This blog is a collaborative effort, produced by Henry John and John Mountain as together they arrange the massive collection of International Woodworkers of America collection housed at the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives.
Using this blog we will publicize updates on our progress, and will also write historical posts on important topics referenced in the records.
Henry John is a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia history department. He currently lives on the unceded territories of the Cowichan Tribes First Nation, and is working at Kaatza Station Museum and Archives as an archivist on a Co-op work placement. His doctoral research investigates the intersections of labour, environmentalisms, and Indigenous land rights movements during British Columbia’s “War in the Woods” in the 1980s and 1990s.
Henry has moved to the Cowichan Valley seeking to bring some balance to his research. Having worked for environmental NGOs and supported Indigenous land defense over the last decade, he is well connected to that side of the forestry conflict. He now wishes to meaningfully engage with the working communities most affected by the preservation politics of the 1980s and 1990s to incorporate their perspective into his work.
John Mountain is a retired United Steelworkers Canadian National Office Staff Representative and a former IWA Local 1-80 Union Member.
Before retiring in 2017, John was employed as the Administrator and Technical Advisor in the United Steelworkers District 3 Burnaby Office and was responsible for all former IWA-Canada forest industry job evaluation programs within western Canada. As part of the Global Affairs and Labour Issues Department at the Canadian National Office in Toronto, John attended to all job evaluation issues and concerns involving the administration of sawmill and plywood job evaluation, sawmill rate determination, and routinely assisted with national, provincial or regional special projects.
John joined the former IWA-Canada National Office in 1998 after twenty-one years in a forest industry bargaining unit and has a background in sawmilling, the saw filing trade, and computer technologies.
John has a keen interest in IWA union history and lives in Chemainus while volunteering some of his time at the Kaatza Museum in Lake Cowichan.
Kaden Walters is a History major in the Bachelor of Arts Program at Vancouver Island University. He currently lives in Nanaimo but has spent most of his life in Lake Cowichan. Kaden can trace his family roots back to the early days of logging and unionization around the Cowichan Valley. He is currently employed with the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives as the Assistant Archivist through an opportunity provided by Canada Summer Jobs.
Since he was young, Kaden has had a passion for history that has led him to pursue his current goals in his employment and education. Although he is interested in a wide range of historical subjects, Kaden finds that because of his ties to the Cowichan Valley, local history continues to be of special interest to him. He also has found that working at the Archive has only increased his interest in local history.
About the IWA Archive Collection:
The records held and being processed at the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives are those of several IWA offices, mainly between the late 1940s and the early 2000s. The majority of the collection is of the IWA Canada national office, as well as its predecessor organizations the IWA Western Canada Region #1 and the IWA British Columbia District #1. The collection also contains the records of several local unions, namely the IWA Local 1-217 in Vancouver, IWA Local 1-80 in Cowichan, and the IWA Local 1-71 in Courtenay. We hope to acquire the records of other local unions further down the line!
These records were initially stored in the office of IWA Canada in Vancouver. When the office closed following the merger of IWA Canada with the United Steelworkers of America in 2004, the records passed into the keeping of the Steelworkers. Unable to locate an archival institution with the resources to house the 240 box collection, the Steelworkers were on the verge of destroying the records. In 2014 thankfully the Kaatza Historical Society stepped in and agreed to take on the collection. For more detail on the epic story of how these records came to the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives, see John Mountain’s first issue of “Digging into History”.
Thanks to generous donations from the United Steelworkers of America and the wider labour union community, not to mention hundreds if not thousands of volunteer hours, the Kaatza Historical Society built a new extension to their museum and archives, which was completed in 2019. Thus, the IWA Archive was born, and the archival arranging could begin!
About the International Woodworkers of America:
The International Woodworkers of America were founded in 1937 when Canadian communist Harold Pritchett led delegates of a Federation of Woodworkers convention in Tacoma WA to join John L. Lewis’s Congress of Industrial Organizations. As an international union, the IWA had offices and local unions across Canada and the United States, with a particular focus on the Pacific Northwest.
The IWA in British Columbia enjoyed many successes and faced many challenges throughout its history. During the late 1940s and early 1950s the union was in turmoil due to an internal division. Inspired by communist politics but also by a wish to not have the union dominated by American interests, key leadership figures split from the union and formed the Woodworkers Industrial Union of Canada. It took the better part of a decade for the split to be resolved, and the families of the rebels were blacklisted from the IWA until the 1990s. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the union achieved great things, such as a negotiated pension plan and an explosion in membership, but was also hit by union-busting legislation put forward by the British Columbia government, under both W. A. C. Bennett’s Social Credit administration and Dave Barrett’s New Democratic Party.
A recession in the 1970s, and the pressure of new Free Trade policies during the 1980s, resulted in devastating mill closures throughout the Pacific Northwest and a collapse in IWA membership at the end of the twentieth century. In order to meet these new challenges, the leaders of the IWA’s Canadian unions decided to split from the U.S. centred International union in 1987. Eventually in 2004 IWA Canada merged with the United Steelworkers of America.