A time and a place reclaimed

Ed Smith
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I remember clearly that morning In Biology 100 at Dalhousie University in the early spring of 1959.

There were more than 200 students in the class, including me, although by no definition acceptable to the English language could I ever be described as a student. I found the class interesting enough, but the art of studying was lost on me.

Consequently I found myself repeating Biology 100.

The professor was a Dr. Stallworthy, a nice enough fellow with a great beard and no great grasp of English pronunciation - a source of constant glee to those of his students who had no great grasp of botany, say.

"The wuut is connected to the fuut," he would remind us over and over again. Translation: the root is connected to the fruit.

I did not know many students in biology. I cannot remember how many students there were in Dalhousie in those days, but probably somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, the same as Memorial has now.

I could be wrong, but it seemed to me coming from a tiny two-room school in Western Bay that there were an awful lot. There were no residences other than Sheriff Hall, the girls' abode, and King's College, which had its own dorm.

If you'll be patient with me, I'll get to the point of all this. If you remember the spring of 1959 in Newfoundland, you probably already know.

I went to class that particular morning as I did every morning and found my normal seat in the second row from the back. In that same row were several young nuns preparing for something or other, but extremely nice people.

I got to know them and enjoyed their company, as I think they did mine. I don't know to what extent my aside comments to Dr. Stallworthy's lectures contributed to their final mark in that course. I know they thought I was hilarious.

By this time, no matter how much I tried to hide, I had come under the scrutiny of Dr. Stallworthy himself. So it was that when he came in that morning he searched the back rows until he found me and addressed himself to me thusly.

"Ah, Mr. Smith, it's a terrible time they're having in your province." Or words to that effect. There had to be other people in that class from my province, so I don't know why he singled me out as being representative.

Students started moving around to see where this Mr. Smith might be and two or three I did know began pointing at me. To his credit, Dr. Stallworthy didn't ask me to stand up. But now there was a curiosity as to what may have happened in Newfoundland in the immediate past. I knew, but waited for the good professor to enlighten everyone at my expense. It didn't take long.

"It would seem that Mr. Smallwood, the premier of Newfoundland, has decertified a legally constituted union, the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) , thus making it illegal for them to represent the loggers of Newfoundland in their efforts to win a decent wage and livable working conditions from the company that employs them. Those conditions are deplorable."

Immediately there was a round of hisses and boos from the second-year students in the classroom, all staring back at me as if the whole fiasco were my fault. Not six of them could tell a log jam from a cod trap or a logging camp from fishing rooms. They just knew Smallwood as a dictator and anything he did was automatically unjust.

The people in that room had no idea how bad working conditions of loggers actually were. In fact, neither did I, a Newfoundlander born and bred and living among men who made part of their meager living "in the lumberwoods."

Although the IWA was hardly blameless in the methods they used to fire up loggers in their perfectly justifiable struggles against the company, they did expose the fact that men were forced to work like dogs for a pittance and were often fed and housed like animals.

As clashes between the two sides intensified, Smallwood brought in the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary to try and maintain order. The effect was just the opposite.

Loggers got angrier and the company reacted accordingly. When Joey, in a fit of anger himself - especially with the IWA president H. Landon Ladd, against whom he seemed to develop a personal vendetta - decertified the union, all hell broke loose.

It came to a head on March 10, 1959, in the normally peaceful little town of Badger. The demonstrating loggers whipped up by their legitimate concerns and the goading of the now-illegal union, came head to head with the members of the RNC and things turned violent.

In an event that many people in Badger recall vividly to this day, someone threw a piece of wood through the air which struck young RNC Const. William Moss in the head and killed him.

It was the beginning of the end for the clashes between company and loggers. There were investigations into living and working conditions and things were dramatically improved.

But a young man who was just doing his job had lost his life, and no one except his family felt worse about it than the loggers and people of Badger.

In the 50-plus years since, they have felt this scar upon their town from a series of events that otherwise were morally justified.

This year, they went about doing what they could to redress that great wrong and bring everything full circle. In an impressive ceremony in that town, two monuments were unveiled. One to the memory of Moss, and the other to the long-suffering loggers of that long-ago time.

The people of Badger are to be congratulated in their efforts to fittingly remember the suffering of both logger and police officer in their contribution to making the logging profession tolerable and honorable.

Good on you all.


Organizations: King's College, International Woodworkers

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Dalhousie, Western Bay Badger America

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