Peterborough and District Labour Council

Standing up for Working People
In our workplaces and our community

The following article was written by Henry Nokes and appeared in the 1974 edition of the Labour Review. Mr. Nokes was, for many years, closely involved in labour circles in Peterborough and was the area representative of the Canadian Labour Congress.

The Local Labour Council Throughout The Years

It has been suggested that I write a history of the Peterborough Labour Council. I am going to exercise literary license and choose to write something less comprehensive in nature. It is my choice to journey through the years in a more disconnected fashion.

There is ample evidence of active trade unions in the Peterborough-Lindsay area in the late 1880's and 1890's. In the Gainey collection of labour records which were unearthed by Mr. Cameron Wasson, a former Treasurer of the Peterborough Trades & Labour Council, and Mr. John McPhee, a former President of the Council, is a minute book of the Moulders Union, Local 191. This Union was chartered in October, 1873. The particular set of minutes in question ran from August 18th, 1882, to January 15th, 1892.

On August 17th, 1888, the Local Union appointed a Committee to co-operate with "other Labour unions in town" for a "demonstration". This took place September 3rd from the Knights of Labour Hall. (The Knights had two Local Assemblies in Peterborough at that time).

Four International Unions paraded. They were Carpenters, Local 375; Bricklayers, Local 12; Moulders, Local 191, and International Typographical Union, Local 248 (still in existence), besides six other organizations. These unions were either purely local or part of the Knights of Labour. They were Masons, Shoemakers, Tailors, Machinists, Hod Carriers and Painters. It should be noted that I gleaned the above information from a letter with respect to the collection from Dr. Eugene Forsey, who spent a great deal of time going over the collection for his history of the Canadian Trade Union movement.

It is significant that the "demonstration" took place in 1889 because the Peterborough Examiner of December 26th of the same year reports the founding of what was apparently Peterborough's first Labour Council. It reads as follows:

"An adjourned meeting of the Trades and Labour Unions of the town was held in the Labour Hall last night and a Trades and Labour Council, similar to those in other large towns and cities was formed The Unions represented at the organizational meeting were the Bricklayers, Carpenters and Joiners, and Knights of Labour. The object of the Trades and Labour Council is to deal with matters of municipal and national politics, (discussion of which is prohibited in individual unions) and labour interests in general."

"The following officers were elected: President R. McCregor, Vice-President John Miller, Recording and Corresponding Secretary W. J. Hogan, Treasurer R. Sheehy, Warden, John Gibson."

"A committee composed of Messrs. W. Ringer, George Rose and R. Sheehy was elected to appoint Legislative, Municipal and Organizing Committees-Standing Committees. The Council adjourned to meet December 28th."

Dissolution of sorts must have overcome the original Labour Council because there is material in the Gainey collection on the Peterborough Trades and Labour Council formed in March, 1902.

In the Gainey collection the Minute Book of Bricklayers Union, Local 17, gives record of a letter received by the Local from another Peterborough Local, American Federation of Labour, Federal Labour Union, Local 9240, asking Local 17 to appoint three delegates to discuss forming a Trades and Labour Council. The Local Union agreed to do this and on April 1st two delegates were appointed.

In this period organized labour was making strides in Peterborough as the following article in the Peterborough Examiner of March 3rd, 1902, indicates. The article was headed "Labour Matters"- "Important Visit of Two Official Labour Representatives to Peterborough", and it went on to say: "The great importance at present attaching to the labour movement in Peterborough has justified the visit of two of the best informed Canadian labour representatives to town to confer with the Federal Labour Local, whose membership has grown to such a phenomenal extent. Mr. R Glocking, Secretary of the Ontario Labour Bureau, and Mr. J. A. Flett, Vice-President of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada, arrived in town yesterday and are stopping at the National Hotel. Mr Flett has cancelled a number of other engagements to confer with the officers of the Peterborough Local on matters affecting the welfare of the organization here.

"Mr. Glocking is particularly interested in explaining the operation of the new Bill passed by the Legislature for the conciliation of industrial disputes and other related matters.

"Apart from the local interest which these gentlemen may be expected to create among the local unions, their visit will serve the purpose of contributing intelligent information on the current labour movement of the day.

"It is expected that both Mr. Flett and Mr. Glocking will address a meeting this evening, the particular nature of which has not yet been made public.

"Announcement is made in another column of a Special Meeting to be held in the Foresters Hall, Simcoe Street, this evening of Peterborough Federal Union 9240."

Another item from the Peterborough Examiner of Saturday, March 1st, 1902, seems to emphasize not only the strides that labour seemed to be making but also the fact that it was beginning to become cloaked with a degree of respectability. Under the headlines "Federal Union--High Water Mark Reached Last Night--153 New Members Initiated", the item reads as follows:

"Remarkable as has been the growth of the membership in Peterborough Federal Union 9240, the increase to the roll last night rose to the highest water mark yet reached. The actual number initiated was one hundred and fifty-three, furnishing an acquisition to the strength of the Union that was little short of sensational.

"The hall was crowded as it never was crowded before. It was evident that between five hundred and six hundred were present, and the good order and business-like decorum that prevailed reflected the greatest credit on the officers and men.

"It appeared to be the general impression that the hall had become inadequate for holding the meetings in future and a committee was appointed to procure new premises for holding the Regular Weekly Sessions of the Union at once.

"During the evening the Rev. J. C. Davidson was presented with a beautiful cane by the Union as an expression of the respect of the men for his interest in their cause.

"Mr. Davidson made a feeling reply, thanking them for their gift. He also eave them some good counsel and advice regarding their duties as members of the Union and working men.

"A general discussion of the recent labour disagreements took place, when it was decided that the press be asked to refrain from publishing anything that might give undue prominence to their business.

"A petition was presented from some fifty female employees asking permission to be affiliated with the Union."

A further article in the Peterborough Examiner of Monday, March 10th, 1902, indicates that the committee appointed at the above meeting to locate a hall acted with dispatch because the headline is "The New Rooms" The article notes that the Peterborough Federation of Labour have leased the old Business College and are in the process of fitting it out, and it makes the observation that the rooms will make an ideal home for organized labour, that they are large and comfortable and centrally located. The article also notes that the Union have recently purchased several hundred chairs from the 57th Regiment which were nearly new. Mention is made of the fact that the rooms are supplied with electricity and also supplied "with all modern lodge room conveniences".

The Examiner of March 6th, 1902, makes mention of a visit to Lakefield by the Organizing Committee of Local 9240 with Mr. Flett, and 50 members were signed up and a Union Local formed that night.

The influence of trade unions on the community and their burgeoning importance can be noted from a report in the Peterborough Examiner of a Regular Meeting of Peterborough Town Council on Tuesday, March 4th, 1902. It was noted that notice had been received from the Federation of Labour (this refers to Local 9240) "that on or after April I st the wages of the Corporation labourers will have to be $1.50 per nine-hour day and all teams to be paid $1.25 per day. This matter was referred to the Board of Works"

It might be noted that there were advertisements with respect to the Labourers' wage rate inserted in the Peterborough Examiner also.

I would like to make one further digression to note that at a meeting in the Labour Hall on Saturday night, July 13th, 1889, which was addressed by Mr. H. Lloyd, the International Vice-President of the United Carpenters and joiners International Union, there were a great many ladies in the audience. In all there were between 125 and 150 people present.

The meeting was also addressed by Mr. J. A. Stratton, M.P.P. for the riding. Mr. J. J. Hartley, Local President of the Bricklayers Union, and Mr. McCregor, President of the Carpenters Union, also spoke.

