From the 1870's on, the coal miners of Vancouver Island had fought strike after strike to force the hardnosed coal barons to recognize a union. Thanks to strikebreakers, blacklists, anti-union courts and the forces of so-called law and order, they lost them all. Finally, in 1911, the miners invited in the tough, experienced and deep-pocketed United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) to make one last all-out attempt to bring the mine owners to heel.
What started as a flare-up over safety quickly sparked into a conflict that was the most protracted, violent and hard-fought strike in BC's long labour history. It lasted two years, from 1912 to 1914. This is the story of the Vancouver Island Coal Strike.
Find resources, lesson plans and more: labourheritagecentre.ca/GreatCoalStrike
Theme song: "Hold the Fort" - Arranged & Performed by Tom Hawken & his band, 1992. Part of the "On to Ottawa" film produced by Sara Diamond.
“Bowser's Seventy Twa" - Performed by Rika Ruebsaat and Jon Bartlett, used with permission of Jon Bartlett. Our thanks to Simon Trevelyan for helping to provide an mp3 copy.
"Nanaimo Jail" - Performed by Jon Bartlett. Part of a series of Co-op radio reel-to-reel tapes, produced by the Boag Foundation, donated to the BC Labour Heritage Centre in 2019 by Allen Seager.
"Are You From Bevan?" Performed by Phil Thomas accompanied by Barry Hall (vocal, guitar) & Michael Thomas (mandolin), from Phil’s LP/CD Where the Fraser River Flows (1962).
"Mother Jones" - Lucie McNeill
"Anonymous Voices 1 & 2" - Ann-Marie Zak
"Ellen Greenwell" - Bailey Garden
"Lempi Guthrie" - Katie Gartlan-Close
Research and Script for this episode by Rod Mickleburgh & Patricia Wejr.
Anonymous Quote #1 published in the Vancouver Sun, 12 Feb 1913.
BC Federationist 19 September 1913.
Bowen, Lynne 1982 The Coal Mines of Vancouver Island Remember: Boss Whistle. Oolichan Books: Lantzville, BC.
CBC Radio's "The Coal Miner" - (CBC Archives VR001601) Interview Transcriptions – Joseph Gold, Alex McKinnon & Mrs. Guthrie.
Ellen Greenwell interview, AAAB4861, Royal BC Archives sound recordings.
Hinde, John 1997 “Stout Ladies and Amazons: Women in British Columbia Coal-Mining Community of Ladysmith, 1912-1914.” BC Studies 114:33-57.
Miners Clips from Howie Smith interview with Ben Horbury, Henry Gibson and Bob McAllister (with his son, Jack McAllister), 1975. Part of a series of Co-op radio reel-to-reel tapes, produced by the Boag Foundation, donated to the BC Labour Heritage Centre in 2019 by Allen Seager.
Wejr, Patricia and Smith, Howie 1978 Sound Heritage Vol VII, Number 4 “Fighting for Labour: Four Decades of Work in British Columbia 1910-1950.
Kavanagh, Jack 1914 The 1913 Vancouver Island Miners Strike. Socialist History Project.
On the Line: A History of the BC Labour Movement by Rod Mickleburgh. BC Labour Heritage Society, Harbour Publishing, May 2018.
"Reville Variation; Drum Call; Slow Scotch; Quick Scotch; Yankee Doodle "(Montage) - Performed by The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps