Manitoba Historical Society
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Manitoba History: Labour Conflict During Construction of the Kelsey and Grand Rapids Hydroelectric Generating Stations

by Doug Smith
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 85, Fall 2017

In late 1966, construction unions, contractors, and Manitoba Hydro agreed to a far-reaching, long-term contract that covered every aspect of labour relations related to the construction of a hydroelectric generating station at Kettle Rapids on the Nelson River in northern Manitoba. Two terms of the contract provisions stand out: the requirement that all workers on the project be union members and the fact that the contract was to be in place until the project was completed. In other words, there would be no strikes and no lockouts until the job was completed. Wages were to be based on the union rates negotiated in Winnipeg; any increases negotiated to those rates were to be applied to the Kettle Rapids rates. [1] This agreement evolved into the Burntwood/Nelson Agreement, a 397-page contract that continues to apply to hydro development in northern Manitoba. [2]

The decision to build the Kettle Rapids project as an all-union job without requiring the unions to go through a confrontational organizing and certification process represented a significant change from the approach that government, Manitoba Hydro, and contractors had taken to other large-scale projects in northern Manitoba. [3] The construction of the Kelsey and Grand Rapids hydro stations had been marked by conflicts and controversies that proved embarrassing to both the provincial government and Manitoba Hydro. The 1966 decision to adopt a master agreement is best understood in light of the history of the construction of those projects. The telling of that history will also retrieve long-forgotten stories of labour conflicts, particularly those affecting Aboriginal workers.

The Kelsey Project 1957–1961

While the hydroelectric potential of the Nelson River had been identified in the early 20th century, it took the 1956 discovery of a rich nickel ore body near Moak Lake, Manitoba, some 680 kilometres north of Winnipeg, to trigger the construction of a generating station. In 1957, the International Nickel Company (INCO) commenced work on both the development of the mine site and the establishment of a new community, Thompson, Manitoba. Both the mine and the new community required a dependable high-volume supply of electricity. The Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board agreed to develop a generating station at a site on the Nelson River 100 km from Thompson. At the time of its construction, it was the most northerly hydroelectric generating station in North America.

Workers construct a wooden crib at the future Kelsey Generating Station, January 1958.

Workers construct a wooden crib at the future Kelsey Generating Station, January 1958.
Source: Manitoba Hydro

The $45-million contract for the construction of the project was awarded to McNamara Construction of Toronto and Brown and Root, a Texas-based construction company. Built between 1957 and 1961, the station produced an initial output of 160 megawatts. INCO provided the Hydro board with a long-term $20-million loan to help underwrite construction costs. In exchange, the mining company was to receive power at cost. A newly built spur rail line connected the Thompson townsite with Thicket Portage on the Hudson Bay railway (the main rail line through the North.) A 22-km rail line was built from Pit Siding, Manitoba to the Kelsey site. Much of the first year of construction was devoted to earth moving and the construction of the cofferdam, which created and protected an enclosure of land across the river on which the generating station was to be built. In the fall of 1958, the first concrete was poured and by the end of 1960, four of the five generating units were in service. The project was completed by the following year. The height of the fall in the Nelson River at that point had been increased from its natural level of 20 feet to 55 feet. [4]

In bidding for the contract to construct the Kelsey project, companies were instructed to “prepare their tenders on the basis that the Fair Wage Schedule of the Fair Wage Act, of the Province of Manitoba, for Zone A, in effect on 1 May 1957, shall apply at the site of the work for the duration of the project, with respect to wages and hours of work, but that a fifty-four-hour week will be worked.” [5]

Manitoba’s Fair Wage Act, adopted in 1916, was the first provincial law in Canada to set minimum wage rates for provincial public works. It was enacted in a response to a scandal surrounding the construction of the Manitoba legislative building. [6] When the scandal was uncovered, the Conservatives were swept out of office in the provincial election of 1915. The following year a reform-minded Liberal government adopted the Fair Wage Act that set minimums for wages on public works. [7] The underlying rationale for a construction industry minimum wage is based on the inherently unstable nature of the industry, which is characterized by the lack of permanent workplaces, a transient workforce, and a fluctuating demand for services. If wage rates were fixed, contractors would be obliged to compete based on skill and ability rather than their ability to cut wages.

Under the 1957 provisions of the Act, Manitoba was effectively divided into three zones (only two of them were named). Zone A extended for a radius of 30 miles from the intersection of Broadway and Osborne Street in downtown Winnipeg (in effect, Winnipeg and its suburbs). Zone B included all cities and towns with populations over 2,000. Rates in Zone A were higher than in Zone B. [8] Both the Thompson and Kelsey sites fell within the third, unnamed zone. [9] In this third zone, the provincial minimum wage laws applied: employers were obliged to pay at least $0.60 an hour for the first 48 hours worked in a seven-day period and $0.90 an hour for any overtime. [10] And while bidders on the job had been required to prepare bids based on Zone A rates, there was no legal requirement that McNamara-Brown and Root (as the contractor was referred to at Kelsey) pay Zone A wages. [11]

And they didn’t. As early as 1957, workers on the Kelsey Project were voicing complaints about long hours, low pay, and unsanitary conditions. After visiting the site in February 1959, Winnipeg Tribune reporter Des Allard wrote that skilled tradesworkers were making considerably less than the rates being paid in Winnipeg. Carpenters, who made $2.30 an hour in Winnipeg, were making $1.65 an hour, while riggers were being paid $1.50 at a time when the rate in Winnipeg was $2.50 an hour. [12]

The project ran seven days a week, with daily shifts of 11½ hours. Up until January 1959, the workweek had been seven days long. After that date, according to the company, workers were required to work only six days a week, with the Sunday shift being voluntary. Under these provisions, the maximum workweek would be 80½ hours. All of this work was paid at straight time.

Three concrete workers, Lino Sousa, Alberto Bettencourt, and Joao Oliveira, later reported that they had been required to work 40-hour shifts.

When we commenced work (at Kelsey) the first two days, we worked 14 hours each day, on the third day we started to work at 6:30 a.m. and were required to work all day and all night and all the following day till 11 p.m. the following night without sleep and with only half hours off at the regular six-hour intervals for meals.

On other occasions we were forced to work 33 hours straight with just the half-hour intervals for lunch. We either had to work these hours or be dismissed from our employment. [13]

According to Sousa, he was required to work over 200 hours in a fifteen-day period, while Oliviera said that on several occasions he was told that if he did not work more than 11½ hours a day he would be fired. The company’s pay records contain many examples in which concrete workers being paid for over 200 hours for a fifteen-day period. Such long shifts were required because once a concrete pour was commenced; it had to proceed without interruption until completion. The threats of dismissal were supposedly made by “an Italian” foreman, who could reportedly speak Portuguese. [14]

A significant portion of the labourers at the Kelsey site were Portuguese. Prior to the 1950s Portuguese immigration to Canada had been limited. However, from the mid-1950s, the Canadian government began recruiting immigrants from Portugal to work on railway gangs, as farm labourers, and tradesmen. Many of those who came to Manitoba ended up working on construction projects in northern Manitoba, and Thompson eventually became home to the second-largest Portuguese community in Manitoba. [15]

David Orlikow, a Co-operative Commonwealth Federation member of the Manitoba Legislature, drew public attention to the working conditions at the Kelsey site. In July 1959, Orlikow told the Manitoba Legislature that “not only are they working 180 hours in a two-week period at Kelsey, but according to one representative his people are working in the two-week period 195 hours at straight time.” In a later speech in Flin Flon, Orlikow said the contractors’ “incredible and inexcusable” practice of requiring men to work over one hundred hours a week should “shock every decent Canadian.” He said there was one worker at Kelsey who had clocked 224½ hours in a half-month. Another worker had never worked less than 159 hours for every two-week period that he was employed on the site. In just over six months, this worker put in 2,264½ hours of work. Orlikow pointed out that a man who worked a 40-hour week for fifty weeks would only work 2,000 hours.

