Like most quilts, the tapestry called Breaking Ground is made of memories.

But unlike many such coverlets, it’s not stitched from the scraps of well-lived lives. This one tells the forgotten tale of five Italian immigrants to Toronto and how they died.

The quilt by fabric artist Laurie Swim, which will be unveiled under glass today in its new York Mills subway station home, commemorates the 50th anniversary of an accident that took place deep beneath the ground nearby, at a time when the city’s Italian community was often viewed as disposable labour. And when provincial labour laws, which their deaths would help change, did not exist.

The accident happened near the end of the day — shift change — on March 17, 1960. Only a handful of “sandhogs” remained underground on overtime, earning their industry nickname by digging out earth for the water main that would pass below the Don River in Hogg’s Hollow, near Old York Mills Road and Yonge Street.

At 6 p.m., when the spark from an electric welding torch ignited insulated cables on the tunnel floor, the men didn’t stand a chance. They were trapped, cut off from the western exit by the resulting fire and to the east by a five-metre-wide concrete bulkhead.