Cassidy miners during 1913 strike
After failed strike attempts in the late 1800s, miners began organizing as early as 1911 in anticipation of what would be a watershed moment in Nanaimo history. Backed by the United Mine Workers of America who compensated those Canadian miners who picketed and instigated by safety issues that had bubbled to the surface in fall 1912, the entire workforce was on strike by summer 1913.
To control the masses and protect replacement workers, the provincial governments brought in special police which added to the tension between miners and management. As the weeks wore on and strikers were left with less and less money and, still, far from an agreement with owners, riots began breaking out throughout Nanaimo and beyond. In August, 1,000 militiamen were called to the scenes, arresting strikers and initiating a period of martial law that would remain in effect for the next year.
The start of World War I paired with the UMWA’s inability to pay Canadian workers on the heels of their own strikes in the U.S. would eventually signal the end of this tumultuous period in Nanaimo history. Militiamen and police were called to join the war efforts while striking miners were blacklisted, with many going to Alberta to find work. This period would be remembered as not just one in the history of organized labor but, too, as an epic class war that tore a community and an industry apart for years to come. (from the collection of Nanaimo Museum)