Category: Labour History



Rag Trade Boomed Despite the Depression

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

Winnipeg’s garment trade was taking off in 1930 when a garment worker’s strike brought production to a halt on Feb 25 1931. Winnipeg’s Rag Trade boomed, while warehousing declined in Winnipeg’s 1930s. Starting as small family enterprises run by Jewish tailors, by 1970 the garment trade had become Manitoba’s second largest industry.


In 1935 Sam Herbst succeeded in establishing smoother labour relations in the trade. For the next 25 years there would not be a single strike in the trade. Before the union, ladies could be fired for talking or for taking too long in the bathroom. Wages were poor at 18 cents per hour. One worker recalled receiving one penny for every 12 buttons she sewed to each army shirt. Some had to work 60 hours a week for part the year and were laid off for several months. Wages went up to 25 cents per hour after the WW2. Today most of it is on piecework, and the going rate is 12 cents per minute reflecting about $7 per hour.


How did Winnipeg, originally an agricultural area, grow such an industry? By 1874, a year after incorporation as a city, Winnipeg had two men’s tailors and one woman’s dressmaker. But during the 1880s, 20 new businesses would thrive. They made what prairie people needed, by hand, in small operations. In 1899, Moses Haid, established the first mass production apparel manufacturer “Winnipeg Shirt and Overall Company.” By 1906, 19 firms had been founded by families like Berkowitz, Crowley, Freed, Kennedy, Jacob, Neiman, Nitikman, Shore, Stall, Steinberg, and Waldman.

In the early 20th century, Jewish people fleeing European persecution began to arrive in Winnipeg. The tailoring skills that had been passed down from generation to generation were activated in the cheap warehouse space sitting vacant in Winnipeg’s warehouse district. The building of the Panama Canal in 1914 sharply cut into Winnipeg’s growth. Now it became cheaper to ship goods west by the canal instead of through Winnipeg, leaving many warehouses empty and abandoned in the 1920s. For the needle trade this setback for Winnipeg marked its opportunity. Apparel manufacturers now had prime space available at bargain prices. And grow they did.

In 1918 Benjamin Jacob and John Crowley were the first to move away from work clothes to producing ladies clothing. And to promote their rapid success, Winnipeg garment manufacturers got together in 1925 to put on Manitoba’s first fashion show. By the 1930s 3,000 people had work in trade. Between 1941 and 1951 the industry grew 213%. In the peak year 1946, 14 new firms were established.


Today the rag trade employs 8,000 people in over 115 factories. And it supplies many famous brands. Names like Calvin Klein jeans, Gap, Northern Reflections, OshKosh B’Gosh, Eddie Bauer outerwear, London Fog, are all manufactured in Winnipeg’s garment industry, and help it gross $700 million in annual sales. Uniforms for everyone in the Canadian Armed forces, specialised sportswear for curling, warm durable outerwear tested in Canada’s north or “Tundra” sweaters for Ronald Reagan. All made in Winnipeg.



The Canadian West’s Itinerant Chief of Police

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas


Winnipeg’s first chief of police JC Ingram was hired onFebruary 19, 1874. Ingram had come to Manitoba before 1870 and had worked for the provincial police. He was well known as the man that had arrested Ambroise Lepine (Riel’s adjutant general) after the Riel Rebellion. Ingram was 23 years old and was known to be “a good man with his fists.”

He had been one of four applicants. Perhaps the most deciding factor was that Ingram was a good friend of Mayor Francis Cornish. On Feb 24, 1874 a fourth by-law of the city established the Winnipeg Police Dept. Ingram would receive a salary of $750 per year, and a staff of two constables earning $500 per year. By summer the police force had shirts, whistles, batons, and police badges. But curiously, their engraver got the badge insignia all wrong. Instead of a beaver he had drawn a gopher. (For go for people)

But it soon became apparent that moral was not good. Ingram did not get along with his men. In particular they did not like his habit of associating with the ladies of the night. Despite this and conflicts with several aldermen, with Cornish’s support he kept his job. Ingram’s association with prostitutes continued as Winnipeg’s stock of saloons, hotels and red light districts grew. Winnipeg and Barrie Ontario were known as the two wickedest places in Canada.

On June 7, Ingram’s constables conducted a raid on a Sherbrook St brothel. They were barred entry to a second floor room. When they pushed past and gained entry, they found an unclothed Chief Ingram in the company of harlot Ella Lewis. Cornish had lost the 1875 mayoralty and in his place now was William Kennedy. The next day Ingram appeared before Mayor and Magistrate William Kennedy and was fined $8 and suspended. On the 14th Ingram tendered his resignation.


Ingram travelled the west and eventually moved to Calgary where he opened up a hotel and bar. When Calgary set up a police Force in 1885, Ingram became Calgary’s first Chief of Police. But he continued to battle with local authorities and in 1888, left for Rossland BC where once again, he became their first chief of police. After a short stint there, he left to work in a mine were he was blown up in a dynamite explosion in 1905.


On July 1, 1875, David Murray became Winnipeg’s next chief. Murray was a schoolteacher from Nova Scotia. He was a popular handsome man, known for his fine singing voice, which was in high demand at local concerts. Murray now had 5 constables. They worked 11-hour shifts 7 days a week. By November Murray had purchased the famous buffalo coats for $17 a piece, and more equipment including four “wrist snappers,” 3 pistols as well as uniforms for the men.


Murray would report 749 cases in 1880: 303 were for drunk and disorderly conduct, 212 were for inhabiting, frequenting, or maintaining a house of ill fame, 13 were charged with theft, 14 with assault, and 1 for gambling. In the 212 cases, 177 women listed their occupation as prostitute. While Murray was not accused of associating with prostitutes, future police chief McRae would face the same difficulties as Ingram. Vice was a problem and in 1910 Ingram faced a Royal Commission investigating police toleration of prostitution.


HENRY MALANIK The Last Man to Be Hung In Manitoba


The Last Man to Be Hung In Manitoba

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

During a crime of passion Henry Malanak killed a policeman and had to pay the ultimate price. Today we tell the story of Henry Malanik, the last man to be hung in Manitoba 48 years ago this week June 17, 1952. It was 1950 and the City of Winnipeg Police Department would lose another officer in the line of duty. Detective Sergeant Edwin “Ted” SIMS was shot to death at the scene of a domestic dispute at 19 Argyle Street. The murderer, Henry MALANIK, was convicted and was the last man executed in Manitoba.

Malanik had come to Canada as a child in 1912. He had a grade 4 education. He had been convicted of several break and enters at age 17 but had no further troubles with the law till 1950. Malanik began an affair with Olga the wife of Adolph Kafka his childhood friend and best man. It was a fight over Olga’s affections that resulted in a gun battle at their house in Point Douglas. Malanik and Kafka were each fined $50. Tragically, several months later their guns were returned to them.


In July 15, 1950 Malanik was thrown out of a wedding reception for being drunk and disorderly. He went to the Argyle St house to see Olga where he and Adolph got into a knife fight sending Adolph to hospital. The police were called and Detective Sargent Ted Simms along with Det Jack Peachell and Det William Anderson attended the house. Malanik had fled but returned with a double-barrelled shotgun. In a gun fight Malanik killed Simms with a shotgun blast to the abdomen. Detective Peachell emptied his gun discharging 5 shots at Malanik. Three found their target. As the gunfire continued another rookie policemen shot Detective Andersen in the neck by mistake. He would later be fired from the force.


In Oct 1950 Malanik went on trial, his lawyer pleading for a manslaughter charge. After 40 min the jury returned a guilty plea, and Malanik was sentenced to hanging. Judge Kelly had reservations believing Malanik may have been too drunk to form an intent to kill. This was enough for an appeal. Malanik was retried in May 1951 and once again found guilty. This time judge Williams had no doubt of Malanik’s guilt. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court where it was denied.


At 2:00 am June 17, 1952, as 40 witnesses watched, Henry Malanik was led into the execution chamber. Executioner “Camille” wearing a black beret and a Hawaiian shirt pulled the lever. As Malanik hung from the rope, blood began to spurt. His jugular had been severed. Two minutes later he was pronounced dead. It was the last time a man was hung in Canada’s most humane and modern prison, Manitoba’s Headingley Jail. Hangings continued at other provinces till 1962.

From time to time the issue comes up. The Reform Party supports capital punishment, as do approximately 69% of Canadians. In the US capital punishment is available in 38 states, where homicide is ten time more prevalent than in England.

Saturday Bloody Saturday

Saturday Bloody Saturday

Winnipeg’s 42 Day Mini-Revolution?

by George Siamandas

On June 21 1919, near the end of the Winnipeg General Strike, saw the occurrence of the tragic event called “Bloody Saturday.” Two men were killed and 27 others injured as strikers fought the North West Mounted Police. The strike began on May 15 as about 30,000 strikers took to the streets. “In less than two hours the whole productive industry of an entire city was tied up. Not a wheel was turning in the big plans, not a street car was visible.” Workers were convinced that their cause of improved wages, the right to bargain as large groups and to organize politically were just causes.

On June 1 10,000 returning soldiers marched on the provincial legislature to express their support of the strike. On June 9th the entire police force is dismissed. Raids were conducted on strike leaders homes and offices and many like John Queen, R. B. Russell and A. A. Heaps were arrested. Viewpoints became increasingly polarized.

On Saturday June 21 the streetcars had started to run again and the strikers began to gather in angry protest. As one streetcar rolled north along Main St in front of City Hall, the strikers stopped it and set it on fire. At 2:35 pm mayor Gray read the riot act in front of City Hall. The North West Mounted Police rode south along Main St and in front of the Royal Tower near William and Main rode into the crowd with baseball bats and firearms. Two strikers were killed after the mounted policemen charged into the crowd of strikers.

Mike Sokolowiski a tin smith died instantly while Steve Schezerbanowes would die later. Caught in Hell’s Alley or the lane between Market and James Ave (in the centre of what is now the Centennial Centre), twenty-seven others were injured about 4:00 that afternoon. Ninety-four people were arrested including 4 women. On June 26 the strike committee called an end to the strike. The strike committee called on workers to send a large group of labour representatives to every level of government.

Worried employers saw a city paralysed by militant workers demanding collective bargaining, and higher wages; of mass demonstrations in the streets. Services were being lost. and the firing of the police force. Businessmen and government leaders felt they were seeing the beginning of a revolution and an effort to establish Bolshevism. On May 16th, a Committee of 1000 was created to fight the strike. It published a paper called the Citizen in which it branded the strikers as Bolsheviks. There was an actual fear of a revolution. There were daily mass demonstrations some of which were routed through the placid streets of Crescentwood. People are reported to have locked their doors.

In the nice neighbourhood of Crescentwood where many of the committee of 1000 lived there was a growing unease. Lilian Allen who was 14 at the time remarked “It was very scary. We were afraid the north end would conquer us Crescentwood got organized.” The residents of Crescentwood were convinced by the extreme rhetoric of some of the union leaders like George Armstrong. After the police force had gone on strike, the men of Crescentwood volunteered to patrol the streets. They did this in pairs in two hour stretches from midnight on.

Mr WP Dutton’s chauffeur of 124 Harrow St, who had been an army sergeant, organized the men and gave them evening drills on the grounds of Kelvin High School. And in case the telephone lines were cut, a communications post was set up at the tower of Kelvin school in direct line of site of the Legislative building.

Since then the city has been divided. Winnipeg might have come as close to a revolution as has any city in North America. A Royal Commission was established. Did the workers intend to overthrow the government or were they looking for traditional economic goals? Commissioner Robson determined that the strike had been a protest over poor living conditions along with the “presence of radical socialists who had hoped for something else.” Winnipeg would never be the same again.



