by Ken Novakowski, chair, BC Labour Heritage Centre

In early summer of 2013, Jack Munro, then chair of the British Columbia Labour Heritage Centre, convened a meeting at the West Georgia Street White Spot restaurant to begin the process that would lead to the publication of On the Line: A History of the British Columbia Labour Movement. Attending were Jack Munro; Scott McCloy of WorkSafeBC; Howard White, owner of Harbour Publishing; and me. The consensus of the meeting was that a book providing an overview history of the BC labour movement was not only overdue but feasible given enough support from the labour movement. Following the meeting, Munro, who was battling health issues that would soon prove fatal, asked me to chair the new initiative.

That summer, the BC Federation of Labour and the Simon Fraser University Labour Studies Program were drawn in as partners to the project, and with the assistance of a grant of $10,000 provided by WorkSafeBC as seed money, work began on the BC Labour History Book Project. A significant development occurred in early spring of 2014 when Community Savings Credit Union came on board as the financing partner to the book, committing up to $200,000 toward the project. This credit union was originally formed by members of the International Woodworkers of America union, including Jack Munro, and CSCU wished to sponsor it to honour Jack’s memory.

To develop the initial framework for the book, to acquire an author and to provide ongoing editorial direction for the book, the partners formed a steering committee consisting of me (representing the BC Labour Heritage Centre), Joey Hartman (BCLHC), Irene Lanzinger (BC Federation of Labour), Jim Sinclair (BCFed), Kendra Strauss (SFU Labour Studies Program), Michelle Laurie (BCLHC) and Mervyn Van Steinburg (BCLHC). An early contribution to the project was provided by Andy Neufeld, assisted by Robin Folvik and Dale McCartney. Author Rod Mickleburgh, editor Silas White and publisher Howard White took part in most meetings as did project assistants Robin Folvik and, later, Donna Sacuta.

As chair of both the steering committee and the BC Labour Heritage Centre, I was responsible for the overall co-ordination of the project and for keeping the funding partner fully informed of developments through frequent meetings with Doug Eveneshen, then president and CEO of Community Savings Credit Union.

From the outset, the planned book was to be an overview history of how working people, through their unions, got British Columbians to where we are today. It was never intended to be a book that encompassed everything of note in the history of BC’s working people; it would take many volumes to do that. Many fine books have already been published on individual BC unions and many excellent studies have been written looking at BC labour through lenses ranging from Marxism to feminism to racism to post-colonialism, but the intent of this project was simply to tell BC labour’s amazing story in as straightforward and comprehensive a manner as possible.