It is also of some interest that Mr. Wilson Craw reports in a book, "The Peterborough Story--Our Mayors--1850 to 1951", that workmen on the construction of the Peterborough to Nassau section of the Trent Canal struck for a raise of 25c a day to $1.35. Violence broke out and the contractor laid charges of obstruction in the police court. The strike was settled with the pay remaining at $1.00 a day and the charges were withdrawn.

The new Peterborough Trades and Labour Council, organized in 1902, quickly became involved in Municipal politics. Mr. Wilson Craw in discussing the Municipal Elections of 1905 had this to say in "The Peterborough Story": "Of the twelve councillors in 1905 six were. new and only two had served more than two years. It was a comparatively inexperienced Council. Three of the successful candidates had been sponsored by the Trades and Labour Council. Labour's first move in the municipal field."

The First World War had its effect on the labour movement as it did on many other things in what had been a placidly flowing reasonably undisturbed way of life, easier for those with wealth than for those without, but still slow-moving and placid.

In 1916 (December 1lth) there was a disastrous fire at the Quaker Oats Company. There were 22 fatalities. The plant was almost completely destroyed and the embers burned most of the winter. The County Court House also was involved in the fire.

This fire, with its tragic loss of life, loss of jobs and some indications that the company might move elsewhere cast a mantle of gloom over the community. Mayor J. J. Duffus convened three community suppers in February and March, 1917, for business, professional and union men. One dinner was for juniors, another was for seniors, and the third was for trades and labour representatives called together by their President John J. Hartley at the request of Mr. Duffus.

The purpose of the meetings was for the discussion of the industrial outlook of Peterborough, the general welfare of the city, including the military activities and other interests.

Although the disastrous fire had left doubts with many in the community as to the practicability of the Quaker Oats Company remaining in Peterborough, they were reassured by the manager, Mr. W. H. Denham. He indicated that the Quaker Oats Company would enlarge the plant and suggested that a high level bridge would be an advantage to both the company and the public. He indicated that work that the company was having done in Sudbury was of a temporary nature, The Labour Council was heavily involved in organization and municipal affairs. For many years in Peterborough, Civic Elections took place on New Year's Day. In 1918 the voters endorsed the principle of electing aldermen by a general vote. This meant that the Ward system was rejected for the second time. The system of election when the city was incorporated was by general vote. The city returned to the ward system when Ashburnham, which had been a community in its own right at one time, failed to seat any members on Council for two elections. This took place in 1910. Two Aldermen were elected for each of the five wards -- one coming up for election each year from each ward.

Peterborough was the first city in Ontario to elect its aldermen for a two-year term.

Labour's voice was now being heard in regard to wages and working conditions and the social system generally. Workers were insisting on shorter hours, better safety standards, compensation for injury on the job and proper apprenticeship programs. Inflation was prevalent but wages had not kept pace with spiralling costs. Workers, through their Labour Council, wished a say in how the community was being run. They felt they could not do so under the ward system. Their candidates were getting defeated every time they went to the polls. The ward system was defeated at the polls and this came something of a shock to municipal politicians.

The City Council of the day decided to abide by the wishes of the majority but they inserted a ringer in the by-law. This was "that voters must vote for four aldermen but they could vote for five". Successive Labour Councils exerted effort to get this by-law changed, without success. The writer can even recall being told that organized labour requested the change to the system which included the "must vote for four" provisions without mentioning that that particular provision was inserted by Council after the fact. It is only in very recent years that a change has taken place.

The "must vote for four" ringer inserted by City Council boomeranged in the 1919 municipal elections. Four representatives of organized labour were elected and a fifth man was elected who could be counted on to support the position of organized labour.

The Labour Council put forward a strong program which aroused considerable interest. The Council Chambers were overflowing on nomination night. This was the first time that nominations had been held in the evening, which might account to some degree for the crowd.

Many people were there because they were frustrated and dissatisfied with the manner in which the 1918 Council was handling the building of the new Hunter Street Bridge.

