High Steel

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High Steel
Directed byDon Owen
Written byDon Owen
Produced byJulian Biggs
StarringHarold McComber
Narrated byDon Francks
CinematographyJohn Spotton
Edited byDon Owen
Music byBruce Mackay
Release date
  • 1965 (1965)
Running time
13 minutes 7 seconds

High Steel is a 1966 short National Film Board of Canada documentary film directed by Don Owen about Mohawk Ironworkers from Kahnawake building New York City skycrapers.


Featuring breathtaking sequences of workers walking along narrow steel beams high above street level, High Steel is based largely on the experiences of one Mohawk ironworker working in Manhattan, Harold McComber. The film contrasts the daring work of McComber and his coworkers in the skies above New York with life back home in Kahnawake. It also explains how the Mohawk people living across the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal first gained their reputation for high steel work in the late 19th century, working on a railway bridge that ran through their land. However, as the film recounts through narration and archival photos, such a reputation came at a terrible cost: while working on the Quebec Bridge further down river near Quebec City, dozens of Mohawks were among the 75 men killed during its 1907 construction collapse—with a devastating impact on the small community. While celebrating their courage and skill, the film also makes plain how Mohawks are forced to leave home in order to make a living, with McComber regretting that his sons have had to grow up without their father.[1][2][3]


The film's director of photography was John Spotton, with Don Francks as narrator, Julian Biggs as producer, and with a song by Bruce Mackay, "Mountains of Iron and Steel" (replacing Gordon Lightfoot, who was originally supposed to have provided music). The film was shot using 35 mm cameras, with film crews having to gain access to the construction site high above the ground by traversing a ladder from an adjacent building.[1][2][3]


High Steel received the Canadian Film Award for Best Editing.[1] It also received a Special Youth Prize from the Berlin International Film Festival.[4]

Further reading[edit]

  • Gass, Henry (23 August 2013). "Why the Mohawks are no longer walking the high steel". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 4 June 2017.


  1. ^ a b c Gravestock, Steve (2005). Don Owen: Notes on a Filmmaker and His Culture. Indiana University Press. pp. 41–43. ISBN 9780968913246. Retrieved 4 June 2017. High Steel Don Owen.
  2. ^ a b Druick, Zoë (2007). Projecting Canada: Government Policy and Documentary Film at the National Film Board. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. p. 109. ISBN 9780773576698. Retrieved 4 June 2017.
  3. ^ a b "The Lost Canadian: Don Owen". Point of View Magazine. No. 59. Documentary Organization of Canada. 1 October 2005. Retrieved 4 June 2017.
  4. ^ "High Steel". Our Collection. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 4 June 2017.

External links[edit]