Category: Labour History



The Man from Winnipeg’s North End

By George Siamandas

Abe Heaps the man from Winnipeg’s north end is responsible for Canada’s Social legislation like Unemployment Insurance. Today the only reminder of AA Heaps contributions is in the name of the old bank of Nova Scotia Building located at Portage and Garry. Heaps had been born in Leeds on December 24, 1885, of Jewish parents that had fled Russian Poland. He was educated till age 13 at which time he quit to become an upholsterer’s apprentice. He came to Winnipeg, where he became an upholsterer in the railway shops. There he became friends with John Blumberg, and John Queen and active in the union movement.

Heaps was a pacifist and was against conscription during WW1. A popular well read man, Heaps won a civic seat in 1916 after an earlier attempt against another Jewish candidate who had won in 1915 by rigging the election. Heaps wanted to see industry bargain with the unions and was jailed and tried for treason after the 1919 strike. Heaps provided his own reasoned defence. He was not a member of the strike committee and in fact had been too busy as a councillor and working on the civic relief committee where he saw 100 people a day.

Heaps won a federal seat in 1925 and became an advocate for social reform measures like unemployment insurance, openness to refugees, old age pensions, public ownership of public services and abolition of the Senate. Heaps was not an adversarial or fierce person. He was a man of quiet, fact-filled speeches and as a result he made many friends in govt, not the least of whom was Mackenzie King.

One day in 1927 while visiting King, the prime Minister pointed to a ratty scratched up old chair and told Heaps it had been Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s chair. Heaps offered to take it away and repair it. He returned it, newly upholstered in black leather with its wooden frame refinished. King was thrilled and the chair remains today in the parliamentary museum.

Heaps was an advocate for Jewish refugees in the late thirties and during WW2. He found King to be a total disappointment and suspected his govt was anti Semitic. One of King’s immigration advisors said that none were too many.

I the 1930s Heaps was an advocate for federal aid to the municipalities that were suffering from the depression. With RB Bennett in power there was little progress under the control of the man some called the “Iron Heel.”

Heaps wife and 2 sons began to winter in California. His wife died of a malignancy at age 49. Heaps lost in the 1940 election. After politics he pursued a fine arts interest but later took a job in labour relations in Montreal. He remarried. In 1954 he went home to Leeds and suffered a heart attack on April 4. City council sent its condolences. In 1988 an NDP govt chose to recognise the contributions of this quiet reasonable socialist who had been called a “servile capitalist lackey” by some of his own people and renamed the rehabilitated Bank of Nova Scotia in his honour. Abe Heaps died on April 4, 1954.

Major Charles Arkoll Boulton

Major Charles Arkoll Boulton
The Man Who Resisted Riel

by George Siamandas

He was born Sept 17, 1841 in Coburg Ontario. His father was a Lieut Col, and Charles followed his father’s footsteps into the military. He served at Malta, Gibraltar for the British. In 1869, at age 27, he came west as part of the Canadian Survey Party. The purpose of the Survey was to turn localities into townships for immediate settlement. Boulton’s association with Charles Schultz and the Survey Party put him in the immediate suspicion of the Metis who correctly feared the loss of their lands.

Boulton’s job became that of assembling and training a group of volunteers to help quell the resistance. He was working in the Portage District which had become the refuge of people trying to avoid the troubles at Red River. Boulton was there to help convince a Sioux Chief to remain loyal to the Queen.

A party of “liberators” decided to march to red River to earn the release of the prisoners being held by Riel. Boulton had tried to restrain “hot heads” like Thomas Scott and Charles Mair and had urged them not to go and in fact they discovered enroute that Riel planned to release them anyway. On Feb 17, 1870 Riel’s men captured the Portage Party and Riel decided to establish his authority by making an example of their leader Boulton by executing him the next day.

Boulton was arrested and put in leg chains at Fort Garry. He was questioned by Riel and Riel agreed to Boulton’s request to see Archdeacon McLean. McLean convinced Riel to give a 12 hour postponement. Riel used Boulton as a bargaining card for concessions from Donald A Smith. Previous to this the federal govt had ignored Riel’s demands to be taken seriously. Smith agreed to Riel’s request to have the English elect 12 delegates to meet Riel’s delegates at a general convention.

Riel’s men became reluctant to guard Boulton. His first guard went mad, while the second died on the job. Boulton later told the story that Riel had awakened him in the night glaring a lantern into his face. Riel asked Boulton to join his govt and be the leader of the English. To this Boulton asked for the release of all the prisoners. Boulton heard no more about it. Clergy and English settlers appealed for mercy and Boulton’s sentence was delayed another week and by March he was released. Riel held onto Thomas Scott who he subsequently executed. Boulton returned to Ontario and went into the lumber industry, married and began a family. When the lumber venture failed he decided to return to Manitoba.

In 1880 he returned as a settler in the Boulton Municipality and set up a log house. Boulton purchased land along the proposed railway route and moved closer to the settled area. The area became Russel and Boulton served as the area’s first reeve and operated a newspaper the Russel Chronicle. He also became active in many organizations and tried provincial and federal politics.

With the 1885 Rebellion Boulton went west with a group of farmer volunteers from the Birtle Russel district which became known as Boulton’s Scouts. His Scouts were active in the Battles of Fish Creek and Batoche. In 1886 Boulton hired a typist from Winnipeg who took down his thoughts which became a book: “Reminiscences of the North West Rebellions.”

Boulton had been a farmer, a military man, surveyor, businessman, politician, author and office holder. He began to seek federal patronage which was a long time coming. Finally in 1889 he was appointed a senator. Boulton was active in promoting railways, free trade and western settlement.

Historians suggest that Boulton lost his nerve when he was reluctant to go after Riel along with the Portage group. He was also disappointed at how little recognition he received for his efforts in Manitoba and from the federal govt. His financial achievements were also very modest and he struggled to maintain his large family of seven children. He died in 1899 after a brief cold at age 58.