The IWA Strike-The Elephant in the Room, Part I

I can honestly say that I have forgotten almost as much about the International Woodworkers of America IWA) Strike of 1958-59 than I know now. It is still a contentious event in our history and one that had repercussions throughout Canada and around the world. 

It may come as some surprise that it has taken me two years of publishing this blog to address this issue which was so important to the history of the A.N.D Company.  The IWA Strike of 1959 was one of the most bitter labor disputes in the history of our province and my position may be quite different than that of many of my readers, especially those in Grand Falls. Before I even start I have to lay some things clear.

Four of my great grandfathers worked for the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. Two worked in mill construction and may have worked in or around the mill at various times, they also worked as loggers for the Company at different points over the span of forty years. The other two worked as loggers, one seasonally and the other year round and two of them died as young men under the age of 45 and to the best of my knowledge the AND Co was their last employer at the time of their deaths. One sustained frostbite while working in Badger Division while in his 50’s or 60’s which they said ultimately lead to his death. Both of my grandfathers worked for the AND Co, one spent five or six years cutting, hauling and driving in Bishop’s Falls Division, the other worked in the woods at some point and worked seasonally for the company in different capacities in the mill and around town. These men lived through the horrible conditions and sometimes very low pay that Newfoundland loggers were subjected to. There were people in my family cut pulpwood for a dollar or less a cord and slept on boughs in camps where they were fed beans seven days a week.

By 1958 the bucksaw was on its way out, having been replaced by the power saw for the vast majority of loggers. Advances in logging technology should be taken into account for the context of the strike. Individual loggers could now cut much more wood.

At the same time I have to play devil’s advocate for the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company because I feel after years of research that they more so than Bowaters bore a disproportionate share of the brunt of the strike. This is because whereas the AND Company operated most of its own camps with the foremen being company employees paid on a bonus and contract system. Bowaters cut all of its wood through contractors and as such they were not responsible for the camps from which their wood was cut.  At the time of the strike Bowaters had 24 major contractors working for them.

The contractors cutting wood for Bowaters had worse camps by and large than those operated by the AND Co. Conditions were worse, food was worse there was not as much in the way of standardization. Because of their system Bowaters also contracted with small contractors who ran small jobbers camps that were, because of their size, sometimes exempt from legislation and regulation. I have also heard that the wood on the west coast isn’t as good (sparser stands and less straight high density trees) which made it harder for loggers to make money.

Because they operated their camps the AND Company was easier to strike against. There were men on those picket lines that had never swung an ax in Central Newfoundland.[i]

I have discussed the early labor history of Newfoundland loggers in a previous article so I am not going to dwell too much into that. In 1936 the Newfoundland Lumberman’s Association was formed. By 1940 two other loggers unions based on the west coast had also been formed and they all did not get along. At the same time the Commission of Government has instituted the Wood Labour board as a measure to deal with labor dispute during the war and to simplify negotiations between the unions and the islands two paper companies.

Joe Thompson
Ole’ Joe Thompson” Joseph Thompson 1889-1970. The founder and only president of the Newfoundland Lumberman’s Association.

Any teeth that the NLA had had were effectively filed down. By 1956 Joe Thompson had been president of that union for twenty years. He lived in Grand Falls and worked out of a new Union building just outside of the mill property.[ii] At the age of 66 he was also looking to retire.

NLA symbol
In its early years the NLA had been fairly active,  by 1956 it had become more or less a communicating body between loggers and the paper company. It was effectively a company union, with an office on company land in a company town.

The International Woodworkers of America represented loggers and lumbermen all over North America and had roots in the Canadian West. They had been interested in the situation in Newfoundland for a number of years, even before confederation. In 1953 the NLA had contacted the IWA and requested that they “take a look” at things in Newfoundland. That year delegates from the IWA were invited as guests to the NLA convention in Grand Falls.[iii]One of the delegates was Harvey Landon Ladd, the Eastern Canadian Director of the I.W.A.

Harvey Landon Ladd 1917-2004. Eastern Canadian Director of the IWA. Ladd was the face of that union during the Newfoundland loggers strike of 1958-59.

By 1956 the Newfoundland Lumbermen’s Association (sometimes called Loggers Association at that point) was faced with having to affiliate itself with a national union. Two unions came into play-the International Woodworkers of America and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

lumbermens hall gf
Newfoundland Lumberman’s Association office, Station Road, Grand Falls. It is interesting to note that although it was a convenient location for negotiating with the AND Company, no loggers lived in Grand Falls and it was not a logging headquarters. Any logging done in the vicinity of Grand Falls was overseen from Bishop’s Falls or Badger.

The IWA was favored by the loggers. The UBCJ was favored by the AND Company and the NLA Executive. It is widely reported that one of the conditions of the UBCJ absorbing the loggers included Joe Thompson receiving a pension for life from them. When Ladd met with Thompson on behalf of the IWA Thompson allegedly (according to Ladd)  asked “what did the IWA have to offer him.” [iv] There was no offer of a pension from the IWA.

When delegates were asked to choose between the IWA and the Carpenters they voted 27 to 14 in farvour of the IWA. Thompson was not pleased with the decision and declared that there was not a clear majority and told the organizers from the IWA to go home. The IWA had other ideas, they were set on organizing the loggers of Newfoundland and they did.

The NLA looked at the IWA as union raiders, the AND Company thought of them as dangerous socialists determined to ruin their operations and the loggers viewed them as saviors who were going to get them better conditions and wages putting them on par with loggers in the rest of Canada.

In the months leading up to the IWA Strike a public relations battle was fought between the AND Company and the IWA. The prefabricated camps touted in this ad were few and far between and used as window dressing for reporters.

