by Sarah Bellefleur Bondu
Canada’s history is filled with fascinating characters. As reference archivists, we discover some of these characters and new historical facts whenever researchers ask for our help in finding archival material on a subject or person. This was the case for me when I came across the story of Albert “Ginger” Goodwin.
Albert Goodwin was born on May 10, 1887, in the small village of Treeton, England. Following in the footsteps of his father, Walter, he went to work in the coal mines at the age of 15. In 1906, Albert left his native country and immigrated to Canada where he worked for the Dominion Coal Company Limited in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.
In 1909, difficult working conditions drove workers at many Cape Breton mines to declare a strike. Albert Goodwin took part in this strike, which marked the beginning of his involvement with miners’ unions. A redhead, Albert was known to his colleagues as “Ginger” or “Red” Goodwin.
The following year, in 1910, he moved to British Columbia, where he soon became a key figure in labour movements. He became, among other things, a local delegate for the United Mine Workers of America and took part in the British Columbia Federation of Labour forum in 1914. His involvement led him to participate in other strikes, to publish opinion pieces on working conditions in the Western Clarion (the newspaper of the Socialist Party of Canada), and then to become an organizer for that political party.
Some months before the end of the First World War, Albert Goodwin applied for an exemption from conscription, most likely on the basis of his political beliefs and ideals. The Military Service Act had been passed in summer 1917, a divisive measure in both national politics and public opinion. The tribunal provisionally denied “Ginger” Goodwin’s application in January 1918 and formally rejected it in April. Goodwin then decided to hide in the mountains near Cumberland on Vancouver Island, along with others who opposed conscription.
On July 27, 1918, while Dominion Police officers were searching for deserters, Officer Daniel Campbell came across Albert Goodwin in the forest. Reports of the incident claim that the police officer, with barely enough time to draw his weapon, shot the deserter, killing him on the spot. The unclear circumstances surrounding Goodwin’s death led to a trial against Officer Campbell, who was finally acquitted of murder.
Goodwin’s sudden and tragic death sparked what many consider to be the first general labour strike in British Columbia. On August 2, 1918, a “holiday” was declared for all the unions associated with the Metal Trades Council. Newspapers at the time reported that nearly 200 men, including several returning soldiers, ransacked union offices to protest this day of strike that honoured a dissident.
Despite the controversial nature of the strike, Albert “Ginger” Goodwin’s fascinating story struck a chord with many and his union involvement helped to usher in the eight-hour workday for foundry workers in the province.
Other resources held by LAC:
- Report of the Deputy Minister of Labour on Industrial Conditions in the Coal Fields of Nova Scotia Government of Canada, Accident Prevention and Compensation Directorate, 1909. Accessible online
- The Shooting of Ginger Goodwin, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio: Ideas Fonds, 1980–89
- Interview with David Rees, David Millar Fonds, 1960–69
- Interview with William A. Pritchard, David Millar Fonds, 1960–69
- Interview with William Brown, David Millar Fonds, 1960–69
- Interview with Harold Winch, Peter Stursberg Fonds, 1970–79
- Images of mining and miners on Flickr
Sarah Bellefleur Bondu is an archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.