The Great Vancouver Island Coal Strike

January 20th, 2017

After years of tension between workers and employers, mining abruptly ceased to a halt in 1912, marking the beginning of one of the largest strikes in Vancouver Island’s history. At that point, miners had become so fed up with unsafe working conditions and employers who failed to recognize unions that a major strike was an inevitable outcome.

It all came to a head when one miner, who also belonged to the miner’s union, was unfairly dismissed in late 1912. Frustrated workers united by taking a ‘day off’ to protest the unjust leave of their companion. In response, management locked out the workers the very next day, effectively starting the strike.

This significant event lasted nearly two years in length, with more than 3,500 workers from multiple mines refusing to return to work until things changed. The United Mine Workers of America provided strike pay and union leadership to those who took up the cause.

Throughout this period, many companies simply hired new workers to replace those on strike, including Chinese and other foreign recruits who eagerly filled the positions. Unfortunately, this only created a larger rift between workers and management. Special police forces, like those pictured above from 1913, were hired to protect the strikebreakers. Riots broke out in a number of coal towns, prompting even the government to intervene by sending in militia in great numbers to the area.

In 1914, strike pay had dwindled, forcing many find employment elsewhere, and militia members were called away to join the war effort as the WWI began. Finally, the two year ordeal had come to an end, ushering in a new era of organized unions and an empowered labour force. (from the collection of the Nanaimo Archives)

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