Labour research guide: Special Collections and Rare Books

CUPE members at the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington

Looking for archival materials or primary sources on organized labour and trade unions in British Columbia? Start your research here!

Special Collections and Rare Books (SCRB) is home to a number of archives, journals, monographs, and other resources which chronicle the history of the labour movement in British Columbia (B.C.). The labour movement in Canada can be traced back to as early as 1680, where Indigenous, British, and Canadian workers organized to assert their rights against the Hudson Bay Company. These loose organizations, not yet unions, were “early examples of the clash between bosses and workers that has characterized labour history in [B.C.] ever since” (Mark Leier, Labour Movement).

Natural resource industry workers, such as coal and gold miners, were among the first to organize more formally in B.C. In 1862, bakers in Victoria organized to secure better wages and end work on Sundays. Printers and shipwrights also formed organizations. It was not until 1872, however, that unions could legally form to obtain higher wages. As the country, workforce, and economy grew, workers increasingly chose to participate in larger national unions.

Explore SCRB's labour materials! Each entry below provides a brief description of the materials, links to archival finding aids, Library Catalogue records, SFU Digitized Collections, or links to resources outside of SFU Library.

Why are some materials "unprocessed"?

The work that archivists do in preparing materials for research use is called “processing.” This involves:

  • identifying and describing materials
  • making the materials discoverable by creating finding aids (like these pages), database records, and other tools
  • rehousing materials in archival-standard enclosures (like acid- and lignin-free boxes and file folders)

Because we want our users to know we have relevant holdings to their research, we list and selectively provide access to our unprocessed collections.

Interested in exploring an unprocessed collection? Contact us as early as possible so we can discuss details.

Archival collections

Canadian Farmworkers Union collection

Extent: 7.24 m of textual records and other material
Archival finding aid: MsC-102. Part of this collection has been digitized and can be browsed at Canadian Farmworkers Union Collection.

The origins of the Canadian Farmworkers Union can be traced to an initial meeting of South Asian community activists in September 1978 at a school in Surrey, British Columbia. By the end of the year, CFU Local 1 signed its historic first collective agreement for farmworkers in Canada. During the 1980’s, the CFU became a prominent force in organizing all ethnic groups of farmworkers in B.C. and Ontario. The Canadian Farmworkers Union Collection is based on a representative selection of more than 700 publications, documents, photos, and other significant items from the complete CFU archival collection.

CUPE BC collection

Extent: [ca. 84 boxes]
Archival finding aid: MsC-220 [unprocessed]. Part of this collection has been digitized and can be browsed at CUPE BC Historical Collection.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) British Columbia Division collection is comprised of meeting minutes, conference agendas, reports, publications, promotional and election material, pamphlets, flyers, union newsletters and a variety of other records donated to SFU Special Collections by CUPE BC. The collection also includes N.U.P.E. (National Union of Public Employees), Canadian Labour Congress, and B.C. Federation of Labour records. The collection is currently unprocessed, but a detailed inventory exists for use by researchers.

The Fisherman Publishing Society fonds

Extent: [ca. 45,000 photographs], complete run of The Fisherman newspaper
Archival finding aid: MsC-179 [unprocessed]. Part of this collection has been digitized and can be browsed at Fisherman Publishing Society Newspaper and Fisherman Publishing Society Photographs.

The Fisherman Publishing Society was formed in 1937 to publish The Fisherman, a bi-weekly newspaper. Sponsored by the Salmon Purse Seiners Union and the Pacific Coast Fishermen's Union, the newspaper documented industry events and encouraged unity among West Coast fishermen. Today, the newspaper continues publication under the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union (UFAWU).

The uprocessed records document a tumultuous period in one of British Columbia’s oldest industries, with a particular focus on workers and union activity.

Ginger Goodwin Research collection

Extent: 60 cm of textual records and other material
Archival finding aid: MsC-158

Albert "Ginger" Goodwin (1887–1918) was a coal miner who advocated for workers rights and promoted trade unions in British Columbia. Goodwin participated and led multiple strikes, and served as a delegate for the British Columbia Federation of Labour, and as an organizer for the Socialist Party of Canada.

