Joseph Mairs Memorial

January 22, 2017

Who Was Joseph Mairs and Why Do We Honour Him Today?

Joseph Mairs was a trade unionist and a coal miner. He died a month short of his 22nd birthday, after being arrested during the 2 year long strike coal miners on Vancouver Island waged for the eight hour day, safety and health and wages.

Coal had been discovered on the island in the mid 1800's and by the end of the century there were four coal mine owners:

  • Canadian Collieries at Cumberland and Extension near Ladysmith  where Joseph worked
  • Western Fuel at Nanaimo
  • Pacific Coast Collieries at South Wellington
  • Vancouver and Nanaimo Coal Co at the Jingle Pot mine in Nanaimo

The Nanaimo mines were unionised in the 1880's but the Dunsmuir Mines proved very hard to organize due to the political and economic clout of the Dunsmuir family. A strike against Dunsmuir from 1890 to 1891 ended in failure with no union recognised.

In 1911-1912 the United Mine Workers of America succeeded in organising all the mines on the Island. A bitter strike started in Sept. 1912 which lasted until the start of World War I. The Vancouver and Nanaimo Coal Co settled in 1913 but the other three owners would not. They brought in strikebreakers and evicted strikers from company housing. Clashes broke out between strikers and the police and strikebreakers at all the mines. The AG William Bowser sent in the militia and they remained until the end of the strike.

With the start of WWI, many strikers enlisted and the strike petered out.

The mines on Vancouver Island remained unorganised until the Communist-led Mine Workers Union of Canada started an organising drive in 1930. The United Mine Workers came back in the late 30's.

Joseph was arrested on August 15, 1913 after the Militia retook the Town of Ladysmith from striking miners. Miners had held the town from August 12th to 15th. They stoned the residences of scabs and drove them out of town. He was sentenced to one year in jail and a $100 fine. In January, Joseph became ill and receiving no medical attention, died on January 14th, 1914.

The post card above was sold by his fellow miners to raise funds for his cairn in Ladysmith.

Why do we honour this man? His sacrifice and the sacrifice of thousands like him laid the foundation for a better world where workers stopped being treated as draft animals to be worked to death. Working people became human beings embodying all that was progressive in society. Whether it is democracy, human rights and freedom from want, these brave men and women have through their unselfish actions improved the conditions for all people in society. What liberates the working class also benefits the vast majority of the population.

Today our leaders have two paths open to them. One is to follow the spirit of the martyrs, the spirit of self-sacrifice for the common good. The other is to follow the spirit of the careerist, the spirit of selfinterest to the detriment of all around you.

We must all pledge to follow in the footsteps of Joseph Mairs and Ginger Goodwin and everyone who fought at great cost to themselves to make a better world for workers and their families.

Joseph Mairs.....Your brothers did not forget you in 1914 and we will not forget you ever.

Like Joe Hill, where workers fight and organise, it is there you will find Joseph Mairs.

Website:   Facebook: Honour Our Labour Martyr Joseph Mairs