Design a site like this with
Get started

“Digging into History: An Interview with Early Union Activist Ernie Dalskog Part 2” by John Mountain, Vol. 2 No. 4 (April 2020)

Ernie Dalskog: An Interview with an Early Union Activist Part 2 – Last month I brought you the first part of an Ernie Dalskog interview by IWA Historian Clay Perry. In 1979, IWA Legislative Director Clay Perry sat down with Ernie Dalskog to talk for a few hours about his early days as an union activist.

Clay tape recorded the interview filling eight sides on four cassettes where Ernie Dalskog spoke at length about his days learning about social democracy between 1923 and 1933. Ernie was deeply involved in union politics and communist party politics between 1933 and 1948. 

Picking up from last month’s Deep Dig, Ernie suffers a severe leg injury which takes him away from his railroad job at Horne Lake and Bowser where his leg was accidently broken while loading flatcars.

Clay Perry: You indicated that you became injured and while convalescing in Nanaimo wound up living with a Swede who was miner. When you became healthy, I understand you then became a miner.

Ernie Dalskog: The Swede got me a job with a mining company on Protection Island. I used to go out to the island on the barge to work and they had three shifts going: one at 7:00 in the morning; one at 3:00 on the afternoon; and the last one at 11:00 at night. I worked in the coal mine for a year.

A few months later, I moved in with another fellow and he got me a job in the #1 mine on the outskirts of Nanaimo and this fellow and his partner and me got on a timbering contract replacing timbers on the shafts and tunnels. We finally got the contract going and I was there another year when the contract finished.

I got work in the contract business down in the mine underground loading coal and finally wound up with a very close shave – a cave-in. We were working on what everybody calls “browing a killer” which means we were working on a block of coal between where we currently worked and a section of previous workings. Of course our area was timbered but it was a high seam of coal right where we were working at the foot of a little hill about 14 feet high. And up above there it was only about 6 or 7 feet and they hadn’t brought rails up that far to the bottom of that bluff.

We were loading a coal car and there were three of us with one guy up the hill shoveling coal back to us. I was shoveling coal in the car and the other guy was throwing in good looking stuff that he picked out of the sides. All of a sudden I felt something hit my neck and I looked up to see the roof was coming down. I could see it was beginning to shift so I hollered, “Get out… cave-in!”.

I got in the clear first of all but the guy who was on the side got hit on the hip with the timber and it also knocked out his lamp. He wasn’t hurt at all but it busted up the connection on his battery so he was in the dark. The guy up above, well… he was fiddling around with something and got hit too. He started hollering, “come up with the light, I got to get out of here”.

I walked back up and shone my light up to get him out. I got him out and he was pretty shaken up. We got down the hill and out of the main track and then sat down until it quit rumbling.

The foreman on the #1 shaft came around and said, “What’s the matter with you guys”… so we told him. We went with him to see the cave-in and the work area was buried right from where I was standing. The coal car was completely buried, and my shovel and tools were also buried underneath the rocks.

The foreman told us that we might as well go up to the shaft and catch one of the first cages that goes up home and we were in line before any of the others coming off shift. We were walking up to put in our lamps (they had to be turned in every shift for re-charging the batteries) and I met the Mine Manager.

He asked what happened so I told him about the cave-in and that I was going to take my time pay – I was quitting – said that I was not going to get killed down here and if I wanted to get killed, then I can do it in the woods. He said, “You’ll be back when it starts raining in the woods”. I quit and never did go back. I went into the woods.

Clay: How did you lose your eye?

Ernie: Oh… stupid kid that I was… I was about 14 and there were three of us cousins and we all had cows in the same barn. We were out cow herding and it was berry season. We used to make birch bark baskets and pick wild raspberries – there were all kinds of them up there.

This area had been felled in 1912 and raspberries had sprung up and with the tops of the trees and branches sticking out everywhere, it gave us all kinds of places to climb. We used to go in there and pick berries and take them home.

I was working on some birch bark and was starting to get a big slab and had climbed up on a rock. I was going to carve the thing down from the rock and started working it loose. I was standing poking it with a sharp knife and being a little late in the season, it didn’t come loose very easy. I was standing on sort of a cone-shaped rock poking away and the moss gave away and down I went. The knife came right up in my eye.

It was next day before I got to the doctor because we lived over twenty kilometres from the closest town and my father took me over the next morning. As it happened, the doctor was an excellent eye doctor but had unfortunately become a drug addict. I don’t know if he was on drugs that day or not but when I went down the second day to have it cleaned again, he was smoking a cigar and he dropped cigar ashes right into my eye. Of course, I went into convulsions. It didn’t heal well.