Over the ensuing months the IWA signed up hundreds and hundreds of loggers. They even set up centers where loggers could get help in applying for employment insurance and workman’s compensation.[v] And they began to bargain with the paper companies with whom most of there members worked.

To be fair there will be sources that will say that in the 1950’s Newfoundland loggers were sleeping on boughs in log camps and subsisting on nothing more than beans and tea. I believe this comes from confusion with conditions that existed in the 1930’s.

In 1958 most logging camps were made from sawed lumber and men slept on army double decker bunks. Many of the camps were poorly if at all insulated; the lumber used was usually sawn on site and green and after a few years left in drafts. There was no running water, little hot water for cleaning; no facilities for washing clothes, camps were lit by and large by kerosene lamps and no refrigeration for fresh food.

Typical Newfoundland logging camp of the 1950’s. Although they were no longer built out of logs they were usually tacked up with green lumber that was sawed on or near the site with little or no insulation (Royal Commission on Forestry 1955).

The men from the IWA used to more progressive camps on the mainland were shocked by the conditions and the food. Cooks by and large were untrained, but the food was simple and monotonous.  Beans for breakfast every day, beans at lunch most days supplemented by boiled dinner, boiled puddings (duffs) a couple of times a week, fish on Friday and pea soup on Saturday. This may have been fine in the years before Confederation when conditions in the outports were little better, but in the almost ten years since joining Canada things had improved by leaps and bounds.

Interior of a bunkhouse in the 1950’s. You can clearly see the oil drum stove used to heat the bunkhouse.  (Bill Gillespie)

Newfoundland loggers were now Canadian loggers and they now wanted to be on par with their Canadian brothers.

After the trials and tribulations of trying to be certified and organizing the loggers the IWA was in a position to negotiate with the AND Co in 1958. The demands were fairly modest: Sheets on the beds of the bunkhouses, hot water to wash with, less beans, bacon and eggs occasionally for breakfast, a reduction of the work week from 60 hours to 54 and a .25 cent an hour pay increase.[vi]

In December of 1958 loggers belonging to the IWA were poised to strike and voted overwhelmingly to do so.

End Notes

[i] When the riot occurred in Badger there were men from as far away as Bonne Bay that had been brought in the reinforce the picket line. One of whom was charged with killing constable Moss.

[ii] According to my recollections from documents from the NLA the A.N.D Co did not want Thompson to have the Union office in Grand Falls as It would appear to be too close with the company. Prior to moving to Grand Falls the union had been based in Point Leamington. A more appropriate location at the time would have been Badger or Bishop’s Falls, which were centrally located logging headquarters.

[iii] Landon Ladd MUN DAI

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid-I am trying to be as impartial on the subject as possible, but much of what Ladd said in this presentation almost 25 years like this is based on fact. Like the Unemployment Insurance assistance and the demands set fourth for a new collective agreement.

[vi] Ladd


  1. Your posting and the links are quite remarkable Bryan. It was frightening times in Newfoundland. I just listened to the H. Landon Ladd speech and shivered to his unveiling of the facts and the Smallwood government of the day lying time and time again and manipulating the general public and setting people against one another. Being from Botwood we found ourselves right in the midst of it all with loggers from Point Leamington and Norris Arm plus we had numerous logging contractors in the area. We felt the terror and listened to the rhetoric being spewed by Smallwood and his team, and like fools believed what we heard. Listening to Mr. Ladd calmly stating the situation that unfolded is particularly disturbing when I realize just what levels Joey would stoop to in order to secure his power, even to the point of being rebuffed by his own party nationally and by the United Nations. What a shame on many levels. His behavior was a disgrace to the province and the nation. And, what the loggers wanted was so reasonable, a decent wage, decent food and accommodations, and reasonable hours of work. They were our people, not slaves to the company.

    November 7th, 1958 was a brutal date for Botwood insofar a it was on this date three people died and two others were wounded in a eight hour explosion of violence the likes of which were not seen before in the town including the years of the Second World War. Arising from it was a Magisterial Inquiry which was completed just a few days before the IWA strike of December 31, 1958. It was never released and it is clear from Mr. Ladd’s words why it was thus. The town went without answers which affected very many lives, many of whom have now passed away. The injustice is unforgivable.

    This is the first time I have read your work and I certainly appreciate your efforts. Keep up the good work.


    • Thanks Fred. I can safely say you are talking about the killing of Contable Hoey and the standoff at the Chinese restaurant in November of 58. I am thinking of doing a piece on that especially in light of a family connection to the story I recently heard.


      • I am back and forth to Grand Falls from time to time. Currently living in Spaniard’s Bay. If you would like to grab a coffee and have a chat when I am out again that would be great. You have my email address to touch base privately……my cell # 770-6557……Meanwhile Happy New Year and keep up the great work.


  2. My father worked security on the Millertown damn during this strike. I have three or four pics of him in Millertown and one was taken with a policeman but I don’t think it was Constable Moss.


  3. Great article. Dad worked in the woods of Bonavita North in the 30s, 40s, 50, and 60s until he left Newfoundland for Toronto in 1965. Also I believe both grandparents and great grandparents also worked in these camps. One story of great grandfather Jacob White was he died while “cutting sticks” in 1903. He cut his leg with a glance blow from an axe and he died while being transported to St. John’s.


  4. My father, Adam Oldford had a camp with 120 men. I wish I knew the name of his camp. I do know that it was something like 70 miles in the country from MIllertown. Johnny Cash came that way and visited my dad’s camp, he was Moose hunting at the time. He entertained the men, not sure if it was one night or several. If anyone can tell me about the name of dad’s camp, much appreciated.


    • I believe your father had a few camps over the years. I’d say your father’s camp back in 61 was around Victoria Lake. It was probably just referred to as Adam Oldford’s camp.


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