The Ginger Goodwin Research Collection consists of records created or accumulated by Roger Stonebanks over the course of, and following, his research for the book Fighting for Dignity: The Ginger Goodwin Story,” published in 2004, as well as for numerous newspaper articles about Goodwin, mining, and labour history in British Columbia.

James Hawthornwaite fonds

Extent: 30 cm of textual records and other material
Archival finding aid: MsC-47

James Hawthornwaite (1869-1926) was an Irish-born businessman and political figure in British Columbia. Hawthornthwaite was one of the first socialists elected to the Provincial Parliament and became a member of the newly formed Socialist Party of Canada in 1903. During his tenure in the Legislative Assembly, Hawthornthwaite focused on planning and promoting labour legislation. Hawthornthwaite was instrumental in developing the Workmen's Compensation Act (the first of its kind in Canada). He also introduced legislation for the eight-hour work day and for women's suffrage and he actively opposed the exploitation of Asian labourers in British Columbia.

The fonds consists primarily of correspondence addressed to Hawthornthwaite in his capacity as a Member of the Legislative Assembly from his constituents and other residents of British Columbia. The fonds contains a file consisting of legislative bills, resolutions, and acts tabled during Hawthornthwaite's tenure in the Provincial Parliament and other records that Hawthornthwaite made or received in the course of his service to the people of Nanaimo, as well as published records of the legislative assembly of British Columbia for the years 1909 and 1910.

International Woodworkers Association fonds

Extent: 5 cm of textual records and other material
Archival finding aid: MsC-50

Donated by former B.C. Federation of Labour president Art Kube, this small fonds consists of press releases, clippings, typescripts of speeches, photographs, and other material of the International Woodworkers Association dated from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Robert Jackson fonds

Extent: 90 cm of textual records and other material
Archival finding aid: MsC-49

In the 1930s, Robert Jackson helped organize men in Vancouver's government-run labour camps for the On to Ottawa Trek of 1935. He was a member of the Communist Party and of the Industrial Wood and Allied Workers of Canada until he supported a failed attempt to split that union in 1948. After serving in the Canadian Navy during WWII and working in wood mills in Vancouver, Jackson devoted much of his later life to educating younger Canadians about labour history. Jackson was a socialist and an advocate of workers' rights and he supported these causes until his death from cancer June 27, 2000.

The fonds consists primarily of records related to Robert Jackson's political interests and activities and includes original and reproduction documents from labour events in the 1930s, particularly the On to Ottawa trek.

Myron Kuzych fonds

Extent: [ca. 1.8 meters of textual records]
Archival finding aid: MsC-97 [unprocessed]

Myron Kuzych was a Vancouver boilermaker who was expelled from his union and thus lost his job in 1943, after criticizing the closed shop principle (when an employer agrees to hire union members only). His case, financed by industrialists in B.C. and Canada, made it up to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London in June, 1951, where he ultimately lost.

The unprocessed fonds consists of records related to Myron Kuzych's case against Bill White, then leader of the Marine Workers and Boilermakers Union. Records include correspondence, notes, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, transcripts and legal documents from the union, the B.C. Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Privy Council.

Mayworks fonds

Extent: [ca. 1.8 meters of textual records and photographic material]
Archival finding aid: MsC-200 [unprocessed]

Vancouver's Mayworks was started in 1987 in order to organize a week-long cultural festival in Vancouver, B.C. in May. The festival was intended to celebrate worker's contributions through artistic expression, to educate about the role of workers in society, to foster a culture which values workers, to promote working people's cultural expression, and to build ties between the labour movement and cultural workers.

The unprocessed fonds consists includes programs, posters, minutes, payroll and other financial records, agendas, licenses, contracts, tickets, fundraising letters, mailings, grants, and photographs used by Mayworks festival organizers from 1988-1996.

