a table that was knocked over,” he recalled. “I was bleeding like hell. I started to crawl, but I’m 79 years old and I don’t go that fast.”
Marceau was a tough, resilient man, a proud father and lifelong miner. He knew how narrowly he cheated death, but didn’t waste a lot of time thinking about it. “Just like a soldier,” he once told me. “Try to forget it.”
Like many others, Marceau closely followed the Elliot Lake inquiry, both on local television and from the hearing room gallery. He was also among the few survivors who took the witness stand to tell their personal stories from June 23, 2012.
Sadly, Marceau did not live to see Commissioner Paul Bélanger’s final report. Suffering from chronic lung disease, he died on Sept. 14—one month before the inquiry’s recommendations were released.
“He was a great man and touched so many people in his life,” said Dan Marceau, one of his sons.
He was 81.