The Free Press story on Orlikow’s speech provided the following paraphrase of an unnamed McNamara-Brown and Root official on the issue: “The company makes no attempt to conceal the long hours. Its stand is that men on northern construction jobs have no families with them and are there only to pile up a savings account. Pay cheques often hit between $350 and $330 after income tax and board fees are deducted. What’s the matter, asks the company, with a man working hard to build up a nest egg for the wife and family at home?” [16]

Provincial labour minister John Thompson did not dispute that “men in that area are working longer than normal hours.” Quoting from a report by a provincial inspector, he said that

We have a cement truck driver, for example at 191½hours for a half a month—and we have a machinist 172½ hours for 15 days or half a month and a fitter for 199 hours, for half a month. I’m picking the larger ones I have none marked, I’m just selecting these at random. We have a carpenter who worked 198½ hours from June 1st to June 15th, 1959, and a drill helper who worked 180 hours and so on. Here’s one, a drag [-line excavator] operator who worked 218 hours in that 15-day period, a labourer pusher who worked 195 hours.

However, he said the average workweek was 57.18 hours. In Thompson’s opinion the men wanted to work long hours. “They want to be employed while they’re more transient; they’re transient workers and it is not their desire to stay there and spend a considerable part of their time in recreation and leisure.” Thompson said that if the contractors were forced to pay the workers overtime after nine hours a day, they would limit the workday to nine hours. [17]

There is no disputing that construction workers on remote projects such as the one at Kelsey wished to work more than 40 hours a week. But there is little reason to expect that they wished to be paid at rates that were lower than those set out under the Fair Wage Act. [18] Orlikow pointed out that the man who worked 224½ hours in two weeks was paid $359.20. If he had been working in Zone B, he would have received $490.88. While Thompson said he would consider extending the provisions of the Fair Wage Act to the project, in the end the government took no such step. [19] Five years would pass before the province extended the act’s provision across the province. [20]

There were also concerns about living conditions at the camps. A provincial health inspector found the conditions of two outdoor privies at the Kelsey site so poor that he simply ordered that they be burned down. Tribune reporter Des Allard said that workers hung blankets over the doorways to their eight-by-ten rooms for privacy. Heating and ventilation were erratic: “Overhead two fans blasted heat through the structure. At one end, the occupants were in a permanent sweat. At the other, men slept most of the time with extra clothes on. A shirt soaked with sweat, if left on the floor overnight would be frozen to the planks by morning.” Following a highly critical report on conditions at the camp, Deputy Minister of Health Morley Elliott reported that while there had been improvements, the camp was still not up to the standards for Thompson or Churchill. Despite this, workers were charged $2 a day for room and board, $1 a month for medical and hospital services. When they were hired, workers also had to pay $3 each to undergo a company-mandated medical examination.

There was little for the 300 men on the site to do besides work. A school classroom was used as a recreation hall in the evenings. It was equipped with a pool table and a ping-pong table. Movies were shown twice a week. According to Allard, the small number of single women in the camp were able to book dates weeks in advance.

Construction workers who were directly employed by the Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board, as opposed to McNamara-Brown and Root, enjoyed better conditions. They received $50 a month northern pay bonus and free room and board. [21]

In the summer of 1959, provincial utilities minister Jack Carroll, having inspected the site, dismissed criticisms of camp conditions, saying, “the only reasonable complaint was that they do not have all the facilities we have here in the south. There are no girls, no dances and no beverage rooms. They did have bingo and movies three nights a week.” While he acknowledged that the cubicles in which the men lived had no doors, Carroll said those workers who wished additional privacy could, “with ingenuity,” put up pieces of plywood and blankets. In this, he was simply echoing Des Allard’s news report; ignoring the fact, that Allard had not found these haphazard solutions to be acceptable. Carroll said that criticisms of conditions in the camp came from “people who are inexperienced with conditions in the north.” He dismissed a complaint that men were driven to work in winter in open trucks with the observation that “nobody thinks anything of a stenographer in [a] shortie coat and nylons walking three blocks for a bus in the winter.” [22]

The government position, in short, was that the workers wanted to be overworked, had better put up with being underpaid, and that those who thought camp conditions could be improved were engaged in an unnecessary exercise in molly-coddling a band of hardy northerners.

Brown and Root were determined to make sure the workers did not unionize. The company was well known for its opposition to unionized labour. In the United States, it had, on occasion, supplied its employees as replacement workers for strike-bound companies. In the years after the Second World War, the company played a key role in having the Texas state legislature adopt nine different bills limiting union rights. [23] In the 1960s, Brown and Root joined with other major construction contractors such as Bechtel to form the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable (CUAIR), an organization that was as much anti-union as it was anti-inflation. CUAIR chair Roger Blough bluntly called for a “hard crackdown on construction unions.” [24]

Manitoba’s construction sector had been unionized since the early 20th century. A conflict between the Winnipeg Building Trades Council and the Builders’ Exchange had been one of the triggers for the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. [25] And while the building trades unions had been crushed during that strike, they had regained their position in the Winnipeg construction industry by the late 1920s. [26] Unions represented workers at a number of the subcontracting firms that were hired to do work on the INCO and Kelsey projects, such as Dominion Structural Steel. In addition, some of the work on the Kelsey project was being done directly for Manitoba Hydro, making use of unionized workers. However, the bulk of the workforce was to be hired directly by McNamara-Brown and Root, which had no existing contracts with any construction unions. Nor was it obliged to negotiate with any union that had not been certified by the Manitoba labour board as a bargaining agent for employees of McNamara-Brown and Root. Certification was usually a two-step process: the union had to demonstrate to the labour board that a majority of employees had taken out union membership. In most cases, the board would then order a certification vote be held. [27]

Workers who sought to unionize faced an uphill battle. Geography was on the contractors’ side: there were no established communities near the construction sites or roads into the camp. The railway spur line that had been constructed to link the Kelsey construction site to the Hudson Bay line was leased to the contractors, giving them the authority to determine who could—and could not—travel on it. In winter, there was a snowmobile trail from the camp to Thompson; in the summer, it was little more than a mud trail. As a result, it was very difficult for union organizers to get to the area and, once they did, there was no place for them to stay.

Employers did their best to keep union officials out of Thompson and Kelsey. In 1958, William Corley, business agent for the Ironworkers Union, had been initially denied access to the Thompson townsite. In February of the following year, a McNamara-Brown and Root official said that Corley would be allowed to meet with the dozen unionized men who were working for Dominion Structural Steel at the Kelsey site only if Dominion invited him. Dominion officials told Corley they needed McNamara-Brown and Root’s permission. Manitoba Hydro chairman Donald Stephens said the underlying issue was the lack of accommodation for Corley. The sub-contractors, he added, were not obliged to run a boarding house for union officials. Despite his continued protests, a month later Corley had still not been able to gain access to the plant. [28]

Workers build wooden forms for two draft tubes at the future Kelsey Generating Station.

Workers build wooden forms for two draft tubes at the future Kelsey Generating Station.
Source: Manitoba Hydro

David Orlikow had been barred from the Thompson campsite in 1958. While the resident administrator, a government official who had to be approved by INCO, eventually allowed Orlikow to travel to the site, union organizers in 1959 were still not being allowed onto the train to the Kelsey camp, while a beauty queen and charity fund raisers were granted passes. Public Utilities Minister Jack Carroll made no apologies. The rail line had been built to carry those people who were working on the project, while the beauty queen, as “the fur queen of northern Manitoba had every right in visiting the area of northern Manitoba she represents.” [29] Orlikow called McNamara-Brown and Root’s refusal to allow union organizers onto the site a violation of provincial labour law. [30]

In 1959, D. S. Duncan, McNamara-Brown and Root’s onsite superintendent, sent a telegram to the company’s Winnipeg office instructing a company official to “contact R. G. B. Dickson of Aikins, MacAulay & Co. We wish to refuse [union officials access] to job. See what it involves legally; also check to see whether we can prevent them from talking to our men.” [31] When Corley attempted to fly from Thompson to the construction site in July of that year, Duncan refused to admit him to the site. A week later, after a meeting with provincial Labour Minister John Thompson, McNamara-Brown and Root officials announced that they would allow Corley to visit the construction site in the future. [32] However, the company placed strict limits on his activities. Duncan informed him that:

1. You will visit here for business purposes relating only to those people on the project for whom you are certified bargaining agent namely Dominion Structural Steel.

2. You will be allowed to stay in our guest house at no expense and can tour project only under our guidance due to dangers involved.

3. Your visit will be limited to 48 hours or to time between trains.

4. You will not approach any employee other than those you are bargaining agent for.

5. You will visit the job by yourself and no others will be allowed on the site. [33]

In September 1959, the Manitoba Allied Construction Council sent Corley and two other organizers, Jules Cusson of the Laborers union and Denis Flynn of the Operating Engineers, to northern Manitoba. It was the start of a $3,000-campaign goal to organize over 2,500 carpenters, bricklayers, plasterers, iron workers, cement finishers, operating engineers, service employees, teamsters and construction labourers at the Kelsey site. Because they were still not allowed onto the site, the organizers established a campsite a mile away from the construction site. [34] Members of the Ironworkers Union distributed brochures throughout the project campsite, encouraging workers to visit the union camp.

Duncan stationed one security guard near the union campsite and assigned two guards to take the name and employee number of any worker who left the project campsite. Duncan said the guards had been stationed there to prevent employees from leaving work during working hours. When the union organizers left the area, the company removed the guards from the camp entrance.

Duncan threatened to eject the two men who had distributed union leaflets from the campsite and have them arrested for defacing company property. When Duncan visited the union camp, Cusson asked him if he intended to fire those workers who visited the union camp. According Cusson, Duncan simply said “Could be, could be.” While there was no record of anyone being fired, the intimidation tactics were effective. Not a single worker visited the union campsite, while one of the men who had been threatened with arrest did not take part in any further efforts to unionize the McNamara-Brown and Root workforce. [35]

The fact that no one visited the camp should not be seen as a sign of worker disinterest in the union. While at least 75 workers had joined the Ironworkers, the union found it next to impossible to contact these workers. According to Cusson, letters sent to them at the McNamara-Brown and Root camp were regularly returned to the union undelivered. [36]

With its organizing trip a failure, the Manitoba Allied Construction Council called on the province to investigate its claims that McNamara-Brown and Root had engaged in unfair labour practices. Minister Thompson initially stonewalled the council, arguing once more that it was often the case that workers preferred to work long days on remote construction projects. [37] In response, the unions produced affidavits from a number of workers describing the length of their working day and alleging that they had been told they would be fired if they refused to work seven days a week. In December 1959, Winnipeg lawyer Steward Martin was appointed to head an inquiry into the conditions at the camp. [38] At that point, Martin was at the early stage of what would turn into a lengthy and controversial career that would involve considerable work with labour law and Manitoba Hydro. In the early years of that career, he worked extensively for both unions and employers. [39]

Martin’s March 1960 report concluded that union representatives had been excluded from the site on several occasions without explanation, that the company had taken the names of all workers who visited the union campsite, that a foreman threatened to have two employees removed from the camp and taken into custody by the RCMP for posting union circulars, that a worker had been threatened with dismissal if he refused to work more than 11½ hours in a day, and that the wages paid on the project were “considerably lower” than those set out in the Fair Wage Act. Martin also concluded that the threat of dismissal was made “without instructions from responsible officers of McNamara-Brown and Root,” that camp conditions were “exceptionally good,” and that the company was not bound by the Fair Wage Act.

Martin was sceptical of the company’s claim that it took the names of only the workers visiting the union camp because it wanted “to insure that employees were not leaving work during working hours.” If this were the case, he said, “it is difficult to understand why this precaution was imposed only when union representatives were in the area.” He refrained from concluding whether the presence of these checkers hindered the organizing campaign. Perhaps, he wrote, the workers “were not interested in trade union association.” While McNamara-Brown and Root was “prepared to employ any rights granted to them under the law to prohibit trade union organization, the company was not prepared to violate the provisions of the Manitoba Labor Relations Act in an attempt to avoid trade union organization.” [40]

The inquiry was also mandated to examine allegations of discrimination against Aboriginal workers at the project. According to Martin, there was no evidence of any discrimination against Aboriginal workers at the site: they were paid the established pay rates, were not overcharged for room and board, and were paid for holidays where appropriate. They were not paid overtime: but neither were any other workers. There was, he wrote, “not a scintilla of evidence to substantiate an allegation of discrimination against Indians.” [41]

By the time Martin’s report was released much of the work on the Kelsey project had been completed. Given the high level of turnover on construction jobs, many of the workers who had signed union cards would likely have left the site. By the spring of June 1960, the construction unions had admitted defeat at Kelsey and shifted their efforts to the Grand Rapids project.

The completed Kelsey Generating Station with its powerhouse in the foreground and spillway in the background.

The completed Kelsey Generating Station with its powerhouse in the foreground and spillway in the background.
Source: Manitoba Hydro

Grand Rapids: 1960–1968

The January 1960 Manitoba throne speech announced that an immediate start was to be made on the development of a generating station at Grand Rapids, Manitoba. It was estimated that construction would take five years and cost $140-million. Members of the legislature were assured that “the interest [sic] of residents in the area will be protected.” [42] This proved not to be the case. The Chemawawin First Nation and the Moose Lake First Nation were both relocated to unsuitable sites; while the flooding of that followed the construction of the dam seriously undermined their economies. The struggle to obtain compensation would continue into the 21st century. [43]

The Grand Rapids project had been under serious consideration since 1957 when the Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board commenced a study of future provincial power needs and site surveys had commenced in 1959. [44] From the point where the Saskatchewan River left Cedar Lake and entered Lake Winnipeg it fell 35.6 metres. In one six-km stretch, known as Grand Rapids, it fell 22.9 m alone. From the view of hydroelectric engineers, it was a natural location for a generating station. Located 400 km northwest of Winnipeg, the station featured four turbines that were to have a capacity of 479 megawatts. [45]

Twenty-six kilometres of dikes, at some points about 30 m high and 110 m wide, were constructed of smashed stone. Along with the generating station and the dam, these dikes would create a 3,500 square kilometre reservoir consisting of a man-made forebay and Cedar Lake (the water level of which would be raised by 3.5 m.)

The floor of the forebay was limestone that contained many crevices and gaps. Preventing water from seeping out under the dykes through this porous bedrock would require a massive grouting operation. In this process, 100,000 tonnes of concrete were forced through holes that were placed at 1.5 m intervals along the length of the dikes. Another 100,000 tonnes of concrete were required for the construction of the generating station. Most of the fill for the dam was produced at an aggregate plant established just north of the camp. [46]

Initially equipment was shipped to the site by barge on Lake Winnipeg. A 400-km gravel road to Winnipeg was constructed in 1961 at a rate of 1.6 km a day. The completion of the highway in a single season was described as “a Canadian construction record for peacetime.” In 1962, there were over 1,700 workers on the job, which operated 24 hours a day. [47]

Work on the project commenced in 1960, the first generators went into service in 1965, and the project was completed in 1968. Despite the initial cost estimate of $140 million, the final cost was $117 million. [48]

Under the provisions of a federal-provincial agreement, 200 First Nations and Métis men were hired by local contractors to clear brush from the grounds of the proposed forebay. Initially Ben Baich, a federal Indian Affairs employee, was responsible for counselling the workers and serving as a liaison with the contractors. A government news release suggested that the major issues Baich was addressing were “loitering and absenteeism.” [49] In September, the province appointed James Whitford, an anthropologist who had previously done community development work with Inuit on Southampton Island in the Northwest Territories, to work with Baich, providing “guidance and counselling” to the Aboriginal workers on the Grand Rapids project. [50] By December 1960, it was estimated that 425 Aboriginal people out of a total workforce of 755 had been clearing. One hundred of them were working for Drake Construction and another 60 were working for Patricia Transportation Company. [51]

Despite the fact that they were not unionized, in the fall of 1960 Aboriginal men who had been hired by Patricia Transportation walked off the job to protest their low pay and poor living conditions. Forty men from Moose Lake quit their jobs and returned to their home community. Their protest attracted little attention at the time and its outcome is not clear. Three months later, in January 1961, another group of First Nation and Métis men struck over similar issues in a dispute with Drake Construction Co. This time, the story was front-page news and led to the appointment of a provincial commission of inquiry.

The number of workers involved in this second strike was reported as being between 100 and 140. While they were not unionized, they received assistance from the Carpenters union, whose business agent, Russell Robbins served as their spokesperson in Winnipeg. According to Robbins, the men had gone to work on a piece-work basis in the expectation of being paid a minimum of $1.35 an hour. In reality, they were making less than $0.70 an hour and often as little as $0.40 an hour.

The government was well aware that there was trouble brewing at Grand Rapids. Prior to the walkout, Whitford and Baich had concluded that the workers, who were hired as sub-contractors, were being underpaid, overcharged for the use of tools and the purchase of food, and supplied with squalid accommodation (tents) at a time when there was plenty of accommodation available in a nearby Hydro camp. Whitford reported on the situation to both the provincial health and labour ministers.

Indigenous workers at the construction camp for the Grand Rapids Generating Station (January 1961)

Indigenous workers at the construction camp for the Grand Rapids Generating Station (January 1961)
Source: University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Tribune Collection, 18-4436-009

The ministers viewed Whitford’s report as being overly opinionated, and delayed taking any action on it until Premier Duff Roblin returned from a vacation. A report from Jean H. Lagassé, a provincial government consultant on Aboriginal issues, advised the government that “There is some evidence that the present clearing contracts are not yielding as many rewards to the native laborers as expected.” He said that contractors were being paid between $140 and $165 an acre to clear the brush, but were only paying their workers between $70 and $75 an acre. “As they insist that the men supply their own tents, tools and food, administrative costs are very small for the contractors and their profits high.” Lagassé noted that according to their contract with the Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board, they were obliged to pay the men a minimum of $1.35 an hour, which they were not doing. [52] Labour department inspectors claimed that they were unaware of any contract provision that required the men doing brush clearing to be paid more than $0.61 an hour. [53] Other Aboriginal workers complained about the management style of one contractor. [54]

In the meantime, the men walked off the job, demanding $1.70 an hour. The contractors fired six strike leaders (including Harold Disbrowe of Berens River and Tom Folster and George McLeod, both of Norway House) and told the government Whitford and Baich had initiated the strike.

David Orlikow travelled to Grand Rapids to meet with the workers. On his return, he said that the living conditions at the camp were worse than those he had witnessed when visiting sharecroppers in the southern United States or Cuban sugarcane workers. Men could not keep food in their tents for fear it would freeze and had to depend on melted snow for water. In some cases, men who had worked for seven weeks ended up owing the contractor small amounts of cash once their bills for supplies had been taken into account. According to Orlikow the contracting company was charging Manitoba Hydro $160 an acre for clearing bush, but only paying the workers $75 an acre (with a bonus of $10 for each five-acre strip cleared). Even though Manitoba Hydro had stipulated that the men make at least a $1.35, Orlikow said that the contractor did not keep proper accounting of hours. [55] One of the men that Orlikow spoke to said he had been paid $40 for a 56-hour week, at approximately $0.75 an hour. A second man said he had been paid $6 a day for a 12-hour day. A third worker had gross earnings of $302 after seven weeks; once his expenses, including travel, had been taken into account, he owed the contractors $50.

Orlikow had been accompanied by Ian Harvey, the Minister of the Silver Heights United Church. In his report, Harvey wrote that

Living conditions among the piece workers and especially among the Indian piece workers on the Grand Rapids clearing job was [sic], in our opinion, the main running sore still to be dealt with by those in charge, and until it has been dealt with, injustice is being done. We stood shivering in the cold in twenty-eight degree-below weather interviewing Indian after Indian outside tents so low and small as to be utterly inadequate as housing accommodation for human beings on a permanent camp basis. Clothing cannot be hung up, let alone bedding, in such tents, nor can a decent-sized stove be placed in them either to warm the occupants or thaw their food. Sweaty clothes could not be dried if the owners happened to have clean ones to change into, which is doubtful. And icy bedding was the only prospect after a hard day’s work. Little rest or sleep is possible under such, conditions. [56]

To protest their treatment, the men were planning to march the 250 km from Gypsumville to the Manitoba legislature. Before the march could begin, Roblin, who had returned from holiday, appointed Steward Martin to head a commission of inquiry into the dispute.

Martin flew to Grand Rapids, met privately with the parties involved in the dispute, and held public meetings. Representatives of both the Patricia and Drake contracting companies said they already did pay the minimum wage and would have addressed any of the complaints that had gone to the civil servants if they had been brought to their attention. Whitford responded that it was not his job to mediate between the companies and their employees. Furthermore, he was under the impression that the companies regarded him as “just a nuisance.” Both Whitford and Baich spoke of the “‘extreme hardships’ suffered by Indians caused by underpay, poor living quarters, and bad working contracts.’” One of the organizers of the strike, Harold Disbrowe, told Martin:

We want bunk houses and meals provided by the construction company for deduction of $2 per day per man.

We want an hourly wage of $1.70 if men provide their own power source, and if a dispute occurs on the amount of acreage cut we want the hydro board to appoint somebody to meausre [sic] the acreage involved.

We asked that the men who were fired are reinstated and that the labor union assist workers in all ways. We want someone who can guide us.

We are just asking for a decent wage. Since I’ve been here I haven’t been able to send a cent home.

After a day of work, Martin was able to announce the men were going back to work under the following conditions:

  • the men would be paid an hourly rate of $1.35 rather than a piece-work rate
  • the leaders would be re-instated
  • their working day would be nine hours until February 15, when it would be 10 hours.

The victory may not have been as complete as was claimed, since a few days later Carpenters union representative Russ Robbins said that in fact, the strike was still on, and any reports to the contrary should be viewed as “company propaganda.”