Winnipeg’s Grand Old Man of Labour

by George Siamandas

On November 24 1919 labour leader RB Russell went on trial for seditious conspiracy during the 1919 strike. Of all the participants in the strike Russell paid a high price spending a year of his two-year sentence at Stony Mountain.

Robert Boyd Russell was born in 1888 in a working class district of Glasgow Scotland. His father was a staunch socialist and he grew up a rebel. RB became immersed in the world of the socialism and shared his father’s concern for social problems. In 1911, seeking better fortunes, he arrived in Winnipeg where he soon found a job as a machinist in the CPR shops. He married his childhood sweetheart who had also emigrated along with her brother and RB.

He soon became involved in the Machinists union and in the Socialist Party of Canada. He was cautioned for his unpatriotic views during WW1 where he called it a capitalist war. Russell was a committed Marxist who did not believe in partial solutions offered by people like Fred Dixon, who Russell saw as weak. Conditions and pay in Winnipeg were lagging behind the cost of living. The cost of living had gone up 75% between 1913 and 1919. Average pay was $900 yet it was estimated that $1,500 was needed to feed a family. Russell helped establish half day Saturday work hours in western Canada. He believed that the working class was destined to rule the world. He railed against the more moderate reformist Winnipeg Labour Party. After the Russian revolution RB began to address his colleagues “comrade.” And he worked to establish the One Big Union.

RB became the leader of the 1919 strike and was arrested. He went on trial on Nov 24. The crown was unable to prove that he had tried to bring about a Bolshevik revolution. His lawyer contended that RB had only used colourful language and that he was being taken too seriously. Revolution was just another word for change or for normal evolution. Russell was found guilty and on Christmas eve 1919 RB was sentenced to two years in prison. But first Judge Metcalfe sent RB home to celebrate Christmas with his family. The next day the police came hand cuffed him and took him to Stony Mountain. He was freed a year later on Dec 11, 1920.

Russell continued to work on the idea of the One Big Union. But it did not materialize as workers in western Canada and later in Winnipeg failed to support it. Russell ran for federal election under the Independent Labour party in 1926 in St James but was soundly defeated. He then turned his attention to organizing restaurant workers. The One Big Union officially wound up in 1956. Russell then saw appointment to the Manitoba Labour Relations Board, the Fair Wage Board, and served on community groups like the Community Chest and the Cancer Research Board.

Russell waited a long time before his contributions to labour were recognized by the entire Winnipeg society. On Labour Day 1964, RB Russell was honoured by receiving his address of appreciation from the Manitoba Conservative Govt. Russell sat at the front of the Labour Day Parade like he had done many years before. He died a few weeks later on Sept 25, 1964.

On April 4, 1967 the cornerstone was laid on RB Russell Vocational school. The school’s official opening was attended by RB’s wife Margaret, daughter Margaret and son David. The Winnipeg Labour Council also unveiled a plaque to RB Russell recognizing his work as a labour leader and activist for vocational education.



“How God’s Angry Man Became the Conscience of Canada”

by George Siamandas

James Shaver Woodsworth was elected to Parliament on Dec 6, 1921. He was a reform minded clergyman who helped initiate the social democratic movement in Canada. James Shaver Woodsworth was born in Etobicoke Ontario in July 29, 1874. He arrived in Brandon in 1885 with his family. Like his father he became a Methodist minister and was ordained in 1896. The family were United Empire Loyalists.

Woodsworth grew increasingly unhappy with his church. Woodsworth’s education at Oxford and travels in England where he saw the incredible levels of poverty made him question the church’s focus on spiritual issues. He saw the church as being used by the powerful and the rich for their own aims. He also saw the church behaving more and more as institution with institutional aims and ambitions. This was not the place from which to urge radical reform.

