Shunning George Brown
Re: Honour Canada’s invisible architect: Why do we shun George Brown, Andrew Coyne, April 13
Mr. Coyne is undoubtedly correct in pointing out the i mportant contributions George Brown made t oward Canadian confederation. And it is also true, as he wrote, that Brown’s role in our national confederation history is almost totally ignored. But I’m going to suggest that there may be a good reason for this neglect, which relates to the fact that he was among the most hated figures in Canada at that time.
I wrote about George Brown’s odious practices in a book I published in 1982 called “The Rise and Fall of the Toronto Typographical Union.” Brown migrated to Toronto in 1843 from the United States, and no sooner had he established himself in the printing business when he began agitating to lower the then long- established rate of pay for printers at $7 for a 60-hour week. Significantly, he did not have the support of the other publishers in the town, but was rather a sole agitator with an obnoxious objective to beat down competition through lowering wages.
His zealous anti- union tactics remained consistent throughout his life, which was terminated in 1880, as a result of an assassination by a deranged printer. Although my book is about the economic history of the oldest union in Canada, and in no sense a biography of George Brown, indirectly I tell part of Brown’s story. That was inevitable because his hostility often was instrumental in stimulating defence activity on the part of the union, and thus ironically, accelerating the growth and potency of the printers’ organization. Dr. Sally F. Zerker, professor emeritus, York University, Toronto