While senior Manitoba government officials complained to the media that the strike was largely the work of civil servants who had far exceeded their mandate, a passionate commentary in the Free Press suggested that this was because they found that “The idea of a Metis and Indian strike seems to be impossible to grasp.” The government was continuing to ignore the strike leaders, who kept “trying to tell officialdom that they, and nobody else, engineered the whole business.” The story concluded that “the search for the ‘instigators’ goes on—despite evidence galore that the once-silent Indian and Metis are developing excellent sets of vocal cords.” [57]

In early 1961, Indian Affairs officials delivered nearly $2,000 in back pay to First Nations people from Moose Lake, who had been working clearing brush for the Grand Rapids project. The payments were, according to Baich, a result of the Martin inquiry. He expected other payments to be made in coming months. [58]

Orlikow returned to the issue in March saying that the wages issue had been addressed, but the living conditions remained substandard. “The only difference is that it’s not likely to be 28 below again as it was the day I was there. And they still have no place to wash. They still have no place to get cleaned up. They still have no place in which to cook properly, and this is the way they are living.” Labour Minister J. B. Carroll responded that some workers had in fact made a very good wage cutting brush. He noted that Drake Construction had concluded that one of the sub-contractors had not been living up to the terms of its agreement with Drake, presumably in relation to the payment of workers, and had been let go. He also insinuated that one of the strike leaders had been fined for selling alcohol to Aboriginal workers. The fact that the man, who in reality had been convicted of having had alcohol in an unlawful place, paid his fine in cash was used to raise doubts about whether the men were poorly paid. [59] Orlikow objected to the fact that the minister had insinuated, incorrectly, that the man had been convicted of selling alcohol illegally. By raising the issue in the way, he had Orlikow felt that Carroll was simply attempting to “draw a red herring over the issue.” [60]

In March 1961, Whitford recommended that in the future all brush clearing be paid for either on an hourly basis or a guaranteed rate per acre, that adequate housing be provided to brush cutters, that workers purchasing goods at company stores be given written receipts, that brush cutters be given an opportunity to check their time sheets, and that brush cutters be provided with access to an independent authority to deal with disputes related to wages or working conditions. [61]

Martin’s July 1961 report recommended that in future employees be paid weekly, that all money due to workers be paid to them within two days of their termination, and that there be written contracts governing piece work. The concerns over the quality of living and working conditions at the site were validated by a recommendation that in future contractors provide sub-contractors with food, lodging, and equipment. There was a paternalistic flavour to his recommendation that in future projects Indian agents serve as the representative of Aboriginal workers, and that a welfare worker be employed on the site full-time to check on conditions. [62]

The problems highlighted by the brush cutters’ protest did not go away. In December 1961, Lagassé reported that men hired to clear brush for northern road construction were living in tents, inadequately fed on occasion, and often underpaid. [63]

There was a reason why the Aboriginal brush cutters were able to turn to a local representative of the Carpenters union for advice when they were planning their strike. By the summer of 1960 Carpenters, along with the other basic trades (the Operating Engineers, Labourers, and Teamsters) were in the midst of an organizing campaign at Grand Rapids. On land rented from a local First Nation, the carpenters had constructed a small shack that, on weekends, was staffed with union representatives. Wages at the time ranged from $1.35 to $2.15 per hour with a maximum 120 hours of work permitted in a two-week period. By August, union representative Jules Cusson said that a number of unions had already signed up the majority of workers. As was the case at Kelsey, the contractors were resistant to unionization.

On 1 August 1960, four men working for Prairie Construction Co. Ltd walked off the job to protest the firing of a pro-union contractor. While the men, who were constructing camp buildings, were only off the job for two hours, a pattern had been set. The Grand Rapids project would be marked by numerous impromptu strikes. [64]

The tenders for the Grand Rapids job stated that the maximum number of hours to be worked in a two-week period at straight time was 120 hours. In response, the building trades unions called on the government set the limit at 40 hours a week. Labour Minister Carroll refused, saying, “Experience in other remote areas would seem to indicate that men who were away from their families and normal recreational facilities prefer to work longer hours.” Shortening the working day would, he argued, make it harder to recruit workers, require that more workers be recruited, and necessitate the construction of a larger and more expensive camp. Nor was there any point in providing recreational facilities, since “all the recreational facilities in the world will not take the place of a workman’s wife, family, his friends, his church, his home, the organizations to which he belongs, and the many other things which cannot be transported with him to a remote site.” [65] Carroll did say that Grand Rapids would be different from Kelsey in that the government expected that it would be a unionized job with hours, and overtime provisions set by negotiations, by the Fair Wages Act. [66]

In reality, the Fair Wages Act did not apply to the project, and Manitoba Hydro, which had been created in the spring of 1961, had put in place policies that limited union organizers’ ability to make contact with workers. In January 1961, it was announced that the contract for the construction of the project had been awarded to Grand Rapids Constructors, which was a consortium of five separate construction companies. [67] By February, 2,500 tons of equipment and supplies were en route to the site with construction work expected to be started by the beginning of May. [68]

Work had barely begun before the basic trades workers were threatening strike action. In early May 1961, the workers, who had yet to be certified, said they would walk off the job, unless they were given parity with construction workers in Winnipeg and Thompson, a 48-hour workweek, vacation pay and free room and board. The 200 construction workers said they were making 35% to 40% below the Winnipeg rate. Speaking on behalf of the workers, Denis Flynn of the Operating Engineers said that Manitoba Hydro had only one interest at the Grand Rapids power project: “that of getting the job done in the cheapest possible way.” If it had any interest in the problems of the unemployed, he said the provincial government would have required Manitoba Hydro “to set an example to private enterprise by employing men at a reasonable work week rather than the present system there for 60 hours per week.”

Hydro’s control over the construction site was creating a growing public relations problem. The Free Press reported that the editor of a local weekly newspaper had been barred from the site, that the telephone line would be out of service when the “wrong people used it,” and that people whom Hydro did not like found it hard to rent lots in a local trailer park. The construction unions claimed that Hydro had hired Metropolitan Security guards to prevent them from meeting with workers and was only allowing union representatives onto the site three times a month. On the evening of 25 May, approximately 100 to 120 construction workers, most of whom were operating engineers, met and decided that rather than report to work the following morning, they would hold another meeting to discuss taking strike action. Because Hydro controlled access to the site, the morning meeting was held at the project parking lot. W. H. Maunsell, the director of labour relations for Grand Rapids, took the position that by refusing to work that morning, the workers had gone out on an illegal strike and had effectively quit their jobs. Sixty of them left Grand Rapids for Winnipeg, where after meeting at the Winnipeg Labour Temple, they marched on the provincial legislature. [69]

Construction of the Grand Rapids Generating Station continued through the winter of 1963, although on a more relaxed pace, as preparations were made for the subsequent summer work.

Construction of the Grand Rapids Generating Station continued through the winter of 1963, although on a more relaxed pace, as preparations were made for the subsequent summer work.
Source: Manitoba Hydro

There they asked Labour Minister Carroll to intervene in their dispute. He told them that since the contractors were not breaking the law, there was little he could do. He also disputed the validity of their case. Shovel operator Cy Proctor told him, “You sit down here in a nice clean office. How’d you like to come up and lie with us guys for a while and see what it’s like. You can’t live on $1.45 an hour.” Carroll replied “A great many people won’t believe that and neither do I.” [70] Union official Denis Flynn advised the men to return to Grand Rapids while the unions carried on with their organizing campaign. [71]

For the unions, the task was complicated by the rules that permitted them access to the site for no more than three days a month. David Orlikow raised Carroll’s ire by advising the workers to ignore the rule. [72] Hydro officials agreed to allow organizers fifteen days of access to the camp, which by then was home to approximately 380 workers. [73] On his return from Grand Rapids, Carpenters union official Russell Robbins said that the company policy of doing its hiring at Grand Rapids had created what he termed “a hobo jungle.” Robbins estimated that only one of every hundred men who travelled to Grand Rapids was hired. Since they were not allowed into the camp, they were sleeping under the trees. In his estimation there were “as many as 75 to 100 men hanging around up there.” [74]

At the end of July, the Manitoba labour board ordered that there be a certification vote. In August the Labourers, the Carpenters, the Operating Engineers, and the Teamsters had all been certified as bargaining agents for the Grand Rapids workers. [75] Negotiations quickly bogged down over the issues of hours of work and overtime. By the end of August, the unions had applied to the province to appoint a conciliation board. [76] The conciliation report, issued in November, was disappointing. The unions had proposed that overtime be paid after 48 hours, but the conciliation recommended that the limit for straight time be a 54-hour week. Under the conciliation board’s recommendation, workers would not be eligible for holiday pay until they had worked for four months. [77] Within days of receiving the report, union officials set out for Grand Rapids, armed with strike ballots printed in English, German, French and Portuguese. [78] Ninety-five per cent of those who voted favoured taking strike action. In a provocative move, the contractors had cut the workweek from 60 hours to 48 hours but kept the old pay rates in place, resulting in a decline in take-home pay. [79]

In mid-January, an agreement brokered by provincial Labour Minister Carroll averted a strike. The agreement was to provide the Laborers (Hod Carriers) Local 101 members with a $0.20 an hour increase, the Operating Engineers Local 901 members with a $0.17 to $0.35 cent an hour increase; the Teamsters Local 914 members with a $0.20 to $0.30 cent an hour increase, and the Carpenters Local 343 members with a $0.47 an hour increase. [80] The agreement did not cover all the trades. The mechanical trades workers who install the generators for example, were not on the site at the time of the organizing drive, and therefore were not unionized. [81] Other crafts continued to organize and bargain: the Iron Workers were certified in May 1962 and reached a contract that came into effect in August of that year. [82]

The labour peace was short-lived. At the end of May 1963, 1,200 workers walked off the job claiming they would not return until Grand Rapids Constructors had rectified a dozen outstanding grievances. The main issues were overtime pay, time spent travelling to work, and the fact that workers were paid for only a half day on days when work could not be done due to poor weather. Robert Eisener, one of the strikers, told the Free Press the workers wanted to be paid for travel time, for the full day if weather did not permit work to be done, and double time rather than time and a half for overtime. [83] The strike caught union and management officials by surprise. Union officials flew to Grand Rapids, and after meeting with the strikers, reached an agreement with the contractors that saw improvements on ten of the eleven issues the workers had raised. The eleventh—the proposed half-day pay for days when there was no work available—was to be settled by arbitration. [84]

While the 1962 contract was set to last until 1965, there was a provision to renegotiate wages after January 1964. When talks slowed, the unions asked for conciliation in February 1964. [85] Denis Flynn of the Operating Engineers noted “the men are restive and in view of the job ending shortly, the men may take matters into their own hands.” [86] While the contractors had initially refused to offer any pay increase, by the time a strike vote was held in March, they were prepared to match raises negotiated by Winnipeg building trades workers. The unions went on strike on 17 March. Even though only 150 workers had gone out on strike, between 400 and 500 other workers, members of the mechanical trades (painters, plumbers, pipefitters, boilermakers, ironworkers, and electricians) honoured the union’s eight-man picket line. The only people the union allowed through the picket lines were the maintenance workers needed to keep the boilers, pumps, and airfield in operation. The two-week strike ended with the unions accepting a $0.15 per hour pay increase and a 4% vacation pay benefit. [87]

Concerns about health and safety and living conditions were continuous. Poor sanitation in local trailer parks was linked to an epidemic of gastroenteritis that hit Grand Rapids in 1961 and left two dead. [88] In the fall of 1962, Hydro terminated its contract with Dr. Max A. Black, the only physician at the site. At the time, there were still three years to go in Black’s contract with Hydro. The doctor said that while Hydro refused to provide him with reasons for his dismissal, he feared it was because he had “made a nuisance of himself” by requesting improvements in medical equipment and by making reports to the Manitoba Workmen’s Compensation Board on accidents at the site. According to a Free Press report, Black’s contract with Hydro stipulated that “You will not insist on reporting minor injuries as compensation cases.” Hydro reserved the right to determine which injuries were major and which were minor, with the minor injuries often being treated solely by first-aid staff. Black said that as a result some men who had received eye injuries that might result in permanent damage were not being properly treated. He also said the small hospital he worked out of was not properly equipped to respond to serious accidents. Hydro denied Black’s charges, but refused to explain why it was dismissing the doctor. [89] Of 115 Grand Rapids accidents reported to the Manitoba Department of Labour, 35 were eye injuries. [90]

There was at least one fatal injury on the Grand Rapids project. On 9 August 1962, 43-year-old Robert Hagen, a construction worker on the project was killed when a truck driven by a Portuguese worker, who according to newspaper accounts, spoke little English, backed up and crushed him. A coroner’s inquest drew attention to the fact that there had been no flagman on duty to guide truck drivers when backing up. The inquest recommended that flagmen be present when trucks backed up and that there be a full-time safety officer on the site at all times. [91]

In December 1962, the health department was obliged to initiate an investigation into hygiene conditions at the camp after receiving complaints about poor food-handling practices. [92]

Six months later, in September 1964, with another walk-out looming, Manitoba Hydro announced that it would conduct an investigation into living and working conditions at the Grand Rapids site. Workers from a variety of unions were threatening a slowdown if their concerned about a lack of safety precautions, poor food (a number of cooks had been laid off), and inadequate living conditions were not addressed. The millworkers, steamfitters, and electricians all threatened to walk off the job to protest the recurrence of a bedbug infestation. [93]

Despite the conflicts, controversies, and disruptions, the Kelsey and Grand Rapids dams were built on schedule. However, by the early 1960s, Manitoba Hydro was contemplating a new set of construction projects for the Nelson and Churchill Rivers. These projects were so large and so costly, and workers had demonstrated that measures to exclude unions were, in the end, counterproductive, that government and Hydro officials recognized that a far different approach was in order.

A view of the powerhouse and penstocks, as viewed from the tailrace area, under construction at the future Grand Rapids Generating Station (1963)

A view of the powerhouse and penstocks, as viewed from the tailrace area, under construction at the future Grand Rapids Generating Station (1963)
Source: Manitoba Hydro

Notes

1. Val Werier, “Why they agreed to no strike,” Winnipeg Tribune (hereafter WT), 16 November 1966; “No-strike pact signed,” WT, 22 December 1966.

2. Burntwood/Nelson Agreement, Revision 16.5, 26 May 2015.

3. Many of the large-scale dam and hydro projects built in the American southwest, including the gigantic Hoover dam, had been built by non-union labour. A. E. Rogge, D. Lorne McWatters, Melissa Keane, and Richard P. Emanuel, Raising Arizona’s Dams: Daily Life, Danger, and Discrimination in the Dam Construction Camps of Central Arizona, 1890s–1940s, Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1995; Joseph Stevens, The Hoover Dam: An American Adventure, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma, 1988.

4. Manitoba Hydro, “Kelsey Generating Station,” n. d.; Wallace Clement, Hardrock Mining: Technical Relations and Technological Changes at INCO, Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1981, pp. 54–55; Des Allard “North Power Project Will Operate in 1960,” WT, 17 February 1959; Leonard Bateman, “A History of Electric Power Development in Manitoba,” IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] Canadian Review, Winter 2005, pp. 22–25.

5. Archives of Manitoba, LA 0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date, 17.

6. The Voice, 8 January 1915, quoted in DuncanIrvine, “Reform, war, and industrial crisis in Manitoba: F. J. Dixon and the framework of consensus, 1903–1920,” MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1981, p. 58.

7. For the history of the Manitoba Fair Wage Act, see: Duncan Irvine, “Reform, war, and industrial crisis in Manitoba: F. J. Dixon and the framework of consensus, 1903–1920,” MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1981, pp. 56–63; Department of Labour, Canada, Hours of Labour in Canada and Other Countries, Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1923, 12; Bob Russell, “A Fair or a Minimum Wage? Women Workers, the State and the Origins of Wage Regulation in Western Canada, Labour/Le Travail 28 (Fall 1991), p. 60.

8. Province of Manitoba, Information Section, “Thompson Approves Fair Wage Schedule,” 24 April 1959.

9. Archives of Manitoba, LA 0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date, p. 19.

10. “North Pay Protested,” WT, 7 October 1957.

11. Archives of Manitoba, LA 0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date, p. 17.

12. Des Allard, “Labor Problems Best Kelsey Power Project,” WT, 18 February 1959.

13. “Kelsey Inquiry Sought, Union Says Contractors Interfering,” Winnipeg Free Press (hereafter, WFP), 19 November 1959.

14. Archives of Manitoba, LA 0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date, pp. 11–13. For the length of the workweek prior to 1959, see: Des Allard, “Labor Problems Best Kelsey Power Project,” WT, 18 February 1959.

15. Anderon and Higgs, A Future to Inherit, 29, pp. 89–95.

16. “May Probe Conditions In Northern Camps,” WFP, 15 October 1959; “100 hour week is called incredible,” WFP, 2 November 1959.

17. Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Debates and Proceedings, volume III, number 2, 1st session, 26th Legislature, 27 July 1959, pp. 1307–1310.

18. “North Pay Protested,” WT, 7 October 1957.

19. “May Probe Conditions In Northern Camps,” WFP, 15 October 1959; “100 hour week is called incredible,” WFP, 2 November 1959.

20. The Construction Industry Wages Act that supplanted the Fair Wage Actin Manitoba, retained the two-zone structure. Zone A remained the same, namely the City of Winnipeg and the surrounding suburbs. Zone B extended throughout the rest of the province. Government of Manitoba, Information Section, Department of Provincial Secretary, “Construction Industry Wages Boards Approved,” 20 March 1964.

21. Des Allard, “Labor Problems Best Kelsey Power Project,” WT, 18 February 1959. For number of men on site, see: Des Allard “North Power Project Will Operate in 1960,” WT, 17 February 1959. For additional information on hours and expenses, see: Archives of Manitoba, LA 0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date, p. 10.

22. “No girls, beer, dances but Kelsey Suits Govt.” WFP, 18 July 1959; “Report on Kelsey Seen Unjustified,” WT, 18 July 1959. For Orlikow, being barred from the site, see: Graham Buckingham, Thompson: A City and Its People, Thompson: Thompson Historical Society, 1988, p. 59.

23. Chandler Davidson, Race and Class in Texas Politics, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990, p. 128.

24. Nelson Lichtenstein, State of the Union: A Century of American Labor, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 228.

25. For a history of Winnipeg construction unions, see: Gerry Berkowski, “A tradition in jeopardy”: Building trades Workers’ Response to Industrial Capitalism in Winnipeg, 1880–1914, MA thesis, University of Winnipeg, 1986. For the 1919 General Strike, see: David Jay Bercuson, Confrontation at Winnipeg: Labour, Industrial Relations, and the General Strike, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974.

26. Gerry Berkowski, Ed Reed, Nolan Reilly, and Doug Smith, All That’s Made of Wood: The Story of Local 343 United Carpenters and Joiners, Winnipeg: Manitoba Labour Education Centre, 1995, pp. 67–69.

27. “Hydro Site Workers To Vote on Union,” WT, 21 August 1961.

28. “Union Visit To Kelsey Generating Station Up To Sub-Contractors,” WFP, 17 February 1959; “Union Says It’s Barred From North Power Site,” WT, 17 February 1959; “Union Agent Awaits Leave To Visit Site,” WFP, 14 March 1959; Des Allard, “North Power Project Will Operate in 1960,” WT, 17 February 1959.

29. “No girls, beer, dances but Kelsey Suits Govt.” WFP, 18 July 1959; “Report on Kelsey Seen Unjustified,” WT, 18 July 1959. For Orlikow, being barred from the site, see: Graham Buckingham, Thompson: A City and Its People, Thompson, Thompson Historical Society, 1988, p. 59.

30. “Low Pay Charges Denied,” WFP, 8 March 1960; for other examples of Orlikow raising this issue see: Manitoba Hansard, Volume II Nob 6A, 19 March 1959, p. 140.

31. Archives of Manitoba, LA 0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date, p. 7.

32. “Union Man Can Visit Kelsey Site,” WFP, 23 July 1959.

33. “Kelsey Inquiry Sought, Union Says Contractors Interfering,” WFP, 19 November 1959.

34. “Construction Group To Organize North,” WFP, 3 September 1959.

35. Archives of Manitoba, LA 0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date, pp. 5-6, pp. 8-9.

36. Archives of Manitoba, LA 0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date, p. 6.

37. “Contractor Is Unfair, Says Union,” WFP, 3 October 1959.

38. “Kelsey Inquiry Sought, Union Says Contractors Interfering,” WFP, 19 November 1959; Archives of Manitoba, LA0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date.

39. “W. Steward Martin: A background,” WFP, 23 March 1968; David Roberts, “Estate owed $5-million by lawyer: Conduct called reprehensible, Globe and Mail, 31 August 1993. In a profile written about Martin in 1968, Free Press labour reporter Dudley Magnus said, “He has shown considerable lack of bias in his attitude to unions, yet when acting for a company he doesn’t forget he is representing a firm against a union.” As a result, Magnus wrote that he, “wouldn’t say he is particularly liked by union officials generally, but that is because unionists tend to think of persons either as being for or against them.”

40. Archives of Manitoba, LA0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date.

41. Archives of Manitoba, LA0009, GR0646, Box 62, file 35, Report of Industrial Inquiry Commission, Dr. W. Steward Martin, Sessional Paper No. 91, no date, pp. 18–19. (Passim)

42. Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Debates and Proceedings, volume IV, number 1, 2nd session, 26th Legislature, 19 January 1960, p. 3.

43. Martin Loney, “The Construction of Dependency: The Case of the Grand Rapids Hydro Project,” The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, VII, 1 (1987) 57–78; James Waldram, As Long as the Rivers Run: Hydroelectric Development and Native Communities, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1993; Larry Kusch, “Paradise Lost,” WFP, 31 July 2010.

44. “Launch Study of Province’s Power Needs,” WFP, 20 July 1957; “Grand Rapids Survey for Big Power Plan,” WFP, 26 August 1959.

45. Manitoba Hydro, “Grand Rapids Generating Station,” no date; Government of Manitoba, Department of Industry and Commerce, Information Section, Canadian Company Wins Hydro-Turbine Contract,” 13 January 1961; “$140 Million Plan Starts This Year,” WT, 18 June 1960; Manitoba Hydro, Grand Rapids Generating Station, https://www.hydro.mb.ca/corporate/facilities/gs_grand_rapids.shtml (accessed 25 September 2015).

46. Manitoba Hydro, “Grand Rapids Generating Station,” no date; Government of Manitoba, Department of Industry and Commerce, Information Section, Canadian Company Wins Hydro-Turbine Contract,” 13 January 1961; Bob Hunter, “Power Project Rivals Movies,” WT, date illegible (1962).

47. Bob Hunter, “Power Project Rivals Movies,” WT, date illegible (1962); Government of Manitoba, Department of Industry and Commerce, Information Section, “Grand Rapids Road Sets New Construction Record,” 7 October 1960.

48. Manitoba Hydro, “Grand Rapids Generating Station,” no date; Government of Manitoba, Department of Industry and Commerce, Information Section, Canadian Company Wins Hydro-Turbine Contract,” 13 January 1961.

49. Province of Manitoba, Department of Industry and Commerce,Information Section, “Indians-Metis Provide Grand Rapids Labour,” 26 August 1960; Province of Manitoba, Department of Industry and Commerce, Information Section, “$4M Phone Building Launches Major Winter Works Program,” 28 October 1960.

50. Province of Manitoba, Information Section, “Liaison Officer is Named for Indian-Metis Project,” 9 September 1960.

51. Archives of Manitoba, Grand Rapids Brush Clearing, 1958–62, Deputy Minister of Labour Office Files; Government schedule number, L0005A; Accession number, GR0640; Location code, A-15-5-13, Jean H. Lagassé to E. G. Weeks, 2 December 1960.

