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On the Line: Stories of BC Workers

History Podcasts

Canadian labour history storytelling podcast, produced by volunteers & staff of the BC Labour Heritage Centre on unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) territories. Hosted by labour reporter & author Rod Mickleburgh.

Canadian labour history storytelling podcast, produced by volunteers & staff of the BC Labour Heritage Centre on unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) territories. Hosted by labour reporter & author Rod Mickleburgh.




Canadian labour history storytelling podcast, produced by volunteers & staff of the BC Labour Heritage Centre on unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) territories. Hosted by labour reporter & author Rod Mickleburgh.




Episode 15: Smelter Wars

The workers at the lead-zinc smelter in Trail, British Columbia have a long history of overcoming formidable obstacles to unionization. Contentious politics, a company union and two World Wars are some of the issues discussed in this episode. We talk to Ron Verzuh whose new book Smelter Wars: A Rebellious Red Trade Union Fights for its Life in Wartime Western Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2022) has just been published. We also listen to archived interviews with two men who worked in...


Ep. 14: The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

As Black History Month comes to a close, On the Line marks the occasion with a fascinating look back at the history of train sleeping car porters, almost all of whom were Black. It's a story that has only recently started to be told, and combines the history of Black employment in Canada, unionization and the fight for dignity and equality. We examine those long lost days mostly through the voice of Warren Williams, whose Uncle Lee was in the forefront of the drive to organize Sleeping Car...


Ep 13: Relief Camps of the Great Depression

Featuring archival audio interviews and labour songs of the time, this episode examines the so-called "Dirty Thirties" or "The Great Depression" and the forced labour relief camps the Federal Government of Canada set up in response. We include a special focus on a little known relief camp that was a mere hop, skip and a jump from downtown Vancouver, BC, in North Vancouver. This is the story of the Blair Rifle Range and other relief camps in B.C. Learn more:...


Ep. 12: The Battle of Blubber Bay, BC, 1938

An epic confrontation just before WWII between mine workers fighting for justice and an arrogant company with authorities in their hip pocket. This is the story that has come to be known as The Battle of Blubber Bay. Once a whaling station on Texada Island, Blubber Bay, British Columbia was home to an enormous open-pit limestone mine on the north end of the island. Starting just after the turn of the century, workers - many of them Chinese - had toiled away in the 250-ft deep pit. An...


Ep. 11: Chinese Farmers of "Celery City", Armstrong BC

The small community of Armstrong, BC, just north of Vernon in the province's Interior, was once "the Celery Capital of Canada". Armstrong's early agricultural success owes much to the hard working Chinese immigrants who cultivated the city's fertile bottomlands. As many as 500 Chinese labourers lived in huts and bunkhouses in Chinatown in the winter, growing crops including celery, cabbage, lettuce and potatoes to be shipped across Canada. They faced restrictive immigration laws, a...


Ep. 10: 'Pins & Needles' - A 1930's Garment Workers' Musical

After a brief summer break, On the Line is back with more BC labour history! In September 1938, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) brought their theatrical musical hit “Pins and Needles” to Vancouver, BC, where it played to glowing reviews. Among the audience were trades union members of all kinds and noted labour artist Fraser Wilson. The cast were all ILGWU members from New York garment factories, or as The Province newspaper reviewer called them “just plain, simple,...


Ep. 9: Indigenous Longshoremen & the I.W.W.

June is Indigenous History Month in Canada, and this year, the country has been rocked by the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children who attended residential school over the decades. This edition of On the Line takes note of Indigenous History month with a different aspect of BC's Indigenous history: one that is not tragic, and not very well known. We examine the contribution of Indigenous workers to the port of Vancouver, particularly in the first half of the 20th...


Ep. 8: Uniting Woodworkers Across Ethnic Divides

May is Asian Heritage Month; last month was Sikh Heritage Month. Both groups are justly celebrated for their contributions to the fabric of BC. At the same time, they also suffered many years of exploitation and discrimination, much of it in the workplace. For many reasons, including the racist policies of many unions, they were very hard to organize - but one union, the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), met the challenge head-on. This is the story of three remarkable Asian...


Ep. 7: Bea Zucco's Fight for Silicosis Compensation

April 28th marks Canada's annual Day of Mourning. Of course, industrial accidents are not the only risk workers face; occupational diseases, brought on by hazardous workplace conditions, have also claimed a terrible toll. One of the worst has been silicosis, a coating of the lungs by deadly silica dust inhaled by generations of hard-rock miners. To mark this month's Day of Mourning, we bring you the story of Bea Zucco: a third generation pioneer from Grand Forks, BC and a miner's wife....


Ep. 6: AUCE Achieves Full Maternity Benefits, 1974

In 1974, years before other Canadian unions won maternity leave benefits in collective agreements, the Association of University & College Employees (AUCE) Local 1 at the University of BC (UBC) made history. In its first collective agreement, UBC clerical and library workers achieved contract language that provided fully funded maternity leave for its members. It was a breakthrough not just for workers at UBC, but for families across the country. This is their story. Guest host Bailey...


Ep. 5: The 1921 New Westminster Teachers' Strike

In this episode, we look back one hundred years to Valentine's Day, 1921. On that traditional day of romance, a group of courageous public school teachers in New Westminster, BC did the unthinkable: they went on strike. Their walkout had a lasting, positive impact on teachers across the province for years to come. There would not be another strike by a teachers local in the province for 53 years. This is their story. What led these teachers, most of them young women, to take their bold...


Ep. 4: The Vancouver Island Coal Strike

From the 1870's on, the coal miners of Vancouver Island had fought strike after strike to force the hardnosed coal barons to recognize a union. Thanks to strikebreakers, blacklists, anti-union courts and the forces of so-called law and order, they lost them all. Finally, in 1911, the miners invited in the tough, experienced and deep-pocketed United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) to make one last all-out attempt to bring the mine owners to heel. What started as a flare-up over safety quickly...


Ep. 3: The 1983 Tranquille Occupation

On July 19, 1983, members of the BC Government and Service Employees Union, better known as the BCGEU, learned that the large Tranquille Institution in Kamloops, British Columbia would be shut down. For the 600 BCGEU members at the site, many of whom had worked with the residents for years, this was simply unacceptable. They decided to take matters into their own hands. A hand-painted union flag was raised, locks were changed, managers evicted, and the workers took control. The...


Ep. 2: The 1931 Fraser Mills Strike

Nearly 90 years ago, in the dark years of the Great Depression, union membership and the number of strikes in BC fell dramatically; but every now and then, against all odds, workers took a stand. It happened in Sept. 1931 at the Fraser Mills Lumber Plant on the shores of the Fraser River in Maillardville, now part of Coquitlam. A diverse group of rank-and-file workers set aside their racial divisions and came together to fight for better wages, better working conditions and basic respect as...


Ep. 1: Joe Naylor

At the annual Miners Memorial Weekend held in Cumberland, British Columbia each June, participants lay roses at the grave of the famous labour martyr Ginger Goodwin. Nearby his distinctive headstone, almost unnoticed, is a simple metal plate affixed to a stone. This modest marker identifies the grave of coal miner Joe Naylor (1872-1946), an unsung hero of the labour movement and both comrade and mentor to Ginger: A socialist, pacifist, modest, principled leader and supporter of working...