Labour at the Lakehead
316 pages, 6 x 9
10 b&w figures
Release Date:01 Jan 2012
Release Date:20 May 2011
Release Date:07 May 2011

Labour at the Lakehead

Ethnicity, Socialism, and Politics, 1900-35

UBC Press

In the early twentieth century, politicians and policy makers singled out Port Arthur and Fort William (present-day Thunder Bay) as breeding grounds for revolution, as places where new immigrants suffered harsh conditions in dockyards, lumber mills, and railway yards, much to the benefit of radical labour organizations.

This intensely engaging history reasserts Northwestern Ontario’s rightful reputation as a birthplace of leftism in Canada by exposing the conditions that gave rise to an array of left-wing organizations, including the Communist Party, the One Big Union, and the Industrial Workers of the World. Yet, as Michel Beaulieu shows, the circumstances and actions of Lakehead labour, especially those related to ideology, ethnicity, and personality were complex; they simultaneously empowered and fettered workers in their struggles against the shackles of capitalism. Cultural ties helped bring left-wing ideas to Canada but, as each group developed a distinctive vocabulary of socialism, Anglo-Celtic workers defended their privileges against Finns, Ukrainians, and Italians. At the Lakehead, ethnic difference often outweighed class solidarity – at the cost of a stronger labour movement for Canada.

An original account of working-class politics at the beginning of “Canada’s century,” Labour at the Lakehead reveals that ethnic differences often outweighed class allegiances – at the cost of greater solidarity for Canada’s left.

This book will be of interest to historians, sociologists, political scientists, and anyone who wants a deeper understanding of Canada’s leftist tradition.


  • 2014, Winner - M. Elizabeth Arthur Award, Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society
This work is an original and important examination of working-class politics in a crucial period, and in a key locale, in Canadian history. Michel Beaulieu explores with care and insight the relationships between Finnish, Anglo-Celtic, and other workers in the harsh environment of the Lakehead and lumber camps that gave rise to an array of radical labour organizations. The extraordinary amount of energy and passion that was directed toward creating movements that could challenge capitalism and its attendant inequities forms the backbone to this challenging and vivid story. James Naylor, Department of History, Brandon University
Michel S. Beaulieu is the director of the Centre for Northern Studies and an associate professor of history at Lakehead University.


Part 1: The Roots of Revolution?

1 Early Socialist Organizations at the Lakehead, 1900-14

2 Repression, Revitalization, and Revolutions, 1914-18

Part 2: From Winnipeg to the Workers’ Unity League

3 “The Hog Only Harms Himself if He Topples His Trough”: The One Big Union, 1919-22

4 “Into the Masses!”: The Communist Party of Canada at the Lakehead, 1922-25

5 Bolshevization and the Reorganization of the Lakehead Left, 1925-27

6 Turning to the Left, 1928-30

Part 3: The Great Depression and the Third Period

7 “Class against Class”: Socialist Activities, 1930-32

8 Wobbly Relations: The Communist Party of Canada, the Industrial Workers of the World, and the Lakehead, 1932-35

Epilogue: 1935




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