52. Archives of Manitoba, Grand Rapids Brush Clearing, 1958–62, Deputy Minister of Labour Office Files; Government schedule number, L0005A; Accession number, GR0640; Location code, A-15-5-13, Jean H. Lagassé to E. G. Weeks, 2 December 1960.

53. Archives of Manitoba, Grand Rapids Brush Clearing, 1958–62, Deputy Minister of Labour Office Files; Government schedule number, L0005A; Accession number, GR0640; Location code, A-15-5-13, A. W. Muzychuk to O. D. Hamilton, 5 December 1960.

54. Archives of Manitoba, Grand Rapids Brush Clearing, 1958–62, Deputy Minister of Labour Office Files; Government schedule number, L0005A; Accession number, GR0640; Location code, A-15-5-13, R. A. Dahl to O. D. Hamilton, 9 September 1960.

55. “Grand Rapids Strikers, Men Plan Trek of 160 miles,” WFP, 21 January 1961; “Northern strike settled on Roblin’s orders,” WFP, 23 January 1961; Ted Byfield, “Strike laid to civil servants, Charge govt. men led protest, WFP, 23 January 1961; “Strikers Return To Work” WFP,“Bushmen calling their strike the greatest thing since Louis Riel,” WFP, 25 January 1961; “Grand Rapids Strike Still On-Unionist,” WFP, January 30, 1961; Dan Parker, “Pay Strike At Rapids Is Settled,” WT, 23 January 1961. For the Moose Lake workers, see: Archives of Manitoba, Grand Rapids Brush Clearing, 1958–62, Deputy Minister of Labour Office Files; Government schedule number, L0005A; Accession number, GR0640; Location code, A-15-5-13, A. W. Muzychuk to O. D. Hamilton, 5 December 1960.

56. Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Debates and Proceedings, volume 37, 3rd session, 26th Legislature, 22 March 1961, pp. 1138–1144.

57. “Grand Rapids Strikers, Men Plan Trek of 160 miles,” WFP, 21 January 1961; “Northern strike settled on Roblin’s orders,” WFP, 23 January 1961; Ted Byfield, “Strike laid to civil servants, Charge govt. men led protest, WFP, 23 January 1961; “Strikers Return To Work” WFP; “Bushmen calling their strike the greatest thing since Louis Riel,” WFP, 25 January 1961; “Grand Rapids Strike Still On-Unionist,” WFP, January 30, 1961; Dan Parker, “Pay Strike At Rapids Is Settled,” WT, 23 January 1961.

58. “Indian Workers Get Back-Pay Cheques,” Indian Record, February 1961.

59. Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Debates and Proceedings, volume 37, 3rd session, 26th Legislature, 22 March 1961, pp. 1143, 1148, 1152. Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Debates and Proceedings, volume 37, 3rd session, 26th Legislature, 3 April 1961, p. 1554.

60. Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Debates and Proceedings, volume 37, 3rd session, 26th Legislature, 23 March 1961, p. 1172.

61. Archives of Manitoba, Grand Rapids Brush Clearing, 1958–62, Deputy Minister of Labour Office Files; Government schedule number, L 0005A; Accession number, GR0640; Location code, A-15-5-13, J. R. Whitford to Jean H. Lagassé, 25 March 1961.

62. Manitoba Government, Department of Industry and Commerce, Information Section, “Grand Rapids Probe Report is Released,” 7 July 1961.

63. Archives of Manitoba, Grand Rapids Brush Clearing, 1958–62, Deputy Minister of Labour Office Files; Government schedule number, L0005A; Accession number, GR0640; Location code, A-15-5-13, Jean Lagassé to John Christianson, 11 December 1961.

64. “Walkout At Power Project,” WFP, 3 August 1960; “Unions claim gains at Grand Rapids,” WFP, 13 August 1960.

65. Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Debates and Proceedings, 3 April 1961, pp. 1547–1552.

66. Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Debates and Proceedings, 3 April 1961, p. 1554.

67. Manitoba Hydro, “Grand Rapids Generating Station,” no date; Government of Manitoba, Department of Industry and Commerce, Information Section, Canadian Company Wins Hydro-Turbine Contract,” 13 January 1961.

68. “Record Contract,” WT, 17 February 1961; “Dam Start By May 1,” WT, 4 March 1961.

69. “Hydro Bars Editor,” WFP, 31 May 1961; “Labor Unrest at Hydro Site,” WFP, 3 May 1961; Ted Byfield, “Strike Threat Made,” WFP, 9 May 1961; “Go to Work or Be Fired Men Told, WT, 26 May 1961; for figure of 100 see: “Workers Returning to Grand Rapids,” WT, 1 June 1961.

70. Jim Shilliday, “Organize First, Talk Later Disgruntled Workers Told,” WT, 29 May 1961.

71. “Workers Returning to Grand Rapids,” WT, 1 June 1961.

72. “Organizers May Flout Hydro Rule,” WT, 12 June 1961.

73. “Union Leaders at Grand Rapids,” WT,13 June 1961.

74. “Grand Rapids Site Called Hobo Jungle,” WT, 24 June 1961.

75. “Hydro Site Workers to Vote on Union,” WT, 21 July 1961; 4 Unions Certified for Dam Workers,” 3 August 1961.

76. “Conciliation Bid at Grand Rapids,” WT, 30 August 1961.

77. “Conciliation Report Out on Grand Rapids,” WT, 28 November 1961; “Union Men Unsatisfied Over Report,” WT, 1 December 1961.

78. “Unions To Prepare Mass Meet At Rapids,” WFP, 5 December 1961.

79. “Rapids Salaries Tumble,” WT, 16 December 1961.

80. “Dispute Meetings Arranged,” WFP, 2 January 1962; “Wage talks continue” WFP, 6 January 1962; “Hydro Dam Walkout Stopped,” WFP, 18 January 1962.

81. Frank Thomas interview, 26 February 2008.

82. “Grand Rapids Dispute Goes to Conciliation,” WT, 12 September 1962.

83. “1,200 quit job, Grand Rapids work stalled by ‘strike.’” WFP, 1 June 1963.

84. “Grand Rapids men return after negotiations,” WT, 3 June 1963.

85.“Four unions ask for conciliation,” WT, 18 February 1964.

86. “Trouble brewing: Unionist.” WFP, 8 February 1964.

87. “Workers Ask For Strike Vote,” WFP, 5 March 1964; Fred Cleverley, “Last 8 Workers Strike,” WFP; 18 March 1964; Dudley Magnus, “Picket line trouble unlikely at dam site,” 28 March 1964; “At Grand Rapids Strikers Go Back,” WFP, 8 April 1964.

88. Manitoba Government, Department of Industry and Commerce, Information Section, “New Trailer Court for Construction Workers,” 13 October 1961. “Say Health Safeguard Ignored,” WFP, 21 September 1962.

89. Fred Cleverley, “Fired After Insisting On Adequate Medical Equipment, Says MD,” WFP, no date; “Doctor’s charge denied by hydro,” WT, 21 November 1962.

90. Archives of Manitoba, Grand Rapids Brush Clearing, 1958–62, Deputy Minister of Labour Office Files; Government schedule number, L0005A; Accession number, GR0640; Location code, A-15-5-13,

91. “Grand Rapids safety improvements urged,” WT, 22 August 1963.

92. “Provincial northern Camp probe,” WT, 28 December 1962.

93. “Probe Living Conditions At Grand Rapids,” WFP, 23 September 1964; “Hydro acts to improve conditions” WT, 24 September 1964; “Exterminator heading for Rapids,” WT, date illegible, likely September 1964.

We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Grand Rapids Generating Station (Saskatchewan River, Grand Rapids)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Kettle Generating Station (Nelson River, Northern Manitoba)

Page revised: 18 April 2020

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