Years later the eye was a problem again. Six months after starting in the Nanaimo mine, I got a piece of coal behind the eye and had to wait until morning again because I worked in the mine on Protection Island and the barge was not available. There was a tunnel between Protection Island and the #1 mine on the Indian reserve and when I got up the next morning – this foreman by the name of Mac Neekan – he had to lead me by the hand through the tunnel to the #1 mine and out because I couldn’t see.

I got home and laid in bed and finally told the landlady to call a taxi to get me to the doctor. The doctor took a look and said, “I think we’ll take you to the hospital right away and take that eye out”. That was in 1925.

Clay: When you first came to BC in 1924, do you remember hearing much about the old BC Logger’s Union?

Ernie: No, not much.

Clay: They were just dying out by that time.

Ernie: Yes. The only Union affairs that I heard of a I.W.W. delegate that came around when I was working in Bowser. He came in just a few days before I had an accident and broke my leg. He signed me up into the I.W.W. Wobblies. I had been in contact with them in the Ontario mines and of course I lived in the boarding house with the miners and they were talking about the I.W.W.. They were all members of the I.W.W. so they used to argue.

Clay: About anarchism and…

Ernie: Yeah, right… anarchism. I was not exactly converted and this delegate didn’t corner me either but he made me interested in it enough so that I signed up. Sometimes when I used to go into Vancouver to see my brother, I would usually go up to the hall which on the second floor in a building on the corner of Hastings and Cambie Street.

Clay: Was it just called the I.W.W. or the BC Logger’s Union?

Ernie: They used to call it the Socialist Hall. We used to be great philosophers in there and there would always be a couple of guys arguing about theories and so on. I later ran into a couple of fellows from there in the woods.

Clay: When did you meet people like Arnie Johnson, not until later?

Ernie: I didn’t meet Arnie until 1932. In fact, I didn’t run into any union men until… well, I went back into the woods in 1926 and there was nothing.

Clay: There was no union alive between 1925 and 1928…

Ernie: In 1928 they were so small.

Clay: Just a few men… yeah…

Ernie: In 1926 I went up for International Timber in Campbell River and I was there for one year. We got laid off for fire season in 1927… July… and I think it was August that I went up to Scotty & Palmer down on the Campbell River line. I think it was Mile 65 and Bonwick was the name of the station and it was a small sawmill with a logging camp. The Scottish people had had someone log up there before, but these people – Scotty & Palmers – they came from the USA.

They were two brothers and their families. One brother didn’t have a family but the older one – Albert was his name – he did. He had two girls and four or five boys. Two of them worked in the camp and the third one – named Cliff – had worked there and then gone somewhere else. It was a family outfit with son-in-law’s working there too. It was a nice outfit to work for. Usually the board in the camps was not too bad but the best one was Scotty & Palmers. Fresh milk and eggs every day… and the cook was a good one; and a girl flunky. It was kind of like being in a community so I stayed there for all of 1927 and at Christmas time I didn’t even go out to Vancouver.

In the meantime I had busted my glass eye so I went to Vancouver to get a replacement eye and decided to go into town to get drunk or some darn thing. It was much more fun living in camp with all the families that worked there; there were about twelve to fifteen families. One of the flunkies who had an aunt that was married to a Saw Filer and they lived there and had children going to school.

In the spring, it was the first inkling I had that there was anything going on in the way of Socialism or organization. One of the Filers who was working there was energetic enough to roust out a few of us to attend a meeting and have an evening discussion and he gave us a lecture. There was a guy who worked on the grade who had been a member of the I.W.W. and he was a Swede but can’t think of his name. He was there along with a young fellow from Chase River who went to the Soviet Union in 1931. The Swede got married and he and his wife went to Korea and they never did come back. So he either died over there or is still living.

Anyway, I went to this meeting just to listen in and it was interesting enough but it didn’t mean anything. There was no organization effort but decided they were going to hold another meeting in a couple of weeks’ time – another lecture. But old man Albert Palmer heard about it and came around and said, “There will be no damn meeting in our schoolhouse”. He didn’t fire anybody but there were no more meetings. I didn’t run into organization until 1932.

Meanwhile I had been all around these logging camps and worked for International Paper early in the summer 1927 before going to work for Bloedel, Stewart, and Welch at Myrtle Point.   

