The Heritage Corner, Springhill Record

January 4, 2006

Jan 4, 2006 – The Big Strike

In 1909 Springhill Coal miners went on a strike because the hours were long, the pay was small, working conditions were primitive and management controlled people’s lives. The strike lasted for 22 months and was the longest strike in the history of Springhill. The strike began in June 1909 after a conciliation board chaired by J.W. Longely failed to resolve the difficulty. The major issues of the strike included the company’s demand for a 15 percent wage reduction and IRS alterations of traditional measures of productivity in the mines. The miners, on the other hand, demanded recognition of the UMW (United Mine Workers) as their bargaining agent, a consistent schedule of wages for all kinds of labor and a new standard weight for a box of coal.

From the Springhill newspaper of December 14, 1909 :“Manager Cowans has definitely stated that the strikers will not be allowed to go back to work unless they accept a reduction of fifteen percent in their wages. There seems to be more trouble overshadowing the strike blasted town of Springhill . Without a shadow of warning to the men a car of foreigners were brought to town in charge of detective?osers (spelling in newspaper) of Halifax and a number of other plain clothes men. They were installed in the company’s boarding house and it is expected they will be brought to Springhill to take the place of the miners.”

These “foreigners”, approximately four hundred in number, were brought in from Montreal- having just arrived from Europe . They came by special train and were taken into the company yards with special police escort. They had been recruited without their knowledge that the mines had been on strike. They arrived in Springhill late on Saturday night. On learning about the condition here, they contacted the union. At 10 a.m. Sunday they all marched up Main Street to the Union Hall and left town by train.

Approximately 151 to 200 soldiers of the Canadian Army were brought in during the strike and were quartered in tents between MacDougall and MacFarlane Streets. The Officers were quartered in the home which was later occupied by Fred Rolfe. The Militia camp was fenced off to protect them from the citizens.

The Niagara House, which was later named Carleton Hotel, was used during the strike to house the mounted police. They would patrol the town and escort the strike-breakers (called scabs) to work. The strike breakers were housed in the company houses and the company boarding house out by the stone dump.

The Springhill paper of Sept. 14, 1910 stated: “The tenants occupying the company houses at Springhill are rapidly moving out and getting quarters elsewhere. As stated by the News last week, the U.M.W. officials have rented a large number of vacant houses including the old school house on Elgin Street and it is not thought that there will be and trouble with regard to the evictions.”

On September 22, 1910 , the Springhill paper reported: “Springhill had another spasm of excitement on Tuesday night. On the morning of that day one of the strikers threw down his arms and applied for work and was at once given employment. By nightfall a band of men surrounded his house and shouted out threatening expressions at the inmates. Several shots were also fired in the vicinity.”

During the strike many families were living on practically nothing and the merchants carried them on their books.

April 1911: The Town Reports states: “The 22 month strike was terminated at last. The town is thus relieved of the conditions that were becoming intensely critical. the coal properties changing owners, the new company’s decision to improve and increase their operation here, the new seams of coal discovered and the revival of an optimistic spirit among our people is wonderful. (The Cumberland Railway and Coal Company was leased by Dominion Steel Company and was later purchased by the Dominion Steel and Coal Company (DOSCO). However it continued under its own name until it closed in 1958.”

When the men went back to work they had gained recognition for their union although many of the men and their families suffered great deprivations during those bitter months.