Union Songs

Miners' Memorial Day - Cumberland

Article by Steve Harvey

Workers' Memorial Day started in Sudbury, Ontario to commemorate the lives of four miners killed in a rock burst on June 20, 1984. In 1986, in the village of Cumberland, British Columbia, the Cumberland and District Historical Society held its first Miners' Memorial Day. This day was conceived as a way to pay tribute to Cumberland's mining heritage which lasted from the turn of the century to the early 1960's.

Each year has had a different theme - from recognition of the part played by Japanese and Chinese immigrants, the Black community, women to the ever-present theme of the commemoration of the many miners - some whose names are remembered, some who died unknown - who died in the coal mines of Cumberland. A moving part of each ceremony is the laying of roses on the miners' graves.

The Miners' Memorial Day ceremonies take place in the Cumberland cemetery around the grave of the central figure in Cumberland's labour history - Ginger Goodwin. Goodwin was a Socialist and union organizer who took part in the big strike in Cumberland in 1912. In later years, Goodwin stood as the Socialist Party candidate in Trail, BC in 1916 - espousing socialist and pacifist views in the middle of WWI. He also led a strike in at the Trail smelter in 1917, gaining, of course, the enmity of mine owners and government alike.

Most people believe that it was Goodwin's outspoken championing of workers' causes and resistance to the "bosses' war" that led to his death. Goodwin was originally classified as unfit for military service, then reclassified as fit for duty not long after the Trail strike. Eventually, Goodwin felt compelled to return to Cumberland and hide out on along the Cruickshank River, near Comox Lake.

It was there he was shot to death by a special police Constable. The constable claimed the act was self defence but few in Cumberland believed that claim. The procession for Goodwin's funeral stretched out into a "mile of people." In the rest of British Columbia, Canada's first general strike took place, shutting down most work places though not all.

Ginger Goodwin, and his friend and mentor, Joe Naylor are accorded a special place of honour at Miners' Memorial Day.

Unions such as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU) have made Miners' Memorial Day an integral part of their labour history seminars. The Campbell River, Courtenay & District Labour Council provides a great deal of support, both in the form of financial help and volunteers.

Last year, the first annual Songs of the Workers was held on the evening before Miners' Memorial Day. Several singers provided an evening of entertainment and inspiration, singing old favourites and little heard songs alike. The evening proved very popular and this year was incorporated into the official program.

More information about Miners' Memorial Day can be found by contacting the Cumberland and District Historical Society at their email address: CMA_chin@island.net


Many thanks to Steve Harvey for permission to use this article on the Union Song web site.

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