Every new grave brings a thousand brothers,
And every new grave brings a thousand sisters
To the union in that union burying ground.’
Woody Guthrie ‘Union Burying Ground’
On July 27th, 1918 Albert ‘Ginger’ Goodwin was shot and killed on the slopes of Alone Mountain by a special deputy of the Dominion Police. The deputy was essentially ‘acquitted’ of manslaughter. ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’.
But Ginger was not forgotten and this year people will gather on the weekend of June 23rd in Cumberland BC to commemorate Ginger’s life and his death. The Cumberland Museum and Archives , along with the Campbell River, Courtenay and District Labour Council and the BC labour movement, will make this 100th year anniversary one to remember. There will be theatre productions, labour choruses, workshops, BBQs and art, plus the traditional events associated with Miners Memorial such as ‘Songs of the Workers’, a graveside service and a pancake breakfast.
Ginger was an immigrant from the coalfields of Yorkshire who ended up working in the Cumberland mines just prior to the Big Strike of 1912-14. The strike was about the potentially lethal gas levels in the mines, and the intimidation by the company of members of the Gas Committee who monitored those levels. The mine owners, with the support of the BC Government of Richard McBride, used strikebreakers, militias, and the courts to break down the ability and the will of the miners and their families to continue, and shortly before the start of World War I, the miners, except those like Joe Naylor who were blacklisted, returned to work.
The experience of the hardships and injustices during that two year strike helped shape Ginger into a union organizer, a socialist and a pacifist. He went on to Trail BC in 1915 and helped lead a successful strike around the eight hour day. This put him in the bad books with the local business elite and his initial draft status was changed from unfit to fit. Unwilling to go overseas to fight in WWI, he returned to his friends and comrades in Cumberland, hiding out in the mountains around Comox Lake along with other young draft dodgers.
Ginger was a vice president of the BC Federation of Labour and was well known for his oratory and his organizing skills. Still, he was just one man. With his death though, he became much more than one individual. He became a symbol, a martyr if you will, to the unequal and exploitive economic system in the Wild West that was BC at the time. No one asks to be a martyr and I am sure Ginger would have preferred to continue his organizing work and live to be a ripe old age. However here we are, 100 years later, remembering Ginger, and through Ginger all the miners who died in those mines, almost 400 dead just in the Cumberland mines alone. Through him we remember all the widows and their children thrown out of their company owned houses after their husbands and fathers were killed in a mine accident. We remember, through Ginger, the willingness of those miners and their families to struggle for a better life not just as individuals but as a collective force, as a union. Most of all, through Ginger Goodwin we remember the spirit of the resistance they displayed against terrible odds, a spirit we need so badly to summon in the face of the corrupt and oppressive forces we struggle against today.
As part of the commemoration we have planned a number of special events. Finally, after years of Flo Bell insisting we reenact Ginger’s funeral procession, it will be happening! The original procession stretched down Dunsmuir Ave all the way to the Cumberland Cemetery but our version will be more modest with the procession photographed as it proceeds down Dunsmuir to the Village Park where the BBQ will be held. As part of our reenactment we will recreate the iconic photo of the procession carrying Ginger’s white casket. We need your help though. Instead of photo-shopping hundreds of residents into the photo, we want everyone to come down and join in the procession. Details will be posted on the Museum website once we get closer to June.
Culture will be a big part of this event. There has been enough songs and poems written about Ginger to fill a cd, and plays have been staged about Ginger and Cumberland, and there are even graphic novels about Cumberland’s favourite son. At Miners Memorial we will bring some of these artists together to talk about what in Ginger’s story inspired them to create their works of art. Also that inspired madman Geoff Berner will be playing the Masonic Hall on the Saturday right after the BBQ.
The BC Federation of Labour will be joining us in a big way by holding their regional conference in the Comox Valley on Miners Memorial weekend. The union movement has really swung in behind this event with both financial and community support.
I don’t know what Ginger and all the long dead activists of Cumberland would think of today’s world of globalization, climate change and Donald Trump but I think they would be excited about what we are doing locally to honour their memory and their spirit of resistance. So stay tuned to the Cumberland Museums website www.cumberlandmuseum.ca and to various Facebook pages for more information and join the excitement and comradery June 22-24, 2018 in Cumberland BC.