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The Globe and Mail

A bleak future: France's steel-making tradition faces its decline

After over a century of activity, the forging and steel-making tradition of the Lorraine region’s “Angel Valley" is gradually disappearing. Retired iron workers now serve as volunteer guides at a museum dedicated to the industry.

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The ArcelorMittal Florange-Hayange blast furnace in Hayange near Florange. After the 2009 closure of the nearby Gandrange site, a recent decision by ArcelorMittal to mothball two blast furnaces in Hayange-Florange has hastened fears that the forging and steel making tradition of the “Angel Valley” has come to an end.

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Roger Bague, 70, a retired steel worker, poses at the U4 museum in Uckange near Florange, where production was halted in 1991 after a century of activity. He is a volunteer guide at the museum.

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A view from a cemetery shows the ArcelorMittal blast furnace in Hayange near Florange, in the Lorraine region of eastern France.

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Rusted chains are seen at the gate of one of the entrances to the Gandrange ArcelorMittal steelworks in Gandrange. The decline of the industry started at the end of the 1970s.

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Two women walk with their children in the main street of Rosselange near Florange. Unemployment in the area exceeds 10 per cent.

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A giant “SOS” sign stands in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary erected in 1903 and made of cast iron produced in a nearby blast furnace in Hayange. For the past two decades, the valley has endured the closure of industrial sites, mines and furnaces.

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Retired iron ore miner Ernest Niessen, 82, the son and grandson of mineworkers, looks at a book he wrote about the mine, next to his helmet and carbine lamp at his home in Algrange near Florange.

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The Saint Barbe church stands in Crusnes, some 25 kilometres from Florange. The church, built from 1937 to 1939 and the only one in Europe entirely made from steel, was built with steel produced in the Lorraine region.

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Anthony Valentini, 26, poses near a fire set up by workers on strike in front of the Florange ArcelorMittal plant in Florange, May 22, 2013. The son and grandson of metal workers, Anthony worked until March 2012 as an interim worker at the plant, where his father still works. Anthony is now unemployed.

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A combination picture shows nine road signs with the crossed out names of cities all ending with the word “ange” (“angel” in English), in the Angel Valley of the Lorraine region.

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Joseph Leder, left, 77, a retired iron ore miner at the Algrange mine, talks with his retired colleague Ernest Niessen in front of a wall fresco representing the work of iron miners in Algrange. Leder retired in 1983 as a train driver at the mine at the age of 47 and still lives in Algrange in the house where he was born in 1936. The iron mines are part of the forging and steel making tradition in the Lorraine region’s “Angel Valley.”

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The slogan “No to the closing” has been scrawled on a wall near the Gandrange ArcelorMittal steelworks, closed in 2009, in Gandrange near Florange.

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Remi Gradel, 19, poses at the iron mines museum in Aumetz. Gradel, grandson of a steel worker and a student in tourism, lives in Hayange and is a trainee at the Aumetz museum dedicated to the iron mines.

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General view of the Gandrange ArcelorMittal steelworks, closed in 2009.

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A sign that reads “end of the visit” is displayed at the U4 museum in Uckange near Florange. The Uckange U4 furnace was turned into a museum in October 2007.

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A man walks along a railroad track of the Hayange-Florange ArcelorMittal site in Hayange.

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