Covering the miners’ strike 100 years ago — Chronicles From The Past

Ed Nicholson of the Ladysmith Historical Society offers the first part in a series about the coal miners' strike in August 1913.

This is the first part of a series contributed by Ed Nicholson regarding the Vancouver Island coal miners’ strike in 1913. Watch for more in next week’s Chronicle.

In this monthly column, I try to give readers some insight into daily events 50, 75 and 100 years ago in the town of Ladysmith and surrounding areas. I read each issue of the Chronicle and search for items or events which may be both interesting and informative to readers of this newspaper. However, this month’s column will focus specifically on August of 1913, which marked a critical turning point in the Vancouver Island coal miners’ strike of 1912-1914.

Usually, the Chronicle is a valuable research tool for exploring Ladysmith’s colourful history, but in 1913, the paper had very little to say about the ongoing conflict between Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Limited and the United Mineworkers of America, which represented the miners employed at the Extension Mine and elsewhere on Vancouver Island.

Much has been written about this pivotal event in Ladysmith’s history (including a current, informative article by Rob Johnson in another publication), but a visitor to the town in 1913 reading the Chronicle for Aug. 5 would be blissfully unaware of the strife surrounding him. Any news of the ongoing strike is conspicuously absent.

Instead, the reader is presented items such as a list of prizes for the 1913 Ladysmith Agricultural Fair. The City Council agenda focused on permits for the new hotel to be built by Mr. Frank Baby and road repairs on First Avenue. Other news included the Vaise versus Bailey boxing match and, ironically, a news item about the C.P.R.’s plan to substitute oil for coal on 60 of their Vancouver Island division locomotives.

Nor is the interior of the seven-page edition any more revealing. We learn that Grand Trunk Pacific Steamships offered twice-weekly sailings from Victoria at $38 (which included meals and berths) for “delightful six-day cruises up the Western British Columbia coast to Stuart, Alaska,” and that fresh halibut was now on sale at the National Meat Market. Only on page 5, sandwiched between an article on Greek fire and news of New Zealand’s gift of a battleship to Great Britain, do we find any reference to the “continuing labour dispute.” A brief editorial expressed the Chronicle’s hope that “some sane move will be made to bring the present intolerable condition of affairs to an end.” The word “strike” is never used.

However, as the situation worsened, Sam Carley, editor and publisher of the Chronicle was forced to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter. In the Aug. 12 issue, the editor published a two-column story under the headline “Rioting at Nanaimo,” which was written entirely using quotes from the Nanaimo Free Press and Victoria Colonist. Not one word was written about the conflict by the Chronicle’s own staff.

Compiled by Ed Nicholson, Ladysmith Historical Society