These interviews are part of the Labour History Interview Project led by Jean Morrison between 1971 and 1972. The purpose of the project was to record the experiences of those who, in some way, contributed to the labour history of the Lakehead. The hope was that the project would benefit future generations. By preserving living records of the past for the future, and by providing a primary source for research into our history, these interviews contribute to a better understanding of the life and struggles of the workers who contributed to the development of the region.
Representing a wide cross-section of working people at the Lakehead, they include both leaders and rank-and-file members of unions, immigrants and Canadian-born, radicals and supporters of old-line parties, as well as a few observers of the labour scene from the managerial and business community.
Original copies of the tapes were deposited in the Confederation College Library, Lakehead University Library Archives and the Brodie Resource Public Library of the Thunder Bay Public Library. Funding was provided by the Government of Canada and the Ontario Government.
The inclusion of the interviews on the Lakehead Finns website is in keeping with the original goal of the project and its participants to make their stories as widely accessible as possible and to be used by generations of school students, union members and the interested public.
Interviews were conducted by Susan Dahlin, John del Ben, Gordon DiGiacomo, Ed Frankow, Ron Grice, Jean Morrison, Syed Nasir, Steve Penner and Jack Porter.
Born: England, 1906 Died: Thunder Bay, 1993
George Andrew-Cotter discusses general labour activities between 1922 and 1923; extra gangs for the Canadian National Railway during the strikes; Brandon, Manitoba during the Winnipeg General Strike; Communist Party of Canada’s A.E. Smith; the People’s Church between 1923-24; the Industrial Workers of the World; the Young Communist League in Vancouver in 1924; the Free Speech fight in Toronto in 1927; his role as A.E. Smith’s campaign manager during the 1935 election in Port Arthur; conditions in bush camps in 1935 and problems associated with organizing workers; Canadian Car and Foundry in 1942 and his role as secretary of the International Association of Machinists in the region; being the Port Arthur Trades and Labour Council delegate between 1943 and 1971; and his expulsion in 1952.
Discussion between Einar Nordstrom, Elinor Bro and others taped in 1960 about Harry Bryan’s life. Topics covered include his work organizing for the American Federation of Labor in 1903; his role organizing the first unions at the Lakehead; work with the Socialist Party of Canada, Social Democratic Party of Canada, One Big Union, Lumber Workers Industrial Union of Canada, the Communist Party of Canada, and the Farmer’s Unity League (in Dorion).
Born: Sweden, 1900 Died: Unknown
Helmer Borg discusses his Swedish background; the establishment of the unions and the Social Democratic Party of Canada; general labour activity including the Industrial Workers of the World in the 1920s in Saskatchewan and at the Lakehead; why he joined the Communist Lumber Workers Industrial Union of Canada; Rosval and Voutilainen; Unemployed Scandinavian Workers Club; Bruce Magnuson; Communist Canadian Labour Defense League; unemployed demonstrations by Communists in Calgary in the 1930s; the Great Depression; organizing for the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union in 1952; and the struggle for control between the general membership and ‘international’ in the union during the 1950s and his firing in 1958.
Born: Unknown Died: Unknown
Born: Poland-Western Ukraine Died: Thunder Bay, 1993
Mike Comishin discusses socialist activity at the Lakehead during the 1920s. Topics include the Ukrainian Farmer Temple Association and its Youth Section; the Communist Party of Canada; lumber workers and conditions; death of Rosval and Voutilainen; organizing shedworkers, longshoremen, and elevator workers in the 1930s; the Workers’ Unity League, the Lumber Workers’ Industrial Union of Canada’s affiliation to the Carpenter’s and Joiners; strikers in the 1930s; agricultural workers in the region; New Democratic Party; “red-baiting” in the 1950s.
Born: Fort William, 1911 Died: Thunder Bay, 1991
J.D. Di Giacomo discussed life in Fort William’s East End; life in an orphanage; the discrimination against Italians in the region; working in the freight sheds during the 1920s; working at Abitibi Paper Mill; the Great Depression and living in highway construction camps; and the relationship between various nationalities at the Lakehead.
Born: near Chatham, 1894 Died: Unknown
E.C. Everett discusses pioneer life in the Nipigon area; his work as a photographer and merchant who travelled on the Canadian Northern Railway line from Hornepayne to Port Arthur selling goods in bush camps; mines and construction campus during the First World War; and a description of camp life.
Born: England, 1899. Died: 1994 | Born, Nova Scotia, 1890. Died: 1991
Bill Aylward and William Holder discuss life as railway workers in 1915; working in the bush for Maki and Taylor; self-employment as timber cutters; work with the Farmers’ Pulpwood Association; membership in the Communist Lumber Workers Industrial Union of Canada; various strikes; radicalism in the Hurkett area during the Great Depression; and working on the construction of the Trans-Canada highway. Aylward also discusses the Dominion Bridge Company and logging companies.
Born: Port Arthur, Unknown Died: Unknown
Ray Koski discusses his parents and their immigration from Finland; his father’s role as the treasurer of the Finnish Building Company during the construction of the Finnish Labour Temple; the deaths of Rosval and Voutilainen; lumber worker strikes during the 1930s; the Great Depression; and his involvement in the Barber’s Union.
