Ginger Goodwin: A Forceful Presence On The Trail Labour Scene And Hero For Canadian Labour Activism

Albert “Ginger” Goodwin (May 10, 1887 – July 27, 1918)

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The controversial nature of Ginger Goodwin’s death has prompted continuing speculation and suspicion; it has also focused attention on his short life and meteoric rise to trade-union leadership. His surviving writings show a rough-hewn assault on capitalism, a call for the achievement of a more just society through the replacement of private ownership of the means of production by production for use, not profit, and an anti-militarism that made him urge workers of all nations not to participate in economic wars. The methods he advocated for achieving the new society were “education, organization and agitation” and the election of members to legislatures. With Marxist rhetoric, he referred to wage slaves who “would rise up in rebellion and overthrow the master class.” He could also sound utopian, portraying post-capitalism as “the new age with its blossoms of economic freedom, happiness and joy for the world’s workers.” His union activity, like that of Frank Henry Sherman* in Alberta, showed a pragmatism which sought a more immediate redress of wrongs. The courage of Goodwin’s conviction in resisting militarism when he was conscripted during wartime, with what proved to be fatal consequence to himself, has been better appreciated in peacetime.

Roger Stonebanks



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Goodwin was born in Treeton, Yorkshire, England, becoming a coal miner for most of his working life. Goodwin followed the work, mining in England, Nova Scotia, and from late 1910 on, Vancouver Island. Mayse’s book Ginger: The Life and Death of Albert Goodwin says that Goodwin found the working conditions in the Cumberland mines to be “appaling” and that he organized his local, and convinced it to “down tools” in protest. These actions led into a “vicious coal strike on Vancouver Island” in 1912-13. Although the strike did not garner favorable change for workers, it was regarded as an extreme economic burden on Canada, and Goodwin was considered to be an instigator by management. Goodwin found himself “blackballed” from mining, never finding work in the coal mines again. This solidified Goodwin’s resolve to demand favorable change; through trade unions and collective bargaining.

In 1916 Goodwin moved to Trail, British Columbia, where he worked as a “smelterman” for the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited. He then entered politics and ran as a candidate of the Socialist Party of Canada in Trail’s “provincial election of 1916″. On December 18, 1916 Goodwin was elected “full-time secretary” of the Trail Mill and Smeltermen’s Union. The following year he was elected vice-president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, and president of both the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, District 6 and the Trail Trades and Labour Council.

Goodwin was a conscientious objector of World War I, openly stating his disdain that the working class were now being employed to kill each other; in war. Goodwin complied with the law and signed up for the draft, but was not conscripted after a medical examination found him temporarily unfit for military duty; saying he suffered “black lung” and bad teeth. Shortly after, Goodwin led a strike at the Trail lead/zinc smelter in 1917; bargaining for a standard eight-hour workday. Amidst the strike, Goodwin was notified that his temporary status had been changed and that he was now “fit for duty”.

As a pacifist opposed to the war, Goodwin fled conscription into the Cumberland bush where he avoided capture for some months; with the aid of his fellow workers from Cumberland. Hunted by the police for evading the draft, Goodwin camped in the hills surrounding Cumberland. On July 27, 1918, he was shot and killed by Dominion Police Special Constable Dan Campbell.[1] Campbell, who claimed he fired in self-defense, was never tried for the death. Goodwin was given a large funeral, and his death sparked the Vancouver general strike in August 1918.

The Ginger Group, a faction of radical Progressive and Labour Members of Parliament who split in 1924 and advocated socialism, were named after Goodwin. The new highway near Cumberland was briefly named for Goodwin, though the resulting removal of the name signs indicates the continuing controversy over Goodwin’s death and legacy.


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Goodwin quickly established himself as a strong, forceful presence on the Trail labour scene. His opponent on the company side was Selwyn Blaylock, in charge of labour relations for Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (Cominco). Blaylock took a strongly paternalistic attitude to the workers, and was used to being treated with deference. Goodwin’s direct approach was not to his liking. As well, there were the usual workplace problems that Goodwin was all too familiar with: long hours, unhealthy working conditions and numerous others. Under Goodwin the union started moving towards a strike. The main issue was hours of work. The union wanted eight-hour days for all members of the smelter workforce. The company insisted that they had an agreement allowing longer hours. The union strongly disagreed, and on Nov. 15, 1917 the smeltermen walked off the job.

The smeltermen, though, had several obstacles to face. They had no support from the union’s headquarters, and the miners at Rossland, who had been idled by their strike, urged them to return. Moreover mediators had determined that there was an agreement in place for the duration of the war. They urged the men to return, and lobby for legislated eight-hour days. Faced with this opposition, the smeltermen ended their strike in December.

Goodwin, meanwhile, was having trouble with the government. Years of working in mines had made Goodwin a chronically sick man. When the issue of conscription for the war came up in 1917 Goodwin was medically examined and put in category “D”.  That meant he was temporarily unfit, but subject to re-examination later. Suddenly, eleven days into the strike, he received a telegram from the local military tribunal. They ordered him back for re-examination. He was now declared to be in category “A”, fit for fighting. This despite Prime Minister Borden’s statement, six days before, that such men were not to be called up. The union denounced this as highly suspicious.

Goodwin fought his reclassification all the way to the final arbiter, Lyman Duff of the Supreme Court of Canada. Goodwin was too much a pacifist ever to have gone to war, even if he had been healthy. Duff rejected his claim, giving no reasons. Goodwin knew what he had to do. He left for Vancouver Island, and escaped into the wilds west of Cumberland. He was not going to fight.

Goodwin was not alone in his struggle. Conscription was massively unpopular in Canada, and Goodwin had company in the bush. Several other men were also holed up west of Comox Lake. They were helped by local people who smuggled supplies out to them. Even the local constable, Robert Rushford, blinked his eyes at this.

Not so the Dominion Police. This was a special force whose job it was to catch evaders. A small posse of them arrived in Cumberland, headed by Inspector William Devitt. With him was Constable Dan Campbell, formerly of the B.C. Provincial Police. Campbell had been fired from the B.C. Police for extortion. The Dominion Police, faced with manpower shortages, were forced to hire him. Campbell was also a crack shot and a superb outdoorsman, useful in this pursuit.

Policemen had been searching for the evaders since the spring of 1918. Campbell arrived there in early July. He told several people he was going to “get” the deserters. On the morning of July 27th a small group consisting of Devitt, Campbell, and Constable George Roe headed down Comox Lake, guided by trappers Thomas Anderson and George Janes. They went to Alone Mountain at the end of the lake. The trappers left the party, and the policemen headed into the bush. Devitt and Roe took one trail, and Campbell another. At 4:30 p.m. a shot rang out from Campbell’s trail. Devitt and Roe hurried over. They found Goodwin’s lifeless body. Campbell had shot him dead.

Campbell claimed that he had shot in self defence. He said Goodwin was raising a rifle towards him. Devitt ordered Campbell back to Cumberland, to surrender to the Provincial Police. He then attempted to have the body buried at the site. Two undertakers, though, refused the request. When Goodwin’s friends heard about it, they insisted the body be brought out. When it was finally retrieved it was examined, not by either of the Cumberland doctors, but by a doctor brought over from Courtenay. Then a coroner’s inquest was held. The coroner’s jury, though empanelled in a mining town, had no working miners on its panel. After deliberations they came down with a neutral verdict: Albert “Ginger” Goodwin had been shot to death by Constable Dan Campbell.

Next a Preliminary Inquiry was held in Victoria, to see if Campbell should stand trial for manslaughter. The deciding factor in this turned out to be witnesses brought by the prosecution. Five of them testified that Campbell had said he would “get” the evaders “dead or alive”, that they would never get away. One witness said he had said “shot” rather than “get”. On the strength of this the magistrates committed him for trial in higher court.

But by law the final recommendation had to come from a grand jury (this has since been repealed). The proceedings of this body were secret, and no record was kept. They did not detain Campbell for long. On Oct. 1, 1918 they began hearing witnesses. By the next day they were finished, and issued their recommendation: he was not to go to trial. Campbell left a free man.


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After moving to Trail in early 1916 to work as a smelterman, he was unanimously declared the candidate of the Socialist Party of Canada for the Ymir riding in the 1916 election. The socialists of Trail fought a hard campaign in a conservative stronghold. Goodwin traveled around the region organizing meetings and speaking to anyone who would listen. The bourgeois press slandered him ruthlessly. Even as far away as Victoria, the papers denounced Goodwin as a traitor. As expected the Conservative’s James Schofield was re-elected. He won 558 votes out of a total of 1,275. Ginger came in third with 254 votes. This was a very strong showing for the Socialist Party of Canada. No socialist had ever received such strong support in this constituency.

In December of that year Ginger was elected secretary of the Trail Mill & Smeltermen’s Union, Western Federation of Miners Local105. But before he could get into his new role, Ginger and others were off to the annual convention of the BC Federation of Labour. The convention had a strong anti-war mood. Joe Naylor was elected President of the BC Fed and Ginger Goodwin was elected Vice President for the West Kootenay region.

After several months of organizing and agitating in Trail, Goodwin had become a force to be reckoned with. Goodwin and his comrades were able to force concessions from the bosses with mere threats. The smelter had been garnishing the wages of its workers for the war effort; one simple letter hand delivered by Ginger Goodwin threatening a strike was enough to force them to stop. Instead, the bosses set up a voluntary donation account that was run through the bank, not the company, and promised no discrimination against workers who refused to contribute. But in November 1917 Ginger’s latest demand would hit the company like a bomb shell.

The union demanded the eight hour day for all smelter workers. There was no room for maneuvering. Ginger delivered a twenty-four hour ultimatum. Either all the workers of the smelter would get the eight hour day, or they would all take the zero hour day. On 10 November, 1917 1,500 smelter workers walked off the job under the leadership of Ginger Goodwin. The strike took on special significance during the war. The lead and zinc processed there was used to make arms for the war and the strike was being led by a high-profile anti-war activist. Goodwin not only called for an end to the war, but the overthrow of the capitalist system all together. The ruling class was planning to crush Ginger Goodwin.

The Assassination of Ginger Goodwin

On 26 November, Ginger was called before the Trail exemption board. He had previously been declared unfit for military service due to his health problems. An ulcer, bad teeth and tuberculosis would normally be enough to get anyone out of the war, but Ginger was a special case. He was reclassified and declared fit for military service. Although he would launch a lengthy appeal process, this was the beginning of the end for Ginger Goodwin.

A mass meeting of over one thousand workers was held the next day. They loudly protested the persecution of Trail’s most notorious socialist. An appeal was launched by the workers to have union leaders exempted from conscription. Their arguments were sound. They used the same reasoning that was used to exempt employers from conscription: they perform a valuable service to industry. But of course this appeal was flatly denied.

In early December the smelter workers sent an appeal to their international union for support. They were betrayed by their own international. With the US entry into the war, the leaders of the International Union of Mine Mill and Smelter Workers had taken a position in support of the war. They asked their members not to strike for the duration of the war so as not to hurt the war effort. This scandalous betrayal left the workers without strike pay. They heroically fought on, until 20 December when a mass meeting of workers faced the inevitable and voted to return to work.

The smelter workers lost 36 days wages without any strike pay. It was a terrible end to the first strike for the eight hour day in Canadian history. Union activists were blacklisted. Ginger wrote publicly about the blacklist:

“There is a number of men that will not be taken back by the appearance of things, men who had the conviction to fight for the cause of the eight-hour day and who at the time of writing have got it from good authority that they are not wanted any more at the smelter.

Those that are taken back have to sign a pledge to be of good behavior for the duration of the war (Why not life?)…”

Ginger focused on his appeal process. In his final appeal Ginger gave up arguing on health matters and focused his appeal on agitation. He argued that no officials of labour should be taken to war; they were needed at home for benefit of the population. He signed his letter, “Fraternally for Socialism, Albert Goodwin”. It was finally decided on 15 April, and his appeal was rejected.

Ginger failed to report for duty in Victoria. Knowing that sending a man with tuberculosis to the trenches was as good as a death sentence, Ginger went underground. He fled back to Cumberland where a network of supporters kept him supplied. He hid out at the far side of Comox Lake on the banks of the Cruikshanks River along with a few other men resisting conscription. Albert “Ginger” Goodwin was shot dead on the banks of one of his favorite trout streams where he had spent so many days fishing with his friend and comrade Joe Naylor. These so called police constables left Ginger’s body on the forest floor to rot. It wasn’t until July 30 that his friends were able to find Ginger Goodwin’s body and bring it back for burial.

Dan Campbell claimed that he fired in self defense, but this “official” story is now believed by no one. Joe Naylor oversaw the autopsy of his best friend. The coroner’s report showed that the bullet passed first through Ginger’s wrist, then into his neck. It was clear from the angle of the wounds, that Ginger’s hands were raised in the air in surrender when he was shot. Dan Campbell literally got away with murder. He was never punished.

Goodwin’s funeral procession in Cumberland stretched for over a mile. Thousands came out to bid farewell to their fallen comrade. In Vancouver a general strike was called in protest of the murder. On 2 August, 1918, thousands of workers in Vancouver and across Vancouver Island downed tools in Canada’s first General Strike.


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