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The 1913 Vancouver Island Miners Strike
by Jack Kavanagh

Jack Kavanagh joined the Socialist Party of Canada in Vancouver shortly after arriving in Vancouver (from England) in 1907. He was elected SPC party organizer in 1910, and president of the B.C. Federation of Labor in 1912. He played a central role in the formation of the One Big Union in 1919, and was elected to the National Executive Committee of the Workers Party of Canada at its founding convention in February 1922. He left the party later the same year, but rejoined in 1923.

Kavanagh emigrated to Australia in 1925, becoming one of the principal leaders of the Communist Party of Australia. He was expelled from the CPA in 1934, and, after a period of political inactivity, joined the Australian Trotskyist movement in 1940.

This pamphlet was published in 1914 by the B.C. Miners’ Liberation League, a group formed to defend workers who were arrested for participating in the strike

For convenience in reading online, we have divided the pamphlet into seven sections, following the divisions in the original, and modified some formatting.

[ Part 1 ] [ Part 2 ] [ Part 3 ] [ Part 4 ] [ Part 5 ] [ Part 6 ] [ Part 7 ]

The Vancouver Island Strike

By J. Kavanagh

Issued By The B. C. Miners' Liberation League, Vancouver, B. C.

In order that the reader may obtain a clear perspective of the strike on Vancouver Island, and the part played by the government of British Columbia in connection therewith, the following brief outline of the mining districts on Vancouver Island and their political representation is given.

Mines are operated at Nanaimo, South Wellington, Extension, and Cumberland. Nanaimo is represented in the Provincial Legislature by Mr. John Place, Socialist.

Newcastle, which includes Extension and South Wellington, is also represented by a Socialist, Mr. Parker Williams.

Cumberland polled a strong Socialist vote at the last election and indications pointed to the probability of a working-class representative being elected at the next election.

The miners of these districts having elected the only opposition to the present government of B. C., this fact must be taken into consideration when reading over the events which are herein recorded.


"The State is a class institution functioning in the interest of the ruling class."

In the twenty-eight years prior to 1912, three hundred and seventy-three men were killed in the mines on Vancouver Island in consequence of explosions of coal gas. Wellington accounted for 83, Nanaimo for 180, Extension 50, and Cumberland 69. The last explosion took place at Extension as late as 1909.These casualties are apart from the numerous accidents to life and limb, which are almost a daily occurrence in the mines.

It is not due to the negligence of the miners that these gas explosions have taken place, nor would it appear on the surface to be the fault of the government, which has instituted laws designed to prevent such accidents. The Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1911 makes the following provisions:

Sec. 87. Rule 8. If at any time it is found by the person for the time being in charge of the mine or any part thereof that by reason of noxious gases prevailing in such mine or such part thereof, or of any cause whatever, the mine or the said part is dangerous, every workman shall be withdrawn from the mine or such part thereof as is so found dangerous, and a competent person, who shall be appointed for the purpose, shall Inspect the mine or such part thereof as is so found dangerous; and if the danger arises from inflammable gas shall Inspect the same with a locked safety-lamp, and in every case shall make a true report of the condition of such mine or part thereof, and a workman shall not, except in so far as is necessary for inquiring into the cause of danger or for the removal thereof, or for exploration, be readmitted into the mine, or such part thereof as was so found dangerous, until the same is stated by such report not be dangerous.

Rule 37. The persons employed in a mine may from time to time appoint one or two of their number to Inspect the mine at the their own cost, and the persons so appointed shall be allowed, once or oftener in every shift, day, week, or month, accompanied, if the owner, agent, or manager of the mine thinks fit, by himself or one or more officers of the mine, to go to every part of the mine, and to inspect the shafts, levels, planes, working-places, return airways, ventilating apparatus, old workings, and machinery, and shall be afforded by the owner, agent, and manager, and all persons in the mine, every facility for the purpose of such inspection, and shall make a true report of the result of such Inspection; and such report shall be recorded in a book to be kept at the mine for the purpose, and shall be signed by the persons who made the same. And if the report state the existence or apprehended existence of any danger, the person or persons making the inspection shall forthwith cause a true copy of the report to be sent to the Inspector of the district: Provided, always, that where the miners in any mine fail to appoint two of their number to inspect the mine, the Chief Inspector shall select from the men. In alphabetical order where possible, two competent miners, who shall comply with the provisions of this section, and the said owner, agent, or manager may withhold from the wages of the underground employees a sufficient sum pro rata to remunerate the persons making such examination.

For not making a true report, the following penalty is incurred :

105. Where a person who is an owner, agent, or manager of or a person employed in or about a mine is guilty of any offense against this Act which in the opinion of the Court that tries the case is one which was reasonably calculated to endanger the safety of the persons employed in or about the mine, or to cause serious personal injury to any of such persons, or to cause a dangerous accident, and was committed wilfully by the personal act, personal default, or personal negligence of the person accused, such person shall be liable, if the Court is of opinion that a pecuniary penalty will not meet the circumstances of the case, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a period not exceeding three months.

Taken in conjunction with Rule 8, it would appear that the miners were amply protected, but it was found that if a gas committee discovered gas in dangerous quantities and made a true report of the same, much difficulty arose in finding a "place" in which they could work, and ultimately they would have to leave the camp.

This condition of affairs, together with other grievances under which they were suffering, forced them to a realization of the fact that if they wished to offer any resistance to the pressure brought to bear upon them, they must do so collectively, and to that end they invited the U. M. W. of A. to organize among them.

This offer was not at first accepted, the Union demanding that some desire for organization be shown before it came into the field.

Satisfactory conditions being shown, local unions were finally organized at Cumberland, Nanaimo, Extension and South Wellington.

On June 15th, 1912, Isaac Portrey and Oscar Mottishaw, the gas committee appointed by the men, as laid down in the Act, reported having found gas in several places in the No. 2 mine at Extension. This report was forwarded to the Inspector of Mines, who verified the same in July, 1912.

Shortly after this report was issued Mottishaw's "place" ran out, and it was discovered that no other "place" could be found for him. He left Extension and later arrived at Cumberland, where he obtained work with a contractor at one of the mines. After he had been there a short time the contractor was notified by the manager that Mottishaw must be discharged. The contractor objected, but was told that Mottishaw had to go, excuse or no excuse.

Realizing the insecurity of their position should they allow such a case of flagrant discrimination to-occur without some protest on, their part, a committee was appointed by the miners to interview the manager in connection therewith, but he refused to meet them. Another committee was sent with a like result. The miners then decided to declare a general holiday at all the mines in Cumberland on Monday, Sept. 16th, 1912, in order that this question might be discussed.

At the meeting, on the 16th, a committee was chosen, consisting of union and non-union miners, to again visit the managers. This committee met the same fate as the previous ones.

On the miners returning to work on the morning of the 17th, they discovered notices at the mine entrances notifying them to take out their tools, the only condition under which they would be permitted to work being: That each man desiring to work could do so, provided that he signed an individual contract agreeing to work under the old conditions for a period of two years. Thus commenced the strike on Vancouver Island--by a lock-out at the hands of the mine owners.

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