National Post (Latest Edition)

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

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