Operation Solidarity fonds

Extent: [ca. 36 cm of textual records]
Archival finding aid: MsC-225 [unprocessed]

On July 7, 1983, the Social Credit government of British Columbia introduced a budget and legislation that would slash funding to social services, schools, and reduce the rights of workers and trade unions. As a response, union leaders and the B.C. Federation of Labour formed Operation Solidarity, a movement representing 400,000 workers with the common goal of stopping the cuts announced by the government and achieving a just society. A related organization, Solidarity Coalition, was formed by activists and community members opposing the restraint policies of the Social Credit government, and concerned that their wider concerns were not represented by union leaders in the coalition. Operation Solidarity ended in controversy, with many people disappointed with its lack of success.

The unprocessed fonds consists of records relating to the labour organizing activity of Art Kube and Operation Solidarity. These include meeting agendas, committee reports, newsletters, brochures and pamphlets, publications, correspondence, ephemera, AGM conference packages, and material documenting participation in the B.C. Native Land Claims conference in 1986 and the Canadian Labour Congress's presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on External Affairs & International Trade in 1987.

Pacific Tribune Photograph collection

Extent: [ca. 40,000 photographs]
Archival finding aid: MsC-160 [unprocessed]. Part of this collection has been digitized and can be browsed at Pacific Tribune Photograph Collection.

The Pacific Socialist Education Association’s Pacific Tribune photograph collection comprises over 40,000 35-mm images taken for the weekly Vancouver labour newspaper Pacific Tribune. The images cover a twenty-year period, from 1972 to 1992, one of the most active periods in British Columbia’s labour history.

Included in the unprocessed collection are images from some of the most tumultuous events involving British Columbia’s labour and social movements, including the province-wide campaign against insurance rate increases introduced by the new Social Credit government following the NDP defeat; the opposition to federal wage controls that culminated in a one-day national work stoppage in 1976; the historic Solidarity movement in 1983; and labour’s campaign — that also included a one-day work stoppage in 1987 — against government legislation that severely curtailed labour’s right to organize unions and bargain collectively. The collection is also a rich source of images from other social movements, including rallies and campaigns for human rights and the internationally recognized Vancouver walks for peace during the mid-1980s. Over 4,500 of these images have been digitized and are available here.

Trade Union Research Bureau fonds

Extent: [ca. 19 m of textual records and audiovisual material]
Archival finding aid: MsC-255 [unprocessed]

Originally established as a Canadian branch of the Pacific Coast Labour Bureau in 1938, the Trade Union Research Bureau (TURB) was reorganized in 1946 as an independent, locally-owned company in Vancouver, B.C. TURB served Western Canadian trade unions as an independent labour research organization.

The unprocessed fonds consists of books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, correspondence, legal documents, research materials, sound, and video recordings.

Vancouver Industrial Writers Union fonds

Extent: 24 cm textual records
Archival finding aid: MsC-28

Vancouver writers organization which organized in 1982, incorporated as Vancouver Industrial Writers Society in 1987, and legally dissolved 1993. The group performed together, produced audiotapes and the anthologies Shop Talk and More Than Our Jobs. Many VIWU members were also featured in the work writing anthologies, A Government Job At Last, and Going For Coffee, both edited by main VIWU mover Tom Wayman.

The fonds includes correspondence, photographs, posters, promotional material, business records, and other material.

David Yorke Labour History collection

Extent: [ca. 12 boxes]
Archival finding aid: MsC-222 [unprocessed]

This collection includes dues buttons, membership and memorial pins, delegate badges, shop cards, and textual materials such as constitutions and bylaws. These materials provide a visual emblematic history of international and Canadian labour organizations, much of it from the early twentieth century, including the International Typographical Union (the earliest to organize in North America), United Auto Workers, bricklayers, painters, metalworkers, and many others.

Though this collection is currently unprocessed, David Yorke’s arrangement and description are valuable to researchers interested in the collection.

