Labour leader’s murder triggers Canada’s first general strike

July 27, 2018

On July 27, 1918, Albert “Ginger” Goodwin, a well-known BC coalminer, pacifist and advocate for better working conditions in Canada’s mining sector, was hunted down and killed by a police officer. News of his death, which many believed were the result of his union activism, sparked Canada’s first General Strike as workers in Vancouver put down their tools and protested in the streets.

A century later, Canada’s unions continue Goodwin’s work with calls for greater accountability from mining companies – socially, economically and environmentally – both in Canada and around the world. 

As Vice-President of the BC Federation of Labour, Ginger Goodwin led several strikes and was an outspoken opponent to the First World War, all of which brought him to the attention of government and military authorities.

Like many coal miners, Goodwin suffered lung problems and was initially classified as “unfit” for fighting overseas. However, following a strike he led for the 8-hour day at a smelter in Trail BC, his conscription status was changed to ‘fit for service in an overseas fighting unit’.

With the help of townspeople, he traveled to Vancouver Island and went into hiding in the bush near Cumberland, where other war resisters received support from local community members. In a series of still-contested events, Goodwin was tracked down on July 27, 1918 and shot by a private constable employed by the Dominion Police (forerunner of the RCMP), just 4 days after an amnesty had been declared for draft evaders.

Goodwin’s body was taken through the streets in a procession that was a mile long before being interred at the Cumberland Municipal Cemetery. Less than a week later, on August 2, the Vancouver General Strike – the first general strike in Canadian history – took place, organized as a one-day political protest against Goodwin’s murder. Before his murder, Goodwin had called for a general strike in the event that any worker was drafted into military service against their will.

The strike was met with violence. Three hundred men ransacked the offices of the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council, many of them returned soldiers who had been mobilized and supplied with vehicles to storm the Labour Temple, located at 411 Dunsmuir Street.

In 2001 the newly-elected BC Liberal government removed the name Ginger Goodwin Way from the road that passes by the grave yard that holds his remains. The signs and the name were restored in June 2018 by BC’s NDP government. While the Ginger Goodwin Way signs on the inland Island Highway come and go, Goodwin is commemorated by Ginger Goodwin Creek (1982) and Mount Ginger Goodwin (1989), the unnamed mountain that he was shot and killed on. Each year the citizens of Cumberland hold a graveside memorial to pay tribute to him and what he fought for.

June 27, 2018 was official designated “Ginger Goodwin Day” by the BC provincial government to mark the centenial of his murder.

A photograph of the funeral procession for Ginger Goodwin, through the streets of Cumberland, British Columbia.

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