The Whitney Pier neighbourhood of Sydney, where my fatherâ€™s family lived, had a steel making facility since 1901. Coke ovens, used to distill coal down to coke, an essential ingredient for steel, have many toxic by-products, such as PCBâ€™s. These coal-based contaminants and sludge had been dumped into the Muggah Creek, a fresh-water stream emptying into Sydney harbor for the most of the 20th century. This resulted in the Sydney Tar Ponds, right in this neighbourhood. Environmental research proved that steel workers in Sydney were inhaling coke fumes that amounted to over 30 packs of cigarettes per day.
My grandfather, Karol Dobrucki, was one of them. He started on the coke ovens around 1910 and died there in 1935.
After a lot of politics and public outcry, the steel mill was shut-down, dismantled and the tar ponds eventually cleaned up.
We visited Whitney Pier to see the neighbourhood of my father and his family, and found it to be quite depressed and run down. But the people we met were very friendly and curious about us. We parked the van right in front of 176 Tupper St, where our family home used to be and just walked around.
I soon met the Best brothers, who grew up there, and they were very eager to provide lots of history. For example, thereâ€™s an abandoned ball park right across the street. My dad, an avid pitcher, would have played in this now overgrown park. I was invited into their house, at 192 Tupper St to visit their mother, Mary Best, who just turned 90, and has lived in this house her entire life. She thought she remembered the Dobrucki neighbours, but wasnâ€™t sure, as she was a lot younger than the youngest of them. Talking to her as she sat in her chair brought a lot of emotion to my eyes.
We left Tupper St and drove up Lingan Rd to find the Old Calvary cemetery, where my grandparents are buried. I sat on a stone facing their marker and having never met them, I just day-dreamed of what they would have been like.
Suddenly, Karol and Veronica appeared, side by side, with my father, Joe, between them, their hands on each of his shoulders. Then the other 10 siblings appeared, sitting along each side of the concrete ledge surrounding the plot. They were talking and laughing and drinking whisky, and occasionally looking at me, who by now had Niagara Falls eyes. They were a lively, spirited, close-knit group, my uncles and aunts.
And I miss them all.
A word about these photographsâ€¦ I used my Lensbaby lens, which is, in my opinion, has an other-worldly outcome, which I knew would work for me because I felt I was travelling into the past when I visited Whitney Pier. Click on any photo for the slideshow. Please leave comments at the bottom of the page.
August 7, 2022 at 10:39 pm
What an experience for you, Len, and very touching to hear about it. Just thinking about the ghosts of our past brings tears to my eyes, too!
Thanks for sharing your family’s story and your pictures to give us a sense of what was.
August 7, 2022 at 10:46 pm
Thanks so much, Peg, for such a beautiful comment.
August 7, 2022 at 11:21 pm
Must have been emotional for you. Glad you got to experience those moments. Thankyou for sharing your thoughts.
August 7, 2022 at 11:42 pm
Yes John, quite emotional.
August 8, 2022 at 12:12 am
A very moving story. The pictures combined with your writing really put me into your experience and the emotions you were feeling. A little sad to see the changes but very beautiful to have that connection with your ghosts.
August 8, 2022 at 12:28 am
August 8, 2022 at 8:54 am
At the moment I am listening to a program on CBC radio about ghosts of black people in Canada and how we connect with our past through ghost stories. At the same time looking at your site about your past makes this more poignant.
It is interesting how all of us can reveal our heritage by visiting our grave site and our childhood homes.
Take care George
August 8, 2022 at 11:08 am
Thanks George, I love your interpretation of this.
August 8, 2022 at 1:02 pm
Hi Len: An interesting story of your history as well as an opportunity to know you better. Great choice of photographic style. Thanks for sharing.
August 8, 2022 at 2:39 pm
Glad you enjoyed, Jacqui.
August 8, 2022 at 1:48 pm
Len, Were Karol and Veronica both born in Poland? I noticed that both were 54 years old when they died., their death probably hastened by the horrific environmental conditions caused by the steel mill.
I was touched by your story. I also never knew either set of my grandparents .
August 8, 2022 at 2:38 pm
Hey Len, Karol and Veronica were Polish, but I don’t know where they were born. They emigrated from Zastavna, Bukovina, which is now just inside Ukraine, close to Transylvania. On my grandfathers immigration papers, it said he was Austrian, because where they were from was in the Austria-Hungary empire.
August 8, 2022 at 3:29 pm
Great shots, Len. That part of Sydney, where dad grew up, sure looks more decrepit and rundown than the last time I saw it, 60 years ago. Glad you got to see the family ghosts.
August 8, 2022 at 5:12 pm
These ghosts were not scary.
August 8, 2022 at 10:53 pm
Thanks for this Uncle Len. Inspires me to visit this area one day.
August 8, 2022 at 11:31 pm
Long way for you Leigh, but you wouldn’t regret it… love… Uncle Len
August 9, 2022 at 3:26 am
Very nice story Len!
August 9, 2022 at 11:36 am
Thanks John, hope the cycling is good out in Wiinnipeg.
August 9, 2022 at 12:29 pm
Hi Len, I live in Fort Langley, BC now. so cycling is better as no severe winter here. Mosquitoes are bad though as near the river. Seems you canâ€™t escape them wherever you go! Take care, best to Chantal, and keep up the good pictures and stories.
August 13, 2022 at 8:57 pm
Beautiful history, Len.
August 13, 2022 at 9:17 pm