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BC Federationist Newspaper – early 1900's

The late 19th century and early decades of the 20th century was a golden age of working class newspapers across North America.

Labour newspapers were launched across the continent to give news of workers’ actions and positions, a perspective largely absent from mainstream news reporting then and now.

The British Columbia Federationist was one of these early labour newspapers. Originally issued as the Western Wage Earner, it was owned and operated by the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council (VTLC) that, at the time. was affiliated with 52 unions, representing 8000 (mostly male?) wage earners across the province.

Its motto was “The Unity of Labour; The Hope of the World” and its mandate was “to seek to reflect and voice the needs of organized labour”.

First issue of the BC Federationist
Nov 4, 1911
previously the Western Wage Earner
later the BC Labour News

Edited by Parm Pettipiece, a leading socialist, the BC Federationist was published twice a month following VTLC meetings, and reported on its work, its decisions, and priorities. The paper also included reports from provincial unions generally, and on strikes and job actions in the province as well as Canadian Trades and Labour Congress Reports, and national and American labour news.

Each issue of the Federatist also included a directory of provincial unions and listed the officers and location of each member union, and the day, time, and location of their meetings.

Many of the unions represented in the Federationist are still in existence today, but others, like the ones listed below, are vestiges of a different era.

  • Waiters’ Union
  • Cigarmakers’ Union
  • Bartenders Union
  • Street and Electric Railway Union
  • Paper Hangers and Decorators Union

Newspaper names and runs are notoriously difficult to pinpoint but from my preliminary research it seems like it ran until 1916 and later resurfaced as the BC Labour News in 1921.

The BC Federationist is a valuable resource, and, along with the Canadian Labour Gazette gives a rich snapshot of working class life and issues – a perspective that is generally under-represented in mainstream archival records.

British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical research, Labour history, Local heros, Research, social history, Vancouver history

RIP – Professor Robert A.J. McDonald

Another sad loss in the local historical community this year was Professor Robert (Bob) A.J McDonald who died June 19, 2019

Photo by  Kellan Higgins

I met Bob while I worked at the City of Vancouver Archives in the 1990s while he was researching his book, Making Vancouver – Class, Status, and Social Boundaries – 1863-1913, a comprehensive social history of Vancouver’s development

He was always available and encouraging of the various historical projects I was working on including my tenure as president of the Vancouver Historical Society in the late 1990s. And one year, on International Women’s Day (IWD) he brought in an IWD button that he’d gotten in England many years before – an artifact!

Once, when my children were very young and I didn’t seem to get out much I ran into him on the street. The first thing he asked me was what (historical) project I was working on.

Bob was a great guy and as sad as his memorial service was it was also a beautiful tribute to his time with us on earth and I realized how many people he touched deeply. He led a rich life and contributed so much to our local historical knowledge – a local hero.

I’m sure he’s up here in Heaven now!

Here’s his obituary from the Legacy website, and another from the BC Historical Federation

Canada history, Historical research, Industrial research, Labour history, Library, Research

Strikes, wages, and the cigar-making industry

One of the most valuable resources on trades and labour issues, including strkes is the Labour Gazette, produced by the Canadian government 1900-1978.

a page from the 1901 Labour Gazette with statistical table for the Cigarmaking industry in Canada, showing wages for men/women in the different areas of production (box makers, strippers, rollers, packers, and foremen

The federal Department of Labour (now Labour and Social Development Canada). was initiated by the Conciliation Act of 1900. The department’s mandate was to prevent and settle trade disputes and to publish accurate and statistical industrial information about conditions in Canadian industry and labour.  

The department published the Labour Gazette, a monthly publication which began September 1900, following the same content and format of gazettes used in Britain and other commonwealth countries at the same time. 

Local correspondents collected data and reported monthly on a wide range of labour and industry related events and evolving trends and statistics.

The Labour Gazette contains:

  • Reports from local correspondents on industry composition (gender, wage, productivity, and more) in cities and regions of the country
  • Reports from different industries (cigar-making, coal, fishing, farming, building trades and more)
  • Government contracts
  • Stats
  • Department of Labour reports
  • Immigration reports
  • Lock-outs, strikes and other labour disputes
  • Cost of living reports
  • Lists of trade unions founded in the year of publication
  • Wage rates by industry
  • Lists of trade unions founded in the year of publication
  • Decisions on worker compensation claims
  • Relevant provincial legislation in the year of publication

It’s an immensely rich resource and can give you ideas for writing or other creative work grounded in history, or to allow you to create acccurate portrayals of working people at the time.

Each annual edition is made up of 12 bound reports with one comprehensive index at the very front.

The Vancouver Public Library has the Labour Gazette in an incomplete run spanning the years 1900-1942. They are located in the Business section of the library in compact shelving. The location can be confusing and access may require assistance from a librarian so be sure to ask for help. 

Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa has the complete run of Labour Gazettes, but not in electronic format.