Category: Ottawa persons

Workers’ History Museum Movie Night at PSAC (Ottawa)!

The Workers’ History Museum is proud to host a viewing of its historiographical film about the Public Service Alliance of Canada. The film presents the fifty-year story that began when leaders from many different, often competing associations came together to formally establish a union for federal government workers.

Date: March 15, 2017

When: 12pm, 2:30pm, and 7pm

Where: 233 Gilmour Street, Ottawa (J.K. Wiley Boardroom)

Cost: Free!

Fifty years ago, the leaders of many different, often competing, associations came together at a convention to formally establish a union for federal government workers. This represented the culmination of years of struggle to achieve what other workers outside the federal public sector had enjoyed for decades. It was the first step to bringing about real change in our members’ workplaces. It helped families and built communities.

In 50 years, our membership has grown to include public sector workers in the north, university teaching and Research Assistants, workers in Indigenous communities and more. From the beginning, PSAC recognized the need to reach out to the broader labour movement, working in Canada and internationally to build solidarity with the struggles of working people around the world. As we celebrate our first 50 years, the work of building our union goes on.

Remembering the Heron Road Bridge Collapse

On August 10, 1966, the partially completed south span of the Heron Road Bridge collapsed into the Rideau River below. The accident killed nine workers and injured fifty-five others in the worst single workplace accident in Ontario’s history. An inquest placed the blame for the collapse on the use of green lumber and the lack of diagonal bracing on the wooden support form for the poured concrete. It had been the second such collapse in the city that construction season. In March, a building on the corner of Elgin Street and Gilmour, across from Minto Park, had collapsed, killing one worker and injuring three others.

After an inquiry into the bridge collapse, the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario disciplined three of its members and the construction company, O.J. Gaffney Limited of Stratford, Ontario, was fined the maximum penalty of $5,000. Ontario subsequently rewrote the provincial construction safety standards.

Just to the west of the bridge, there is a plaque honouring the nine workers killed that day:

Lenard T. Bairs
Clarence Beattie
Jean-Paul Guerin
Omar Lamadeliene
Edmund Newton
Lucien Regimbald
Raymond Tremblay
Joas Viegas

In 1987, the Canadian Labour Congress placed its national monument to workers killed and injured each year at work within sight of the Heron Road Bridge.

The Battle of 66th Street – How the Gainers Strike Rallied a Nation

In the summer of 1986, the Alberta oil boom had gone bust (it has before and will again). The bad economy was pitting workers against police as employers used the times to push for concessions and cuts. Workers in turn fought for their lives.

Picket lines were up at Suncor in Fort McMurray, at Zeidler Forest Products operations in Edmonton and Slave Lake, and at Red Deer’s Fletcher’s Fine Foods. But it was Edmonton’s 6-1/2 month walkout by 1,080 workers at Gainers (a meatpacking company) over a fight on wage rollbacks and pension protection that galvanized the Canadian public.

The union members walked out on June 1st. Supporters blocked the 66th Street gates, rocks and paint bombs were hurled, and bus windows smashed as convoys of scab workers were brought in by owner Peter Pocklington to keep Gainers running. At one point about one-third of the entire Edmonton police force (375 officers) were committed to the Gainers’ plant.

Gainers leaflet Ottawa Sep 19 1986The Alberta and Canadian labour movement rallied around the workers who made $12-an-hour in a dirty, dangerous industry against the wealthy, outspoken businessman who also owned the Edmonton Oilers hockey team.

Gainers quickly won injunctions restricting the number and location of protesters, but union supporters followed delivery trucks so they could pressure retailers to buy from competing firms. Then the boycott spread across the country. In one of many efforts, Ottawa supporters picked a hockey game in between the Oilers and the Montreal Canadians on Sept 19th. They were led by a human-size pig and a hotdog. The picket was one of many local actions to support the boycott.

“It was the most effective boycott I have ever witnessed. It spread right across the country,” said retired Alberta Federation of Labour President Dave Werlin.

The strike dragged on until a contract was reached in December, after meetings mediated by then-premier Don Getty. After the deal the Alberta government announced $61 million in loans and loan guarantees for Gainers to help build a packing plant in Picture Butte, a plant that was never constructed.

Mr. Pocklington, who was also known as the man that traded Wayne Gretzky and a one-time contender to lead the Conservatives, moved to the USA where he was convicted on felony charges having pled guilty in California to committing perjury during a bankruptcy proceeding.

Photo by Chuck Brabazon

Do You Know Jack?

Do You Know Jack?

Elgin Street, in downtown Ottawa is named for James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, KT, GCB, PC and Governor General of the Province of Canada 1847-54. Just off Elgin, a City of Ottawa Community Centre and Pool, and the short lane it stands on, are named for Jack Purcell.

Now, most of the streets and buildings of Ottawa carry the names of the rich and powerful of the city; founding ‘fathers,’ lumber barons, prime ministers, city politicians, and even senior city staff have been honoured – and yes, many Governors General. So which of these was Jack Purcell?

It turns out Jack Purcell was not a man of power and influence, nor even a city manager. Rather, he was a worker who spent his life as a “postie” in the main post office.

Born in 1897 in the Ottawa Valley town of Cobden, Lorne John Purcell served in the First World War. He was wounded the day before it ended. On his return to Canada he took a position as a postal clerk, a job he did for 45 years.

He and his wife Rita, whom he married in 1939, scraped together enough money to buy a home at 190 Cartier. It was a large house and beyond their means, but one he loved. So by renting out parts of the home they were able to live there, raising a family, until he died in 1966.

So what did Jack do to receive such an honour? Well, he was a fixture in the life of the local hockey rink in Saint Luke’s Park from 1944 until his death. He was one of the volunteer coordinators of the rink and supplied hockey sticks to the neighbourhood kids. In his basement workshop, he repaired broken sticks and handed them out to any child in need who knocked on his door. Rita said that in the season of ’64-65 alone he gave away 175 sticks.

In the spring of 1974, the city held a public meeting to find a name for the new community centre then under construction. The name that quickly gained the support of local citizens was Jack’s. On September 16, the City Council made his name official. It’s hard not to believe that a lifetime of dedication to his community and strong support from the kids that had benefited from his free sticks were key to a “postie” being honoured by his city.

We have the story behind the Jack Purcell Community Centre’s name thanks to David Gladstone, who interviewed Rita and their son Jon for “The Centretown BUZZ” in Nov 1999.