Woodsworth grew to hate capitalism and all its “brutal struggles and needless suffering.” He had become an exponent of the Social Gospel and was more concerned with the real lives of people over that of their souls. He sought to establish a kingdom of god in the here and now. Woodsworth then became head of the All People’s Mission in 1907. In Canada at the outbreak of WW1 he did not like the use of the pulpit to recruit men for war. By 1917 he had left the church and when he lost his job for a social research organization he went to the West Coast to work as a longshoreman.

Woodsworth who now lived in BC was asked to come to Winnipeg to speak during the 1919 strike. In Winnipeg he became a strong supporter of unions and took over the publication of the Western Labour News when the original editors were imprisoned. In turn Woodsworth was arrested for preaching sedition when all he was doing is quoting from Isaiah. With the support of labour Woodsworth was elected to Parliament in 1921 for Winnipeg North centre. His slogan was “human needs before property rights.” Woodsworth was very popular winning every election till his death in 1942. In 1933 he helped give birth the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and served as its first leader.

He chose to stand alone for principle. In 1939 for example, he was the only MP to vote against Canada’s entry in WW2. But effective spokesmanship in Parliament was not enough to get things done. Woodsworth the pragmatist, cut a deal to support Mackenzie’s shaky federal government of the day, and was rewarded with the introduction of old age pensions in 1927. Woodsworth became an expert on Parliamentary procedures and helped bring forward much other social legislation such collective bargaining, unemployment insurance and civil liberties, all initiated by his speeches in the House of Commons.

With the massive immigration of the 1910s Winnipeggers were concerned with the impact that all these immigrants would have. Woodsworth wrote a book on this very topical issue called “Strangers within our Gates.” A strong believer in assimilation he thought that the new European immigrants were having a very hard time fitting in.

He felt some were better immigrants than others. For him the best were the British, Germans, Scandinavians and Americans. The absence of democratic traditions in eastern and southern European made these immigrants less suitable he thought. And according to Woodsworth, the Orientals and blacks were even less desirable. In 1909 he argued that Blacks should not be allowed into Canada. The irony is that he cared for all of them equally in his work. Woodsworth died in Vancouver on March 21 1942, age 68 and still a member of Parliament. His daughter Grace McInnes, is one of 6 children.



The Radical Orator of Market Square

by George Siamandas

No event has polarized Winnipeg more than the 1919 strike. On May 15, 1919, 12,000 union members walked off their jobs and were joined by another 12,000 unorganized workers, effectively shutting down all business activity in Winnipeg. “Thursday May 15, 1919 is a date that will live long in the history of Winnipeg” declared the leaders of the Winnipeg General Strike.

In less than two hours the whole productive industry of an entire city was tied up. Not a wheel was turning in the big plants, not a street car was visible. Workers were convinced that their cause of improved wages, the right to bargain as large groups and to organize politically were just causes. Businessmen and government leaders felt they were seeing the beginning of a revolution and an effort to establish Bolshevism.

The youngest of four children, George Armstrong had been born on a farm near Scarborough, Ontario in 1874. His parents were of United Empire Loyalist stock. Armstrong moved to Winnipeg in 1905. He worked as a master carpenter and rose to become business agent of the carpenters’ union during WW1. He was also one of the founders of the Socialist Party of Canada.

How Armstrong became a socialist after being brought up on the farm was a mystery according to RB Russell. Armstrong was a Marxist who saw revolution inevitable. He saw a growing gap between the rich and poor and preached opposition to all forms of private property as a way of abolishing exploitation of the workers. He believed that the capitalist system had to be replaced and could not be reformed. Armstrong did not find common ground with moderates and had nothing but scorn for anyone who thought they could improve capitalism. Armstrong actually expected the working class to rise up and take over the levers of power in Winnipeg. But he never preached violence.

He was a “rough and tough kind of speaker, always handing out the Marxist line” according to Fred Tipping. “A big man with a voice to match.” And when Armstrong tired, his wife Helen would take over with “her shrill anti-capitalist vituperation.”