Books and other published material

Special Collections and Rare Books is also home to a number of monographs and journals that focus on labour in our Canadian History collection. The following subject heading links will lead you to resources in Special Collections. Try your own search, or expand to include all of the library’s collections.

Newspapers and journals

SCRB is home to a number of historical newspapers published by unions and labour organizations. They provide insight into the landscape of labour relations in British Columbia in the 20th century.

B.C. District Union News
The B.C. District Union News, under the direction of editor Harvey Murphy, was published out of Vancouver by the B.C., Yukon and North West Territories locals of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers from 1944 to 1955. B.C. Union News ceased publication in 1955 when the Canadian national paper of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers began publication.

B.C. Newsletter
Monthly British Columbia newsletter from the Progressive Workers Movement, a Vancouver-based, communist labour movement founded by union activist Jack Scott.

British Columbia Federationist
Originally started in 1907 by the Vancouver Trades and Labor Council as the Western Wage Earner, the British Columbia Federationist was a weekly labor newspaper published in Vancouver, B.C. The newspaper was published by the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council until 1923 (jointly with the B.C. Federation of Labor from 1911 to 1920), and then by the Federated Labor Party of B.C. in 1924 and 1925. Digitized here is a fourteen-year run, from 18 November 1911 (Volume 4, Number 47) to the final issue as the British Columbia Federationist, 5 June 1925 (Volume 17, Number 23).

Canadian Woodworker
B.C. trade union newspaper from the Woodworkers' Industrial Union of Canada, a left-wing union movement that seceded from the International Woodworkers of America, British Columbia District because of its anticommunist propaganda and union busting in 1948. The newspaper was later called the Union Woodworker.

Trade union newspaper, The Commentator was published by Local 480 of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers in Trail, B.C. between November 1938 and December 1954.

Materials for Thought
British Columbia newsletter focused on socialism, Marxism, labor unions and the working class movement, published by the Vancouver branch of the League for Socialist Education

On the Level
Newspaper was published by Local 452 of the Carpenters Union in Vancouver, British Columbia, from 1965 to 2006. It provided a means for the union to "promote social criticism from a trade union perspective and raise awareness on issues of worker health and safety" and to communicate to its members regarding such topics as union news and events, labour disputes, labour legislation, and union benefits.

Project News
Union newspaper of the Relief Project Workers' Union (RPWU), a Depression-era relief union for workers employed in Canadian government relief camps. RPWU formed after the On to Ottawa Trek and was instrumental in organizing the occupation of the Vancouver Art Gallery and Post Office which resulted in Bloody Sunday.

Strike Bulletin
Bulletin from the Vancouver strike committee that organized a sympathy strike coinciding with the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.

Vancouver Typographer
One-sheet souvenier newspaper printed by the Union Printers of Vancouver as a sample of their work for labour-day celebrations.


B.C. Labour Heritage Centre Oral History Collection
Special Collections and Rare Books collaborated with the B.C. Labour Heritage Centre to make full-length video interviews from the Centre’s ongoing Oral History Project accessible online. Conducted by volunteers, the interviews feature notable personalities in British Columbia’s labour movement speaking on topics ranging from historic labour events in B.C., experiences at work and on the picket lines, to strikes and rallies, union organizing, and collective agreement negotiating and bargaining.

Documentary: A Time to Rise
A documentary about the 1980s struggle to establish the Canadian Farmworkers Union which was spearheaded by the Sikh community in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Directed & Produced by: Anand Patwardhan, Jim Munro,A National Film Board of Canada Production, 1982. 39 min 45s.

Other useful links: Beyond SCRB

SFU Library research guides

Need other resources beyond Special Collections and Rare Books, including current resources on this topic? SFU's subject specialist librarians create research and subject guides to recommend the best resources for your discipline, and the best search strategies, whether you are looking for books or searching specialised databases. Related subject guides include:

Reference works + websites

Other resources outside of Special Collections that are useful in researching the labour movement in British Columbia include: