Friday, June 27, 2008

Miners' Memorial Weekend in Cumberland, B.C.: A Tribute to "Ginger" Goodwin

This weekend, from Friday night until Saturday evening, the town of Cumberland, British Columbia, commemorates its mining heritage. The programme for the weekend's events may be found here. The remembrance begins tonight with a concert of workers' music. A workers' breakfast on Saturday morning, a tribute to Ginger Goodwin with entertainment at the Miners' Memorial, and dinner and dancing on Saturday evening round out the event.

The tribute to the memory of Ginger Goodwin is effectively the raison d'etre of this weekend's event. So, a brief background is in order before we get to the entertainment.

On the slopes of Alone Mountain, outside the mining town of Cumberland, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Albert "Ginger" Goodwin was shot dead by a single bullet fired by Special Constable Dan Campbell of the Dominion Police. The date was July 27, 1918.

Ginger Goodwin was a coal miner who very quickly rose to prominence in the labour movement of British Columbia. Born on May 10, 1887, in Treeton, England, Goodwin first entered the coal mines in 1902, at the age of 15. In 1906, he emigrated to Canada, and again took up coal mining at the Dominion No.2 mines in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. In 1909-10, he joined in the United Mine Workers of America strike for union recognition. The strike was ultimately unsuccessful, and many of the strikers found their services were no longer required in the aftermath.

In 1910 Goodwin, like many Nova Scotia miners, headed west. Many found work in the coal fields opening in the Crow's Nest Pass and in the badlands of the Red Deer Valley, although mining work in these fields could be sporadic and seasonal, requiring often only an itinerant workforce. Goodwin continued on to the mines on Vancouver Island, stopping to work as a miner and mule driver for Cumberland's Canadian Collieries Ltd. Again, he became active in mining politics, and participated in another unsuccessful union recognition strike by the United Mine Workers, from 1912-1914.

Unemployed again following the strike, Goodwin began organizing for the Social Party of Canada, and in 1915, he headed off to the Crow's Nest Pass to secure work as a pony driver in the mines there. In 1916, he moved to Trail, B.C. for another mining job, this time as a smelter. He ran unsuccessfully as the Socialist Party candidate for Trail in the B.C. provincial election of that year. However, in 1917, Goodwin was elected Vice President of the B.C. Federation of Labour.

That same year, with the (re)election of Robert Borden's Union Government, conscription was introduced, as a measure to try to shore up Canada's military complement in the Great War, and provide some necessary relief for Canada's battle-weary soldiers. For a socialist and pacifist like Ginger Goodwin, conscription posed a problem. He would not have volunteered to fight of his own accord. But when he received his notice to report for examination and induction into the Overseas Expeditionary Force, his principles could not longer be hypothetical.

Goodwin appealed his induction on the grounds that he was a pacifist, and therefore a conscientious objector. His appeal was heard and summarily rejected. In April 1918, he was ordered to report for military duty. So, rather than fight, he fled. Along with other conscientious objectors, Goodwin went into hiding or, as we might say nowadays, went underground (but not as a miner). Goodwin and his mates hid in the mountainous areas in the vicinity of Cumberland, where local residents often snuck them food and provisions.

Meanwhile, a Special Constabulary of the Dominion Police was established to track down and return men who were evading military service. One of those Special Constables was Dan Campbell. Campbell tracked OEF evaders on Vancouver Island with a team of two other constables. On July 27, 1918, as the three Special Constables fanned out in the brush outside of Cumberland, Campbell happened upon Ginger Goodwin. One shot rang out. Ginger Goodwin was dead. He was 31.

Goodwin's slaying sparked spontaneous outrage amongst the labour and working-class community of British Columbia, and even sparked a series of protest strikes in Vancouver. The miners of Cumberland threw a large ceremonial parade and funeral for Ginger Goodwin. Meanwhile, Dan Campbell was charged with manslaughter. He claimed self-defense. The case never went to trial.

For more information, anecdote, analysis, and detail visit here, here, here, and here.

If you can't be at Cumberland this weekend, here's a glimpse of last year's Memorial. And by the way, love 'em or hate 'em, or anything in between, you've got to admit that the 'old school' labour movement still has the greatest folk song culture.

So, for those who are descending on Cumberland, B.C., this weekend, from the Jack of Hearts: Enjoy your weekend. Hope the weather cooperates.

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