Mrs Helen Armstrong was also active in union activity and had helped organize the retail sales clerks. She had been born Helen Jury, the daughter of a socialist tailor from Toronto. Helen served on the Winnipeg Women’s Labour League and worked on the General Strike Committee.

Armstrong was under police surveillance and on June 17, 1919 he was arrested. His house on Edmonton St was searched. The police found no guns; just some revolutionary literature. After the strike Armstrong was charged with seditious conspiracy, brought to trial and was imprisoned along with John Queen, William Ivens, RE Bray, Richard Johns, William Pritchard and RB Russell. Armstrong’s lawyer had pleaded for British justice and the freedom of expression. He asserted that Armstrong could not have lead such a diverse collection of people such as are found in the labour movement. Armstrong was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to a year on a Manitoba prison farm.

One of the jail guards was overheard referring to Armstrong’s group in jail: “Seditious conspiracy? My god you fellows can’t agree on any one point.” Upon release he took the seat to the Manitoba legislature to which he, Ivens and Queen had been elected. Armstrong was elected as the only Socialist Party of Canada member to sit as an MLA till 1922.

After the mid twenties the Armstrongs faded away from labour activity. His entire family including his three daughters and their families moved to Chicago en masse. In 1945 he and his wife retired to Victoria. Helen died in 1947, George lived to 86 and died in 1956 in California. Did the authorities over react in the 1919 Winnipeg Strike? Had Armstrong been a threat to peace and order? Would he be a threat today? What role did the strike play in the decline of Winnipeg?



Winnipeg’s Forgotten Mayor

by George Siamandas

John Queen was born February 11, 1882 in Dumferline, Scotland. He grew up under his father’s oppressive hand. Queen remembered his father as being interested only in religion and money, definitely not a socialist. At age 12, John Queen he was apprenticed to a coopermaker.

On a train travelling west, he arrived in Winnipeg on a hot day in 1906, stepped off the train to see the sights and decided to stay. He was 24 years old and not yet a socialist. He immediately found work as a cooper for the Prairie City Oil Co. and he became involved in the Independent Labour Party and Winnipeg’s socialist circles. But Queen was different type of socialist. Queen liked John Stuart Mill’s ideas on liberty. Unlike most Brits of the time, he thought of everyone as his equal, and got along equally well with Jewish socialist and communists like Jacob Penner.

Over his life he drove a bread truck, sold insurance for Metropolitan Life and advertising for the Western Labour News. And he always lived in the heart of Winnipeg’s working class at 1452 Ross Ave. In the fall of 1915 he was elected as the to city council and in the next year, 1916, 6 socialist councillors were elected to city council.

He pursued bread and butter issues like better wages for civic employees and paychecks every two weeks instead of at the end of every month. He voted to acknowledge the creation of the Winnipeg police Union in Oct 1918. He came to the defense of the Bolsheviks. Later he said he had probably gotten carried away by his own rhetoric. During the 1919 strike, Queen was identified as one of the strike leaders, and while Queen’s wife and kids were at their Gimli cottage, Queen was arrested along with A A Heaps. He was tried, found guilty of sedition and sentenced to a year in jail. Near the end of his trial, Queen had to defend himself as his lawyer withdrew after calling the presiding judge, Judge Metcalf unjust.

Queen was a member of both the Manitoba legislature and city council for many years and was elected to the legislature while in jail. While he worked to represent the interests of the working man,he was often at odds with his more doctrinaire socialist friends. Queen fought his colleague Fred Dixon on the issue of allowing Sunday trains to take the working man to the lake on Sunday. Queen was for it.

Queen found John Bracken, the stand pat, do nothing but control the deficit premier, a big disappointment. Labour had already lost five seats in the 1922 election. One of them was Fred Dixon and now Queen became party leader. He fought for better housing, restoration of wages after pay cuts, more and better schools, and aid to municipalities. He saw investment in education as the way to pull people up from the slums.

