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Whitehorse firefighter remembered as ‘embodying the spirit of a true protector’

Community mourns Paul Gray and other workers who have died and been injured on the job

Yukoners mourned the death of Paul Gray, who died from a fight with work-related cancer after years of fighting and preventing fires, as part of the Day of Mourning, a national observance of those who have died or suffered injury or illness related to their work, on April 28.

“Our community has recently lost a beloved firefighter from their battle with an occupational cancer. Paul Gray received his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in June 2022 — a work-related injury common to firefighters,” said host Teresa Acheson, president of the Yukon Federation of Labour.

“A long, slow illness can make it easy to ignore the obvious, but the time does come, and the truth must be faced.”

Acheson reminded attendees marking the day at the Yukon Workers’ Memorial at Shipyards Park that April 28 is a day to remember “those whose lives were lost and those whose lives were forever changed due to unsafe work conditions.”

“We have a responsibility to do better for today’s workers,” she said.

“We owe it to the families who have lost their loved ones to preventable workplace accidents and illness and to the workers whose lives have been forever changed because of something that happened at work.

“We’ve come a long way in improving occupational health and safety laws, but more needs to be done.”

Representatives made pledges for workplace safety on behalf of workers and employers, communities, governance and health care.

Gray’s death marks the first work-related fatality of 2024. No workplace fatalities were recorded by the Yukon Workers’ Safety and Compensation Board in 2023.

“This year brings a special sadness as our community feels the loss of a firefighter who succumbed to occupational cancer,” Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said through tears at the event.

White said Gray died on April 18 after two years of living with cancer.

“He was a beautiful man. His commitment to safeguarding the community extended beyond his official duties, embodying the spirit of a true protector both in service and his personal life,” White said.

“He thrived on the complex challenges that the fire service presented, always ready with innovative solutions. He served the Whitehorse Fire Department with valour and dedication since 2003.”

White described Gray as having a profound impact on the community and as “a man with many facets: stoic, kind, goofy, calm, generous with perfect comedic timing.”

She said the City of Whitehorse lowered the flags at half-mast on the day of his passing at age 61.

In 2023, 687 workers were hurt at work and, of those, 380 needed time away from work to recover, according to a statement from Premier Ranj Pillai and Richard Mostyn, the minister responsible for the Yukon Workers’ Safety and Compensation Board.

“Sadly, in the Yukon, there has been one workplace fatality in 2024. Our deepest condolences go out to their family, friends and colleagues,” reads their statement.

“These injuries and their profound effects reach beyond the workplace into the hearts and homes of our communities. We must continue to work together to do our part so that every worker comes home safe at the end of the day.”

Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott shared the news about Gray’s death during the city council meeting on April 22.

While the mayor didn’t know him, she told the council what she heard from his colleagues and people in the community.

“Paul was a dedicated member of our firefighting team, serving with valour and commitment while protecting our community,” she said.

Cabott said Gray started with the city in 1988 as a bylaw constable, then moved into a firefighter role in 2005. In 2017, he went into fire prevention.

“Paul’s courage and sacrifice will forever be remembered,” she said.

“During this difficult time, on behalf of the city, I’d like to extend our deepest condolences to Paul’s family, his friends, and to all of his colleagues.”

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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