A few years ago at a Pacific Northwest Labour History Association Conference in New Westminster I listened to a fascinating debate between Mark Lieir, a SFU professor, and Roger Stonebanks, a historian and author of ‘ Fighting for Dignity-The Ginger Goodwin Story’. They were debating about what is most important; the historical facts of events or people’s perception of those events. Stonebanks’s position was that the facts were important because we needed to know the truth, as best we can, about a person or event because that would inform us on how we should act. Leier’s position was that the facts are essentially irrelevant as we could never really know the truth. It was what people perceived as the truth and how they acted in that perception that was important.
The example they were discussing was the death of Ginger Goodwin at the hands of Dan Campbell at the Cruikshank River on July27th, 1918. Ginger Goodwin was a labour organizer and war resister, who, along with a few other young men, was hiding out near Cumberland. The Federal Gov’t in June hired Dan Campbell as a special deputy of the Dominion police to go round up these ‘draft dodgers’. Campbell came upon Ginger in the woods and shot him. Campbell claims he shot him in self -defense. The miners and their families in Cumberland believed he had shot him in cold blood. Campbell was initially charged with manslaughter but the charges were eventually dropped.
Stonebanks said there was no evidence that Campbell murdered Goodwin from an ambush or that the Government conspired to murder him.. “There was no motive to ‘eliminate’ Goodwin in July 2018.” Lieir essentially agrees with Stonebanks and in article in Labour/Travail called ‘Plots, Shots and Liberal Thoughts’ “Assume for a moment that all the forensic evidence is exactly as Mayse and others have claimed it is. At best this brands Campbell a conscious, cold-blooded murderer; it does not link him to a high level intrigue involving the CPR, Cominco, or the Borden government”
Now Lieir and Stonebanks are not reactionaries (in fact just the opposite) trying to tear down the reverence that people pay to one of Canada’s first labour martyrs. Lieir says “This is not a conspiracy. It is the way the system is supposed to work.” And further on “The real criminality is that they were doing their day to day regular job, maintaining a capitalist order and ensuring the smooth operation of an exploitive system.”
Stonebanks says “If Goodwin was not murdered and there is no conspiracy to murder him this does not diminish his place in history though it may well – and properly- change the focus to his life rather than his death.”
Usually repressive governments try to avoid martyrs because in death they may carry more power than they did alive, and their image and their ideas live on. The Cumberland miners certainly believed Dan Campbell murdered Ginger when thousands joined his funeral procession. Workers in Vancouver who held a one day general strike on August 2nd were angry that one of their own had been shot down.
Songs like Gord Carter’s ‘The Day They Shot Ginger Down’ talk of ‘to keep a man quiet they shot him in the back’. Susan Mayses book’ Ginger The Life and Death of Albert Goodwin.’, which included interviews with people who lived in Cumberland at the time, questions the official version of events. Most of the people attending the annual Miners Memorial Day events each June believe Goodwin was killed for his beliefs.
So how do we reconcile these two things- the fact that there was in all probability no conspiracy to murder Ginger and the fact many local people believed there was? Yes he was a well-spoken and popular union organizer in BC and who knows what he could have accomplished if he had lived.
However there are thousands of labour and social activists working for the same goals and ideals as Ginger and yet there are not many annual events that celebrate their work. Is it only because he was the one Campbell stumbled upon and shot? It was just luck of the draw and it could easily have been any of the three other young men hiding out with Ginger who were shot. Would we be holding a big annual event for Jimmie Randall or Frederick Taylor?
There is an old line” When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.” It comes from the movie ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.’ The Gregory Peck character, a lawyer named Stoddard, falsely gets credit for slaying the town villain. This deed makes him popular and leads him to be eventually elected by the new territories voters to the US Senate. A falsehood leads to a good result and the reporter who has heard the truth kills the story. But this is a movie, fiction.
We all could cite instances of the mainstream media ‘spiking’ stories, or at the least burying them on the back pages, because they expose some corporate malfeasance or political cover-up. We find repugnant Drumpf and his follower’s use of false news, and deliberately discounting of empirical evidence and facts. So are we hypocrites if we continue to perpetuate the legend of Ginger’s murder without incontrovertible proof?
Ginger did die an ugly and tragic death at the hands of an agent of the government. He was railroaded into the military by local businessmen and politicians for his role in the 1917 strike in Trail. He was blacklisted by the Cumberland mine owners for participating in the 1912-14 strike.
He was a real rebel and thorn in the side of the ruling elite. He does deserve to be remembered, along with all the other organizers, rebels and fighters who dreamt of a more just society and who were willing to give their lives for it. As Anne Davis stated in one Miners Memorial Day welcoming speech ‘I am sure Ginger would have chosen to live, to continue to fight and to organize. We do not need more dead martyrs in this world, we need live humans willing to fight for that better world.’Brian Charlton