Robert Morrison, an electrician, headed the polls, along with Mr. Harry Gainey, a barber and a trade unionist and a person whose records and files have provided much of the background material of this writer and many other local labour historians. Mr. Alex Murray, a machinist, was also elected. Mr. Murray was an active trade unionist too. Others elected were J. J. Turner and James Hamilton. All of the above were elected for two years. The fourth candidate nominated by organized labour was James Garside, a machinist, who ran sixth and was the leader among those elected for one year. Four other aldermen were elected for one year. The mayor was unopposed.

A difficulty arose at the first meeting of the Council because the Council refused the Labour Council's nominee for a three-year term on the Board of the Peterborough Public Library.

Alderman Mcintyre, who was often sympathetic to organized labour, lined up with the labour aldermen and supported Thomas Ogilvie. Five other aldermen supported Frank Sollit for re-appointment. The Mayor cast the deciding vote in favour of Frank Sollit.

This aroused the Labour Council and they argued that they should have a representative on the Library Board. At the January meeting of the Labour Council one member said in anger: "We asked for nothing more than we were entitled to. At the municipal elections we only nominated four representatives proving that we had no desire to obtain a majority of the Council seats. The Council action only means that the class struggle has been introduced and it should be noted that it was not started by organized labour".

The necessity of participation in political action at all levels must have been driven home with some emphasis because that same evening an independent Labour Party was formed in Peterborough.

Tommy Tooms, a labour representative, was elected to represent West Peterborough in the Ontario Legislature in the United Farmers of Ontario Government of Mr. E. C. Drury.

This government, made up of 43 farmers and 11 labour representatives, provided a great deal of the basic social legislation that is on the statute books today.

Mr. Murray resigned later in the year because of ill health to return to Scotland. He later came back to Peterborough and was active in labour affairs.

In 1920 civic elections were not too successful for organized labour as none of the four labour nominees were seated. Organized labour, however, was represented by Mr. Harry Gainey, Robert Morrison and Joseph Crowe. Robert Garside, who had been elected previously for one year as a labour candidate and then dropped from the state, was also elected.

The following year Mayor McIntyre was elected without opposition. A slate put forward by a group known as the citizens committee were elected. These gentlemen were elected: Joseph Crowe, Harry Gainey, Robert Morrison, J. J. Turner and James Hamilton. It is to be noted that there were names that had been espoused by the labour movement on the citizens committee slate. Organized labour again proposed a slate of candidates but only Mr. Gainey, the perennial labour candidate, was elected. Mr. Morrison had been dropped from the labour slate.

The years following World War 1 had been hard years for organized labour just as they were for many Canadians. The war to save the world may have done so momentarily but it was a very different kind of world, not the same kind of contented, satisfied-with-your-lot kind of world that generations of Canadians had grown up in. The world had started on the toboggan slide that was the twentieth century. People, labour-management relationships, family relationships or community relationships would never be the same again.

This was the period that generated the Winnipeg General Strike and other exhibitions of public and ordinary people dissatisfaction with the status quo.

However, be that as it may, organized labour in Peterborough was still just awakening. Government, under public pressure, was being forced to take a look at hours of work, at minimum standards of wages, safety provisions and other matters affecting the worker in the work place.

The awakening of the worker to his rights and the dignity of his calling as a producer eventually ebbed into Peterborough.

In the Auburn Woollen Mill, wages for skilled workers were as low as $12.50 a week - $18.00 a week was about tops. It must be noted that these wages were for fifty and sixty-hour weeks.

There had been considerable dissatisfaction at the Dominion Woollens and Worsteds Auburn Woollen Mills plants for some time, also at the Bonner-Worth Mills owned by the same company.

The employees of the Auburn Woollen Mills went out on strike for a wage increase of 25% on June 29th, 1937. A representative of U.T.W.A.- C.I.0. came to town to assist them and signed them up the next day.

