Coal had been discovered on the island in the mid 1800’s and by the end of the century there
were four coal mine owners:
- Canadian Collieries at Cumberland and Extension near Ladysmith where Joseph worked
- Western Fuel at Nanaimo
- Pacific Coast Collieries at South Wellington
- Vancouver and Nanaimo Coal Co at the Jingle Pot mine in Nanaimo
The Nanaimo mine were unionized in the 1880’s but the Dunsmuir Mines proved very hard to
organize due to the political and economic clout of the Dunsmuir family. A strike against Dunsmuir from 1890 to 1891 ended in failure with no union recognized.
A union supporter raised the alarm of dangerous conditions and he was fired and blacklisted and
the next day the men staged a one day protest strike. In response the employers
locked the men out and evicted them and their families from their company
housing. A bitter struggle started that September in 1912 which lasted until the
start of World War I. The Vancouver and Nanaimo Coal Co settled in 1913 but the
other three owners would not. They brought in strikebreakers and evicted
strikers from company housing. Clashes broke out between strikers and the police
and strikebreakers at all the mines. The AG William Bowser sent in the militia
and they remained until the end of the strike.
With the start of WWI many strikers enlisted and the strike petered out.
The mines on Vancouver Island remained unorganized until the Mine Workers Union of Canada,
led by Communists, started an organizing drive in 1930. The United Mine Workers
come back in the late 30’s.
Joseph was arrested on August 15, 1913 after the Militia retook the Town of Ladysmith from
striking miners. Miners had held the town from August 12th to 15th. They stoned
the residences of scabs and drove them out of town. He was sentenced to one year in jail
and a $100 fine. In January, Joseph became ill and receiving no medical
attention died on January 20th, 1914.
Why do we honour this man? His sacrifice and the sacrifice of thousands like him laid the
foundation for a better world where workers stopped being treated as draft
animals to be worked to death and became human beings embodying all that was
progressive in society. Whether it is democracy, human rights and freedom from
want, these brave men and women have through their unselfish actions improved
the conditions for all people in society. What liberates the working class also
benefits the vast majority of the population.
Today our leaders have two paths open to them. One is to follow the spirit of the martyrs, the
spirit of self-sacrifice for the common good. The other is to follow the spirit
of the careerist, the spirit of self-interest to the detriment of all around
We must all pledge to follow in the footsteps of Joseph Mairs and Ginger Goodwin
and everyone who fought at great cost to themselves to make a better world for
workers and their families.
Your brothers did not forget you in 1914
and we will not forget you… ever!
Like Joe Hill,
where workers fight and organize,
it is there you will find