This weekend marks the 60th Anniversary of the tragic climax of the bitter 1959 International Woodworkers of America Loggers Strike. The confrontation, known as the “Badger Riot” took place on the evening of March 10, 1959.
It was beginning to be a very cold night, at some point in the evening the temperature would drop below -22 Celsius. A picket line of over 200 loggers was lined off on the Main Road and the Buchans Road with the intention of blocking any cars trying to bring replacement loggers into the camps or any wood out to the Grand Falls mill.
The strike had been dragging on since December 31, 1958, the beginning of the winter haul off. If the wood wasn’t hauled to the lakes and rivers, most of it would have to stay in the woods for another year. The previous winter had had very little snow and conditions for hauling had been abysmal.
Replacement loggers- “scabs”-were brought in from outport fishing communities to load the sleds and haul the wood with horse and tractor. Replacement strikers and the wives of strikers were brought in on the picket lines to replace striking loggers carted off to the temporary jail at the Grand Falls Armory or the prison farm on the Salmonier Line.
Between 200-250 striking loggers and between 50 and 66 members of the RCMP and RNC were in Badger on the evening of March 10, 1959. What happened is subject to conflicting reports.
One report, a short time later in the St. John’s Daily News stated that a car carrying non-union loggers was attempting to cross the picket line. The car was physically picked up by a group of strikers and turned around (this had happened a number of times during the strike), in the process the windshield of the car was smashed. According to later sources, this incident had happened the evening before.
What happened in the ensuring 15 to 20 minutes can be compare to a melee or a battle royale, as strikers armed with, according to the RCMP ” pulpwood clubs, bottles, peaveys and at least one with an axe” (Daily News March 12, 1959) clashed with policed armed with police with “short riding crops” and nightsticks.
Eyewitness, reporter Ray Timson from the Toronto Star reported:
“Marching three abreast and carrying nightsticks, a column of sixty-six policemen waded into a throng of strikers last night, clubbed two of them unconscious, [and] flattened dozens more while wives and children screamed for them to stop. I watched the attack on mainly defenseless men for nearly an hour.
One Newfoundland policemen was hit with a two foot long piece of birch wood and is in hospital in Grand Falls in critical condition. One Mountie was punched in the face. Both blows were struck after the police started wielding billy clubs. The Police sticks were eighteen inches long. Nine of the loggers were arrested; most had been beaten to the ground, handcuffed, and dragged to their feet. At the height of the club-swinging which occurred besides the Full Gospel Church, children stood watching, and began crying. Their mothers cried with them. One shouted: “The men can’t do anything, there are too many police.”
When it ended a number of people on both sides were bloodied, some unconscious, including a 24 year old Constable from Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, William Moss. The papers in Newfoundland reported that 9 striking loggers were arrested in the aftermath of what has come to be called the “Badger Riot.”
Moss was rushed to the Lady Northcliffe Hospital in Grand Falls, where he died at approximately 2:50 AM on March 12, 1959. One striking logger, Earl Ronald Laing from Lomond, Bonne Bay was charged and later acquitted in Moss’ death. It is a sad irony that neither Laing from the west coast nor Moss, originally from Port Blandford, should really have been there that day. I am doubtful that Laing had ever worked for the AND Company (though I have no doubt he worked logging for Bowater, as they had an operation in his hometown and surrounding area). He was brought in, with other west coast loggers, to bolster the ranks in the strike against AND. Bowater loggers had gone on strike as well, beginning in January, but Bowater contracted out their logging operations to 20+ independent contractors, making it difficult to take concentrated strike action against them. Law enforcement in Badger was the responsibility of the RCMP, Newfoundland Premier Joey Smallwood had sent in the RNC to reinforce their ranks. The Buchans Highway, which the loggers were blocking that night, was a provincial roadway, not a company woods road.
Over the years there have been rumors of who actually killed Moss. Laing was acquitted, though he did admit that he had hit a policeman with a stick of wood, but it turned out not to be a Mountie and not Moss. Over the years I have come across different accounts of who killed Constable Moss. Some say it was one of those widely known secrets in one community. Some have said it was an accidental blow from a fellow police officer, and one very reliable witness once told me he knew who it was and that that man had never been a suspect.
After the death of Moss on March 12, 1959 the momentum of the strike faded away. In the wake of the confrontation on March 10th, both the IWA and the police rushed to reinforce the pickets lines. But the violence of March 10th and the death of Moss, turned public opinion away from the IWA. The strike, at least in the campaign against the A.N.D in central, had lost momentum. According to the papers of the day the strikers who had come to Badger from the Bonne Bay area headed back to western Newfoundland to take action against Bowater woods contractors. As Moss’ casket departed from Grand Falls Station a crowd of people ransacked the IWA office in Windsor. In central most of the AND loggers signed on with the government (and Company) sponsored Newfoundland Brotherhood of Woods Workers, which had signed an agreement with AND on the day of Moss’s death, and went back into the camps to finish the haul-off. Even if there was animosity and bad blood over the strike close to 2,500 men signed on to cut wood for the A.N.D Company in the following months.
The strike would cause shock waves that would be felt from the legislature in St. John’s, to the offices of Parliament in Ottawa and even on the docks of New Orleans. No doubt they were felt in the offices of the Amalgamated Press on Fleet Street.
Gwyn, Richard Smallwood: An Unlikely Revolutionary
Daily News, March 1959
Neufeld, Andrew; Parnaby, Andrew The IWA in Canada: The Life and Times of an Industrial Union