There were other incidents where he was found wavering from his socialist principles. He found himself in trouble because he owned shares in the private hydro company that wanted to open at Seven Sisters, while at the same time arguing for public ownership. Socialists saw this as a moral offence.

He had already run and lost in 1927. In the 1932 election Queen had to do battle with his old communist friend Jacob Penner and lost due to splitting the leftist vote. In 1934 Queen battled 8 term mayor Col Webb whose heart sounded like it was made of stone. Webb warned Winnipeggers not to allow themselves to be run by socialists. In 1934 Queen became the first socialist mayor in Winnipeg’s history winning by 224 votes. The next day the Free Press wondered whether Queen was a big bad wolf or a fine fellow.

His deeds would show him to be a fine fellow for the working man. During the depression about half of Winnipeg’s families were estimated to have been on relief at one time or another. Queen’s first act upon being elected was to increase relief payments by 10%.

Queen was described as able to charm the birds out of trees with his rich Scottish voice and his magnetic personality. Queen’s pragmatism was always under attack by the left who called him a capitalist lackey. He had to work hard to earn a living and while an MLA, he switched from selling insurance to selling cars for Breen Motors. Each evening when he would come home from the legislature, he made a bowl of porridge which he shared with his Scottish terrier Heather before going to bed.

Queen lost the 1942 mayoralty election. There were no big jobs, no directorships awaiting him. To continue to earn a living, he took on a job as a modest a union agent. He died in 1946 at age 64 of a heart attack. He died alone leaving an estate of $10,000.



“A Man of the Common People”

by George Siamandas

Frederick John Dixon, labour leader and politician: Socialist or pragmatist reformer? He was born in Englefield England in 1881. He left school at 13, despite a high intelligence and urging by his village minister to support him in higher education. Dixon became a gardener. He found life a struggle and decided to come to Canada joining his brother George in 1903.

Dixon, a large muscular man, found work as a labourer working with a pick and shovel on the brand new Winnipeg Eaton store. He discovered the Mobious bookstore a circle of reform minded thought including people like Ivens, Stubbs and Farmer. He took up Henry George’s notion of the single tax, the hot topic at Mobius’s bookstore. In 1906 they began the Single Tax league. Taxes would be placed on land whether tit was productive or not.

Dixon read Karl Marx and did not believe a single line. He was not a communist. He probably was not a socialist. He believed in personal freedom, coming from a sense of social security and economic well being. He distrusted bureaucracy and its resulting loss of freedom. Public ownership was a second principle of the single tax movement.

Fred Tipping described Dixon as more of a small “l” liberal and a reformer rather than a labour man or socialist. He wanted immediate and direct solutions not the distant promise of social reorganisation. Dixon became a proponent of the Direct Legislation League and worked as a publicist for this organisation. The league also counted on men like James Ashdown and other non-socialists who wanted action.

A consensual man he offered his support to Tobias Norris who agreed not to run a Liberal in his s eat and Dixon was elected to the legislature. Dixon married one of his co-workers Winnona Flett and enjoyed a celebration at the Fort Garry hotel and later vacationed at Banff. The year was 1914 and Dixon went after the conservative govt legislative building scandal. The conservatives were thrown out of power and in came Norris with Dixon’s pragmatic support on issues like the Minimum Wage Act and Workmen’s Compensation.

WW1 became a difficult time for a man of conscience like Dixon. Opposed not only to war but also opposed to conscription Dixon was called a traitor and assailed both verbally and physically for his position. A Free press reporter who went over to congratulate him for one of his speeches in the legislature, was promptly fired by the paper. His brother George did not return from Flanders’ Fields.

Dixon was a speaker during days preceding 1919 strike and became a reporter with Woodsworth for the strike newspaper. Dixon wrote those famous words, which describe the moment of the strike and the famous “Bloody Saturday.” Later edited the “Enlightener” while in jail. He was released till his trial and Dixon took his seat in the Manitoba legislature. He spoke on behalf of the strike leaders and many other “illegal aliens” who had been arrested.

Dixon had gone to visit an old lawyer buddy Stubbs in Birtle, where he picked up legal expertise which coupled with his oratorical skills he used to defend himself from charges of seditious conspiracy. He argued he was not part of the strike. Came along outside it. He was persuasive and was later found not guilty. He argued for British justice, presented himself as a reformer, and claimed religious teaching and not political action as his motivation. Waxing quite poetic he asked that he be extend the privilege of free speech. Judge Galt warned Dixon against any more future transgressions and he was released.

Dixon became leader of the Independent Labour party distinct from the Socialists and the supporters of the One Big Union. In the 1922 election the United Farmers of Manitoba came to power and asked Fred Dixon to be their leader. He refused and John Bracken head of the Agricultural College reluctantly took over.

And then quite suddenly in 1923 he resigned from politics. He had been pursued by all parties including the Liberal, or to be mayor or run in a federal seat. To support himself he sold life insurance for Confederation Life.

Why leave politics so suddenly? Dixon’s personal life had become quite tragic. His young son died and then so did hid wife. He was discovered suffering from cancer. Then in 1924 another child died, followed by his mother in law who had helped with care of the children. He died March 18, 1931 just past his 50th birthday. James Woodsworth returned to conduct the funeral.



Pastor, Editor, Labour Advocate, Legislator & Chiropractor

By George Siamandas

Ivens had been born in the town of Barford in Warwickshire England in 1878 where his father had been a landscape gardener. In 1896 at age 18 Bill Ivens immigrated to Winnipeg where he found work as a labourer. He went to Wesley College (University of Winnipeg) and later attended the University of Manitoba where he earned a Master of Arts degree in 1909.

He was influenced by Salem Bland an advocate of the Social Gospel at meetings in Mobius’s Reading Room on Main St. The Social Gospel taught that human welfare and social justice are moral imperatives and that religion should shift from inner spirituality to public service. This meant involvement and support for issues like temperance, economic reform, fair wages, and pacifism. It was the pacifism issue during WW1 that got Ivens into hot water. And ironically both of his brothers were fighting in the Great War.

Ivens had already begun to be involved in the labour movement and became attracted to the ideals of the labour Church and in July 1918 formed the Labour temple Church. Many thought it was not a church at all. After all it did not preach any creed and seemed more political than it was religious.

Ivens preached to his audiences about inevitable revolution, which sounded at odds with his pacifism. He believed in the destruction of the profit system. In the year of labour unrest preceding the General Strike, he became editor of the Strike Bulletin. Soon the crowds became too large and shut out of several Winnipeg theatres; Ivens took his meetings to Victoria Park where 10,000 gathered to hear. By this time the Methodist Church from which he had obtained a leave of absence voted to permanently defrock him as a Methodist minister.

Ivens was promptly arrested and tried for seditious conspiracy. Like the others, he provided his own defence but was found guilty. After doing his time in a prison farm, Ivens went on a speaking tour in eastern Canada where he was not well received. The Free Press called him: Chief Orator of the Strikers” while the Telegram referred to him as “Ivan the Terrible.” Upon release he took his seat in the Manitoba legislature as a member of the Independent Labour party where he would sit for the next 15 years.

But by 1925 the Labour Church came to an end. Never having a spiritual component it had attracted very secular people who had see the enterprise as a kind of self-help group.

As his MLA salary was only $1,500 annually, Ivens needed a source of financial support. He became a chiropractor and things went well. He bought a cottage at Clear Lake, which he proceeded to call Ukanrest, and rented it out by the week or month. Ivens continued to write on labour issues but found the new CCF and other left organisations not as welcoming of his work. He tried to win a seat in Rainy River Ontario and also tried to set up a chiropractic hospital in the area.

In his later years like many other labour leaders Ivens retired in California. He died at age 80 in 1958. His son Milton became a doctor and moved to the US.