by Brenda Kuecks, President
Last weekend I found myself (inexplicably) at the annual Miner’s Memorial event in Cumberland, BC. Intrepid labour activists, social justice organizations and environmental groups have been making their way to this tiny community every June for the past 30 years to lay flowers on the graves of Albert (Ginger) Goodwin. Ginger was shot in 1918 by a bounty hunter in the hills of Vancouver Island where he had fled to a avoid conscription. The story goes the real reason for Ginger’s fall was his reputation as an outspoken advocate for the common man – a labour activist – and hence the annual Miner’s Memorial gathering to celebrate all those who have died in industrial accidents over decades.
It was a very moving couple of days. A lovely combination of songs, storytelling and honouring. It was remarkable to see the upwelling of emotion as tributes were paid, bagpipes played, and roses laid on the crumbling tombstones scattered across the old cemetery. I came away with a very strong sense that although the labour and environmental movements (“the left”) have taken quite a kicking in the past ten years, a deep strength abides here and a network of friends and memories and movements that will not quickly or easily be silenced.
The final event was a community dinner in the Old Age Pensioner’s Hall. The room was full of at least a hundred folks who had come to hear Nick Mullins, a 10th generation Appalachian, and a 4th generation coal miner. Nick, billed as ‘the thoughtful coal miner’ and his young family are on a life-tour to tell a very personal story about the coal industry in his home town and state – a remarkable story indeed.
Over the course of an hour, Nick traced for us his own path and growing awareness from grandkid of a coal miner in a coal mining town, to high school coal mining advocate, to thoughtful and thought-filled activist and agitator. Nick’s story was so humble, personal and profound it was impossible to come away without a heightened awareness of the power of people, the importance of place, and the inevitable and unenviable challenges that accompany unimpeded industrial development.