Born: Unknown Died: 1994
John Landmesser discusses bush camps during the 1930s; conditions, nationalities of workers, and comparisons between various camps; lumber man and the former Mayor of Port Arthur, Charlie Cox; Indigenous Peoples; and the Great Depression.
Born: Toronto, Unknown Died: 1994
Buzz Lein, a graduate of the University of Toronto forestry program, discusses anecdotal stories about life in bush camps during the 1930s; with focuses on nationalities, working conditions, and the unions they belonged to; and describes early forestry technology and the contrasts with that being used in the 1970s.
Born: Barrie, 1906 Died: 1988
William Edward Madge discusses working for a catering firm on highway construction; conditions in camps; working conditions on railways and in bush camps; the ethnic make-up of bush workers; the Great Lakes Paper Company in 1942; and changes in working conditions brought about by unions.
Born: Ukraine, 1894. Died: 1994
John Mazur discusses his emigration to Canada in 1912; his work as a farmer labourer and miner; dangerous conditions in mines; bush workers in the Port Arthur area in 1922; working in grain elevators in 1925; differences in unions before and after the Second World War; secret unions in 1934; the Great Depression and unemployment demonstrations; police activity during the Depression; the Ukrainian Farmer Labour Temple; and the death of Rosval and Voutilainen.
Born: Finland, 1889 Died: Unknown
Antti Pitkanen discusses his emigration to Canada as part of the First Wave of Finnish immigration to Canada in 1907; working on farms and railway construction around Vermillion Bay; a serious head injury resulting from blasting and the lack of adequate care; work on various other construction projects; the death of Rosval and Voutilainen and how his son found Rosval’s body; a comparison of the Communist Lumber Workers Industrial Union of Canada to the Lumber and Sawmill Workers; results of union activity; and the Kivikoski Finn Hall.
Born: Unknown Died: Unknown
Norman Richards discusses his time as President of the Labour Council; the funeral of Rosval and Voutilainen; the conditions in Canadian Car and Foundry and the Port Arthur Shipyards during the Second World War; the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919; and the government and business attitudes towards organized labour from the 1920s to 1970s.
Born: Finland, 1888 Died: Unknown
Ivar Seppala discusses his arrival in Canada as part of the First Wave of Finnish immigration to Canada in 1905; the coal handlers union in Port Arthur; the early Finnish socialist movement in Canada; working in Russia during the 1930s; conditions and life in the lumber camps; the death of Rosval and Voutilainen; the Great Depression; and the differences between the Finnish Labour Temple (Big Finn Hall) and the Communist Hall (Little Finn Hall).
Born: Ukraine, 1905. Died: Unknown
Jessie Stechyshn discusses living in Winnipeg in 1907; her father’s activities in the Industrial Workers of the World, the Socialist Party of Canada, the Social Democratic Party of Canada, and the Ukrainian Labour Temple; she describes immigrant life; ‘enemy aliens’ during the First World War; the Russian Revolution; the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919; working in a bag factory after the First World War; Socialist Sunday School; her move to Fort William in 1927; activities of the Ukrainian Labour Temple and Association of United Ukrainian Canadians; women’s organizations and their role in the lumber workers strikes during the Great Depression and unemployed demonstrations; and the Red Cross during the Second World War.
Born: Unknown Died: Unknown
Dave Whitney discuses rank and file activities and bush life and unions; New Brunswick and Main bush camps in 1918; the Lakehead area in 1936; American Can Company; camp life and competing lumber unions; strikes; the activities of Bruce Magnuson; the Japanese during the Second World War; German prisoners; and post-war international unions.
Born: Sweden, 1909 Died: Toronto, 1995
Bruce Magnuson discusses his work as secretary of the Communist Lumber Workers Industrial Union of Canada in 1935; his role in establishing the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union in 1936; as secretary of the Port Arthur Trades and Labour Council in 1937; being interned during the Second World War; the Cold War and being ousted from the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union; his role in establishing the Canadian Woodworkers Union; and working conditions, union struggles, and political aspects of the Lakehead.
Born: South Dakota, Unknown Died: Unknown
John T. Johnson discusses his work as a mechanic in the Fire Department during 1917; the Firefighters Union; opposition to American-based international unions; his views on American domination of the Canadian economy; his firefighting experiences; his impressions of bush workers; and the case surrounding the death of Rosval and Voutilainen.
Born: Finland, 1910 Died: Unknown
Einar Nordstrom discusses conditions in Finland before his emigration to Canada; British Columbia in the 1930s; contract labour on railway construction; life in Port Arthur in 1932; life as a bush worker; conditions during the Great Depression in bush camps and in Port Arthur; strikes during the 1930s; the case surrounding the death of Rosval and Voutilainen; the Woodworkers Welfare League; Canadian Labour Defence League; the Workers’ Unity League; Lumber Workers Industrial Union of Canada; the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union; language organizations; the Spanish Civil War; and the effects of the Cold War on the labour movement at the Lakehead.