By Carol Mulligan
It was almost a first for union boss Leo Gerard.
Gerard was apparently blind-sided when it was announced Thursday that the executive and membership of United Steelworkers Local 6500 had named their new hall after the international president of their union.
That news came just before the ribbon was cut at the grand opening of the local's new headquarters at 66 Brady St.
"I guess it's almost a first. I'm almost speechless," said a teary-eyed Gerard when a cloth cover was removed from the plaque reading "Leo W. Gerard Hall," which hangs over the entrance to the main hall.
The day was a bittersweet one for Gerard, Local 6500 members and residents of the community. They were excited about the transformation of the former grocery store into a state-of-the-art hall and conference centre, but tears were also shed for the Steelworkers' Hall at 92 Frood Rd. that burned to the ground in September 2008.
Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand said that hall was a place where meetings, union schools, days of mourning, children's Christmas parties and other events were held for more than 40 years.
He recalled seeing many of the people who crammed into the atrium of the new hall Thursday at the fire scene on Frood Road three and a half years ago.
Bertrand said he remembered the pain in the eyes of members, retirees and residents who watched a large piece of Sudbury history go up in smoke.
He quoted Gerard who said at the time that next to the death of a family member, the burning of the old Steel Hall was the saddest day of his life.
"So today's a new chapter for us," said Bertrand. "Today, the Steelworkers will continue that tradition to support this community and to support the membership."
He reminded guests of how USW Local 6500 has supported the community over the years, raising millions of dollars for charitable causes.