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Socialism in Canada: The Beginning

George Weston Wrigley was organizing secretary of the Canadian Socialist League and editor of Citizen and Country, the first nationally-distributed socialist newspaper in Canada. This article appeared in the widely read U.S. magazine International Socialist Review, May 1901.

Socialism in Canada

by G. Weston Wrigley

The Canadian Socialist movement is in a similar position to that of the child learning to walk. The movement has been born, it has passed through the crawling stage, it has taken a few steps and had a few tumbles, and in the swift evolution of events it will soon be beyond the walking and into the running stage.

From a historical standpoint it would be difficult to name a commencing point. Canada was originally taken from the Indians by the French, and after the defeat of the French by the English the country was used as a retreat for the ultra-loyal persons who preferred to live under the government of King George rather than under the presidency of George Washington. For half a century after the American revolution this class misgoverned Canada and "divided up" the new country amongst the members of their families. In 1837, the radical pioneers of Upper and Lower Canada rebelled against the autocratic manner in which they were governed, and although the rebellion was unsuccessful in overturning the government, it succeeded in establishing more democratic political conditions. Many of the descendants of the rebels of 1837 are taking an active part in socialist propaganda in 1901, the grandfather of the writer being one who had the honor of serving three months in jail as a rebel.

In early days the privately-owned tollroads were the only means of inland transportation, but the public ownership idea grew apace and when in 1867 the various provinces federated into the Dominion of Canada, the postoffice and most of the roadways had been nationalized. Since that time progress has been made in many directions. Municipalities have established water, power and lighting plants, public libraries, etc., and the municipal initiative and referendum has been introduced. Provinces have established public schools and state universities and the federal government owns and operates the canal system of the country together with the Intercolonial railroad running from Montreal, Quebec, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. It also recently built a government telegraph line 800 miles long in British Columbia, over which messages can be sent for one-tenth the charges made on private lines; and it is expected that within a year the government will nationalize the entire telegraph system of the country, a clause in the existing charters giving the government power to do this upon ninety days’ notice.

Although no socialist has yet been elected to parliament or legislature in Canada, the public ownership principle has found several advocates amongst progressive men in the old capitalistic parties, some of whom have accepted the name socialist in parliamentary debates. Canadian socialists are alert, however, in pointing out the great distinction between "government" and "public" ownership and in reiterating the socialist demand for the complete public ownership of all the means of production and distribution as the only cure for the evils of the competitive system.

The first organized socialist movement in Canada was inspired by Bellamy’s Looking Backward, and several "Nationalist" Clubs were formed. Previous to this the Knights of Labor political movement had done considerable educational work amongst the partisans in the cities and towns, and a few years later the Patrons of Industry did similar work for the farmers by organizing them for political and educational purposes. The Canada Labor Courier, St. Thomas; Palladium, Hamilton; Labor Reformer, and Canada Farmers’ Sun, Toronto, amongst other papers did good educational work, and in the natural course of events died from the lack of support. Other minor movements which have come and gone are the Anti-Poverty Society, Producers’ Exchange, Henry George Club, Social Reform League, and the Canadian Co-operative Commonwealth, the latter of which for a short time published The Searchlight at London.

Following the Nationalist Club and the old Canadian Socialist League in Toronto, sections of the Socialist Labor Party were organized in Toronto and London about 1894, and later on three sections were organized in Montreal, Quebec, and one each in Halifax, N.S., Winnipeg, Man., Vancouver, B.C., and Hamilton, Brantford and Ottawa in Ontario. Of these four are still in existence, and the Cause of Labor, a monthly pamphlet published at Halifax, N.S., is the national organ, the Commonwealth, Montreal, Quebec, and Better Times, Brantford, not now being published. The Canadian sections of the S.L.P. have followed the DeLeonites of the United States in their attitude of refusing to allow officers of trades unions to join their ranks, and this action, together with their severe criticism of all who cannot see eye to eye with them, has made the growth of their organization almost an impossibility. F.J. Darch, London, Ont., is their national secretary.

Socialism in Canada is more generally represented by the Canadian Socialist League, of which seventeen branches have been formed in various parts of the Dominion, and which is now establishing a fund for placing a paid organizer and lecturer in the field and for publishing propaganda literature. A national organization is also being perfected, this having been purposely delayed until a score of leagues have been formed, when a referendum vote could be taken. These leagues have always worked in harmony with trades unions in recommending members to join the union of their trade, if one exists. They are also fortunate in having the co-operation of the radical element of the Canadian clergy, the churches in this country wielding a great influence and being more in touch with the socialist movement than in other countries. Until a national organization is perfected C.S.L. No. 2, Toronto, is acting as the central body, the organizing secretary being G. Weston Wrigley, 293 King West, Toronto.

Canadian Socialist Leagues have been formed in the following places: Montreal, Que. ; Toronto, West Toronto, London, Malton, Poplar, Mount Forest, Galt, St. Thomas, and Hamilton, Paris, Ont. ; Pt. Moody, Ferguson, Sapparton and Victoria, B.C., and Tantallon and Banff, N.W.T. Leagues are being organized in many other places and unaffiliated socialist bodies have been formed as follows: United Socialist Party, Vancouver and Nanaimo, B.C.; Socialist Educational Club, Nelson, B.C.; People’s Union, Brantford, Ont., and Social Science Club, Ottawa, Ont. Labor parties have also been formed in Winnipeg, Man.; Rossland, Nelson, Nanaimo and Vancouver, B.C., but the body in the last-named place at a recent election fused with one of the capitalistic parties. The future of the organized movement looks very bright, and with the placing of a paid organizer in the field by the C.S.L. a solidified movement should be in existence within a year.

In 1897 two socialists were nominated for the Ontario legislature in London, Ont., H.B. Ashplant polling 126 votes and C.H. Gould 57 votes, the former representing the S.L.P. and the latter the Co-operative Commonwealth. In 1900 the S.L.P. nominated R. Rhoadhouse for the London seat in the Dominion Parliament and 214 votes were polled. In Vancouver, B.C., the United Socialists nominated Will MacClain for the Legislature in June, 1900, and he polled 684 votes, twenty-seven of the twenty-eight members elected polling a smaller vote. In 1900, socialists aided labor candidates in several places, polling 3,441 votes for A.W. Puttee, M.P., in Winnipeg, Man.; 2,564 for Chris Foley in Rossland, B.C.; 1,660 for Hugh Stevenson in West Toronto, and 179 for Dr. H.G. Hargrave in Center Toronto, the latter being a straight socialist on a labor ticket in a strongly partisan constituency.

In Toronto in 1899 S.L.P. candidates for aldermen in four wards polled 706 votes. In 1900 five candidates polled 1,453 and in 1901 the mayoralty candidate polled 221 votes. In Hamilton two S.L.P. aldermanic candidates polled 283 and 342 votes in 1899 and 1900 respectively and in 1901 the vote was 441 for the whole city. In 1899 and 1900 tickets were nominated by the S.L.P. in London, but only figures for the mayoralty candidate are at hand, being 656 and 2,402 respectively, in the latter case the trades unions having endorsed the candidate, an alderman being elected by the joint vote. In 1901 R. N. Price, St. Thomas, of Canadian Socialist League, No. 16, was elected alderman in St. Thomas, his vote being 975; and in Brantford, C. M. Durward was elected alderman on the socialist platform of the People’s Union, the S.L.P. having polled 250 votes in that city in 1899. It is safe to say that socialist candidates will be nominated more frequently in the future, although restrictive legislation is already being drafted to curb our progress in this direction.

Citizen and Country, published weekly at Toronto, is Canada’s leading exponent of socialism. It is edited by George Wrigley, who has been a central figure in every radical movement during the past twenty years. The paper was originally a social reform journal, but is now recognized as the national advocate of trades unionism and socialism. Several labor papers, The Voice, Winnipeg, Man.; Industrial World, Rossland, B.C.; Independent, Vancouver, B.C.; Industrial Banner, London, and The Toiler, Toronto, also devote considerable space to socialistic questions, the labor movement throughout Canada being very friendly to socialistic propaganda. Many thousands of Bellamy’s Parable of the Water Tank have been circulated by the Canadian Socialist League in all parts of the Dominion, and two lecture tours each by Comrades Herbert N. Casson, Eugene V. Debs and George E. Bigelow have also aided very materially in the propaganda work.

Few persons have aided our movement more than Comrade T.J. McBride, Melbourne, Australia, formerly of Toronto and Winnipeg. Comrade Phillips Thompson is our pioneer writer and lecturer and has been ably assisted by Comrade G.G. Purdey, Dr. H.G. Hargrave and W.J. Clokey, Toronto. Amongst the active pioneer workers throughout the Dominion the following comrades may be mentioned: A.F. Landry, Amherst, N.S.; C. McKay, Montreal, Que.; J.M. Macoun, Ottawa, W.A. Ratcliffe, Port Hope, H.P. Bonny, Hamilton, J.D. Mullholland, Brantford, T.A. Forman, Woodstock, R.N. Price, St. Thomas, H.B. Ashplant, J.T. Marks and J.C. Spence, London, Ont.; J.T. Mortimer, Winnipeg, Man.; W.R. Abbott, Maple Creek, Assa; Thomas Farrar, Lethbridge, Alta, R.P. Pettypiece, Ferguson, J.M. Cameron, Point Moody, and O. Lee Charlton, Victoria, B.C.

Various co-operative enterprises have been launched and our Canadian comrades have had their share of experiences in this direction. Labor exchanges and co-operative stores have been established in many places, but only in Lethbridge and Calgary, Albt., and Rossland, B.C., are co-operative enterprises in existence at present. In Brantford, Ont., a co-operative coal company has met with success. The Hamona Co-operative Farm Colony at Tantallon, Assa, has survived several years’ existence, while the lumbering colony at Ruskin, B.C., disbanded a year ago.

From every standpoint the outlook for socialism in Canada looks promising. As in other countries, business is centralizing rapidly and the iron heel of private monopoly is forcing every class to study the industrial evolution. The Eastern provinces have been the slowest to move; Ontario is rapidly learning the socialist lesson and Western Canada is honeycombed with our doctrines. With this outlook we have every reason to send a message of encouragement to our comrades throughout the world.

Toronto, April, 1901

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