Contributed by J. Hunt: If you have driven up island to the Comox Valley area, you will likely have noticed the “Ginger Goodwin Way” signs on a stretch of the Island Highway. Although you may have heard of Ginger Goodwin as a B.C. labour activist, you may not know many details about his life.
Albert Goodwin, commonly known as “Ginger” for his red hair, was born in a coal-mining town in Yorkshire, England in 1886 but migrated to Canada in 1906 to work in the coal mines of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. After a few years there, he moved across the continent to Vancouver Island where he was employed by the Canadian Collieries Mining Company as a coal miner in Cumberland in 1910.
Conditions in the mines were terrible at the time, as the health and safety of workers were largely disregarded. Gas explosions and other safety issues caused hundreds of deaths. This incited Goodwin to become a labour activist to fight for better conditions and higher wages. He was actively involved in the 1912-1914 Vancouver Island coal strike, which started in Cumberland to protest dangerous working conditions and lack of union recognition, eventually spreading to other mines on the island. The strike came to an end in part due to the advent of WWI.
After the strike, Goodwin was blacklisted from working in the coal mines, so he moved to Trail to work in the smelter there instead. He continued his work as a labour activist, becoming vice-president of the BC Federation of Labour and running for political office. He also organized a strike in 1917 to try and establish an eight-hour work day for the smelter workers. Most likely due to this activism, Goodwin was deemed fit for military duty only eight days after the strike ended, despite earlier being turned down for conscription due to health issues. It seems that the government had sided with the smelter company.
As a conscientious objector, Goodwin fled back to the Cumberland area to avoid going to war. He and other draft dodgers lived in the forests near Cumberland, and helped by local farmers, managed to survive for several months. However, on July 27, 1918, at the age of 31, he was hunted down and shot in the head by Dan Campbell, a constable in a special force to capture men evading conscription. Although Campbell declared the killing to be in self defence, there were no witnesses, and his story was widely questioned. In fact, anger about Goodwin’s killing incited the 24-hour Vancouver General Strike on August 2, the first general strike in Canada.
In 1996, the B.C. NDP government dedicated a 12-kilometre portion of the highway near Cumberland to Ginger Goodwin, erecting signs which were removed only five years later by the provincial Liberal government. Back in power in 2018, the NDP government replaced the signs and on the centenary of Goodwin’s death, named July 27th Ginger Goodwin Day to recognize his important work in the labour movement.
Sources and Further Information on Ginger Goodwin:
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