What’s in a name?

Mine bosses re­mem­bered on street signs

Cape Breton Post - - GLACE BAY/NEW WATERFORD - Ron Mac­Don­ald Ron Mac­Don­ald is a long­time New Water­ford res­i­dent. Watch for his col­umn ev­ery month in the Cape Bre­ton Post.

When I first de­cided to write this col­umn I tried to put a han­dle on what might in­ter­est read­ers and New Water­ford street names came to mind.

Re­cently I found in­for­ma­tion on James Henry Plum­mer who had the main street in New Water­ford named af­ter him. He took over from James Ross as pres­i­dent of the Do­min­ion Coal Com­pany dur­ing the strike of 1909.

Ross Av­enue was named af­ter James Ross and Dug­gan Av­enue was called af­ter G.H. Dug­gan, who was the com­pany gen­eral man­ager.

All this in­for­ma­tion I dis­cov­ered in “The Com­pany Store,” writ­ten by John Mel­lor, about the life of J.B. McLach­lan and the Cape Bre­ton coal min­ers.

I soon dis­cov­ered what an un­savoury bunch these peo­ple were when it came to sur­press­ing the labour move­ment in Cape Bre­ton. They ran a coal com­pany ob­sessed with profit at any cost with a labour force try­ing to es­cape the bonds of out­right slav­ery.

In 1909, there were 4,500 min­ers em­ployed by the Do­min­ion Coal Com­pany. They were rep­re­sented by the Pro­vin­cial Work­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion, com­monly called the PWA, which was formed in Springhill and was con­sid­ered a com­pany union due to its in­ef­fec­tual rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

In the spring of 1909, 2,600 Cape Bre­ton min­ers signed up with the United Mine Work­ers of Amer­ica. Dan MacDougall was cho­sen as the first Dis­trict 26 pres­i­dent and J.B. McLach­lan filled the post of sec­re­tary-trea­surer.

The coal com­pany feared the emer­gence of an Amer­i­can union might mean par­ity with their Amer­i­can broth­ers and op­posed the UMWA with a vengeance.

The 1909 strike was one of the most bit­ter and pro­longed strikes in the history of Cana­dian labour. It was a bat­tle to force the coal com­pany to rec­og­nize the United Mine Work­ers of Amer­ica as the of­fi­cial bar­gain­ing agent for the min­ers.

On July 6, 1909, the strike be­gan.

G.H. Dug­gan, rid­ing on horse­back, pro­voked vi­o­lence when he struck a woman by slash­ing her across the face with a rawhide whip. Cries of out­rage were fol­lowed by an at­tempt to drag him from his horse. This led to troops be­ing called in com­plete with ma­chine guns.

The Do­min­ion Coal Com­pany be­gan a whole­sale evic­tion of UMWA mem­bers from com­pany-owned houses. Illegal evic­tions were made le­gal us­ing com­pany ap­pointed mag­is­trates.

On July 31, 1909, more than 3,000 strik­ing min­ers marched from Glace Bay for a great meet­ing at Do­min­ion Beach. They got as far as Im­mac­u­late Conception Church where a ma­chine gun was mounted on the steps of the church. An army of­fi­cer stood with his arms raised wait­ing to give the or­der to fire. The strike lead­ers were sen­si­ble men and called off the march.

Ross and Dug­gan re­signed in Novem­ber of 1909 af­ter be­ing forced to ap­pear in a Hal­i­fax court to an­swer charges. They sold their stock in the Do­min­ion Coal Com­pany to J.H. Plum­mer of Toronto for $5 mil­lion.

Upon Dug­gan’s res­ig­na­tion he was pre­sented with a gift from the PWA whose mem­bers con­tin­ued to work dur­ing the strike.

At the end of Fe­bru­ary 1910, ev­ery­one knew the strike was lost. Plum­mer ap­pealed to strik­ing min­ers to re­turn to work now that Dug­gan and Ross had left the scene. By the end of April, hun­dreds of men re­turned to work. For 10 long months they had held out but it was hunger and sick­ness that had beaten them.

With the end of the strike, UMWA men found them­selves black­listed. Train­loads of Cape Bre­ton min­ers left the is­land never to re­turn.

J.B. McLach­lan, with nine chil­dren to feed, was forced to start de­liv­er­ing milk to min­ers’ fam­i­lies.

The UMWA even­tu­ally gained bet­ter wages and work­ing con­di­tions in a long fight for the eight-hour day and hu­man dig­nity.

In ret­ro­spect it doesn’t make a fel­low from New Water­ford very proud to have our main street named af­ter a rogue like J.H. Plum­mer, like­wise Ross and Dug­gan. They made them­selves rich on the backs of those who lived with a take-home pay far be­low the poverty level.

Un­til next time we’ll “Go with the Flow.”

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