Women workers early displayed their desire to be a part of the trade union picture in Peterborough. Three hundred employees (mostly women) of the Bonner-Worth plant of Dominion Woollens, now the site of the Daniel Campus of Sir Sandford Fleming College, went out on strike in sympathy with their fellow Dominion Woollen and Worsted employees at the Auburn plant. There was a skirmish with local police under Inspector Reid that day.

It is significant that there does not seem to have been an active militant Labour Council in Peterborough at that time.

Peterborough was a centre of labour activity at last. The General Motors plant had just been organized. One of the speakers at the many labour rallies that were held was Charlie Millard, later to become the Canadian Director of the United Steelworkers Union and later again the General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Mass meetings were held either in the old Market Square soon to be the "Peterborough Centre" or Nicholls Oval. Alderman Fred Tuggey organized a Strike Relief Fund. Later this park was to see a more peaceful labour use. For quite a number of years the Peterborough Labour Day festivities were held here.

Negotiations opened a little more than two weeks after the strike started. The Company would not negotiate with Union Staff Representatives present; they finally withdrew. The Company made no offer on wages, some concessions on hours and conditions. The Union voted to stay out and the Company threatened that they would close the plant. No idle threat because they later did.

The Department of Labour for Ontario was asked to intervene in the strike by the Mayor. The Chief Conciliator for the Department of Labour, Louis Fine, was appointed.

An indication of public and political labour management attitudes is the fact that Mr. Fine also would not meet with the Union Representatives but did meet with a Committee of the Strikers and Mr. Harry Barrett, General Manager of Dominion Woollens and Worsteds.

The only thing that the Company would agree to with respect to the negotiations was a guarantee of a minimum wage of 32 cents an hour. It should be noted that this was something of an improvement because wages ranged as low as 22-1/2 cents an hour prior to the strike. The negotiations terminated.

Police escorted 20 non-strikers into the plant and they were well equipped with tear gas and night sticks. The result was violence.

The Provincial Police came into the picture on August 9th when the Company announced they would open the plant.

A riot took place. The mayor attempted to read a letter that he had received from the Premier of the Province, Mitchell Hepburn, promising an investigation of working conditions and minimum wage legislation.

The workers however, had had enough. The mayor was roughed up slightly, 15 strikers were arrested, 12 men and 3 women, stones were thrown, tomatoes, etc.

The President of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada intervened and urged acceptance of Hepburn's offer.

The workers reluctantly returned to work. Most of the charges against the strikers were withdrawn or failed.

An aftermath of the strike was that one year later the plant was closed for four months before the outbreak of the Second World War and the buildings were given over to the wrecker's hammer. The only building remaining standing today is the old weave shed now used as a warehouse by the G. Wittaker Company. The original Woollen Mill in Peterborough, the oldest, was built in 1862-63.

Again a war came along to work its devious effects on the labour movement. In the years following the Dominion Woollens and Worsteds strikes industrial union organization had not progressed very rapidly in Peterborough. It took the Second World War with its consequent demands on manpower and production to give the needed stimuli to industrial union organization. One of the things that helped was that legislation in principle required an employer to give recognition to a union, where a majority of the employees desired it. The legislative provisions requiring the employer to bargain also assisted at that time.

It must also be noted that the changes in production demands and techniques, the change in employer attitude which eroded the craftsman principle and deemed the worker another tool in the production chain, thus bringing boredom to the workplace, also sharpened the appetite of the workers for a say in their wages, their working conditions, their health, their security and their future.

When industrial union organization came to Peterborough it came fast and many plants were organized. Notable among them were the Canadian General Electric, the Outboard Marine, the Quaker Oats Company, the Canada Packers Company, the Raybestos Brinton Carpet Company, Peterborough Canoe Company, Ovaltine, Western Clock Company, and others. Civic employee groups were also organizing into unions and the city outside workers and employees of the Sanitation Department were among those joining the throng along with the employees of Civic Hospital.