100 years after his death, Ginger Goodwin remains one of B.C. labour’s most revered figures, and one of its most controversial.
Albert Goodwin emigrated from England to Canada in 1906, arriving in Cumberland in the fall of 1910 where he worked as a mule driver in the No. 5 mine. Known by his friends as ‘Ginger’, Albert was slight, and short, with a shock of red hair. He was quiet, but tough and smart, with a playful sense of humor. At 23, he had already laboured nine years underground, yet was still healthy enough to play soccer, swim, and take his young friend Karl Coe on fishing excursions. It was not long, however, before his health deteriorated.
The conditions for workers in the Cumberland mines were atrocious with the ever-present threat of black lung, explosions, and deadly vapours. Goodwin quickly became known as a union organizer, impassioned speaker, and labour activist fighting for better working conditions for his fellow miners.
Following the Big Strike of 1912 – 1914, Goodwin was one of hundreds blacklisted from the mines due to his union activity. After remaining in Cumberland for a year without work, he found a position as a smelterman in Trail, B.C, where he remained politically active, speaking publicly about socialism and the fight of the working class. In 1917 Goodwin was elected treasurer to the Trade Mill and Smelters Union, and Vice-President of the BC Federation of Labour.
Goodwin was a known Conscientious Objector and anti-war advocate, however it was his ill health caused by life as a miner and smelterman that allowed Goodwin to avoid conscription for WWI. His first prominent act after being declared unfit for active duty was his leadership in a Trail Mill and Smeltermen’s Union strike. Eleven days into the strike Goodwin was instructed to appear for conscription re-examination where his status was then changed to ‘fit for combat’.
Following a series of un-successful appeals, Goodwin returned to Cumberland in April 1918 to live beyond Comox Lake with a small group of like-minded war resistors. These men were able to survive for months in the wilderness due in large part to the support and generosity of local labour activists and Cumberland businesses who brought food and supplies to their camp.
In July of that year a special force of Dominion police was sent to Cumberland to bring in the draft evaders. One of these officers was Constable Dan Campbell, who tracked, shot, and killed Goodwin at the young age of 31 years. Although Campbell claimed the shooting of Goodwin was an act of self-defence, the Labour community always considered it to be an act of cold blooded murder; a sentiment that remains to this day.
The shock and anger around Goodwin’s death was felt not only in Cumberland, where his funeral procession was over a mile long, but throughout the Province. Goodwin’s death sparked Canada’s first general strike in Vancouver on August 2, 1918, the day of his burial. This strike was the precursor to the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 – a defining moment in Canadian labour history.
Although those who knew Goodwin personally have now passed, his legacy has far from died. Albert Goodwin is honored each year at a graveside vigil during Miners Memorial, presented by the Cumberland Museum and Archives. His story has caught the attention of academics and artists alike, sparking fiction, creative non-fiction, film, songs, poetry, visual arts, films, documentaries, and theatre productions locally and internationally. He remains one of the most well-known labour activists in the history of our country.
Other articles about Ginger Goodwin
- Vancouver Sun, April 2017 – Canada 150: Ginger Goodwin, labour martyr
- Times Colonist, July 2015 – The life and death of Ginger Goodwin: Martyr or myth?
- The Tyee, July 2014 – To Praise Ginger Goodwin Is to Revere a Radical
- Globe & Mail, June 2005 – The myth and mystery of Ginger Goodwin
Ginger Goodwin inspired many people over the years.
We are pleased to share some of this inspiration with you:
There are many Ginger Goodwin songs!
Cumberland resident, Gord Carter, wrote an iconic song about Ginger Goodwin, that has been covered beautifully… here are some versions, including Gord Carter, Valdy and Meaghan Cursons:
Grant Olson visited Cumberland in 2009 (and other times) and was struck enough by Ginger’s story to write a song, too: