GREY DUST (CASSIAR) is a Song about the innocence of accepting things as they are without a care in the world.

When I was 17 years old I took the call to work out of town for the first time, as an apprentice insulator. In 1978 we flew to Watson Lake, near the B.C.-Yukon border and then travelled by truck to the town of Cassiar, B.C. It was here in a construction camp that I was indoctrinated into the hard edge of construction life.

In the 30 days I was there I gained 30 pounds of muscle by working hard 6 days a week, 9 hours a day, fuelled by plate after plate of camp food.

Cassiar was a town built for the purpose of mining asbestos; here in the mountains was one of the richest deposits in the world. At the time, however, I knew little about the grey dust. What I remember was a town of mobile home trailers with only a few permanent buildings. The bar, the gym (which I worked out in after work) and the community centre were a few of the permanent buildings. I remember seeing the movie "The Exorcist" in the gym and my uneasy walk home to the camp afterwards.

In the middle of town was a small mountain of slag, which we all thought was asbestos. When you got up in the morning to go to work there was a film of dust as you ran your fingers over the bedside table. When we hiked up the side of the snow covered mountains we noticed the grey film of dust that covered the snow up as far as the eye could see.

There were conveyor belts, coming down from the mountains a few miles away, bringing the rock down to the buildings we were working in. The purpose of the buildings was to break apart the rock through a system of shakers that would eventually turn the asbestos into a powder. The people filling the bags with powder were wearing masks, but we were not. I suppose others working throughout the mill weren't wearing masks either. We were insulating pipes and ducts that were around the shakers.

Every day when we left the site area our truck was checked to see if we had any jade, as this was the treasure that was found in and around the asbestos deposits.

I didn't think much about any health risks involved until asbestos was banned a few years later. Ironically, later I spent many years removing asbestos from pipes, boilers and other equipment, wearing full protective clothing to do so.

I have personally seen the health effects of asbestos on fellow workers, friends and family as I'm sure most people have who have lived in the world since the popularity of the "indestructible insulator."

The mine or city of Cassiar, is a ghost town now; only the Catholic Church remains. Cassiar existed for roughly 40 years, 1952-1992. During those years it was a vibrant town where many families lived and worked, nestled in the beautiful Cassiar Mountains. Part of British Columbia history, it brings back many memories for me. Things I ponder include the beauty, the people, the hope of prosperity, the loss of innocence as a boy becoming some say a man, and the grim realization about the grey dust on the snowy hills.

Grey Dust (Cassiar)