 – excerpt from Clay Perry’s transcript of his conversation with Ernie Dalskog in 1979.

I’ll pick up this story thread in the May issue of Digging Into History where Ernie Dalskog elaborates on his time working on the rigging for Bloedel, Stewart and Welch at Myrtle Point.

I’m so glad to be playing a part in preserving the history of the IWA. If you’re interested in my discoveries, I urge you to contact staff at the Kaatza Museum for more information. Next time in Digging Into History, I’ll take another deep dive into the archives and share some more interesting stories.


The IWA Salutes the Past – Challenges the Future

BC Lumberworker Vol. XXXIV, No.1 – January 1971      Editor: Pat Kerr

1968 – The coast settles for a two year agreement. The major elements in the settlement were:

  • 18c across the board June 15, 1968
  • 18c across the board June 15, 1969
  • Amendments to Check-off form
  • Provision for 40-hr week within 7-day period with straight time for Saturday, overtime rates on Sunday, for Cook and Bunkhouse employees.
  • Provision for minimum guaranteed earnings for Shingle Sawyers and Packers.
  • Vacations improvements: 3 wks. after 4 yrs. at 6½ percent of gross earnings; 4 wks. after 15 yrs. at 8½ percent of gross earnings; 5 wks. after 25 yrs. at 10½ percent of gross earnings.
  • Amendment to fare allowance provisions for loggers.
  • Weekly Indemnity increased to $75 per week.
  • Amendments to Seniority.
  • Amendments to leave of absence provisions.
  • Amendments to Article on Strikes and Lockouts.
  • Incorporation into agreement of Memorandum on Fire Fighting.

1970 – In 1967, the Interior had started their historic strike with a base rate 50¢ behind that of the Coast. The Northern Interior closed the gap to 24¢ and the Southern Interior to 14¢ (base rates were: Coast-$3.12; Southern Interior-$2.98; Northern Interior-$2.88).

 A second three-year agreement in the Interior brought all the master contracts to conclusion in 1970, and the B.C. membership prepared themselves to narrow the gap once again.

On the Coast, bargaining between the IWA and FIR quickly reached a stalemate, with FIR objecting to the presence of observers invited by the IWA to attend, and “offering” a new contract with no wage increase.

Faced with a strike of about 27,000 Coast woodworkers, the provincial government received permission from both parties to have the matters in dispute studied once again by Mr. Justice N. Nemetz.

The agreement was that Mr. Justice Nemetz would make non-binding proposals to end the dispute.

The Union, although it found the major items in the recommendations satisfactory, insisted on additional improvements in health and welfare, plywood evaluation, and on a clause to regulate industry’s use of contractors.

All of these were won, and the final agreement incorporated the following major provisions:

  • 30c effective June 15, 1970.
  • 10¢ effective June I5, 1971.
  • An additional 30c for Tradesmen.
  • Improvements to vacation clause.
  • Industry to pay larger share of Health and Welfare.
  • A joint committee set up to improve Plywood Job Evaluation.
  • A clause regulating the use of sub-contractors.
  • A number of category increases.


This settlement – providing by far the largest wage increases of any area-wide IWA agreement in history – left the Interior with another major task in “catching up.”

This time, however, the Interior Industry did not need to be convinced that the membership was determined. They remembered the 1967 strike. too.

Early in September, the Southern Interior concluded an agreement which included all the major elements of the Coast settlement, plus agreement to institute a sawmill evaluation plan which will bring higher-than-base rates into line with those on the Coast, plus important category increases in logging and major improvements in vacations.

In 1967, the Northern Interior had settled earlier than the South, and as a result was an additional 10¢ behind the Coast. This left that membership with an even more formidable job in 1970.

Negotiations dragged out and a strike seemed inevitable when the employers’ front broke and major companies signed agreements for all that the Southern Interior had won plus an additional 10¢ effective September 1, 1971. Thus the agreement not only brought them closer to their goal of parity with the Coast, but completely closed the gap between South and North that was created in 1967.

In addition, important agreements were signed with more independents, calling for complete parity with the Coast at the expiry of the contracts.

Next time in Digging Into History, I’ll continue to look back through the years of progress for both the forest industry and the union with a look at what the 1970s might bring – the future. Thanks to the BC Lumberworker for these excerpts.

John Mountain is a retired United Steelworkers Canadian National Office Staff Representative and former IWA Local 1-80 Union Member. He lives in Chemainus and volunteers some of his time at the Kaatza Museum in Lake Cowichan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: