William Davis (miner)
Davis was a miner and began working for the Dominion Coal Company Limited (DOMCO) in 1905 at various collieries along the Sydney Coal Field, eventually graduating to become a pumpman and a roadmaker, lastly at the No. 12 Colliery in New Waterford. He married in 1907 and was raising a family of nine children by 1925 with his wife carrying a tenth child due in September.
The DOMCO mines were subsumed by the British Empire Steel Corporation (BESCO) in 1920, and BESCO management soon began a targeted campaign to break the union, organized as District 26, U.M.W.A.. There were 58 strikes in the Sydney Coal Field between 1920–25 and the latest contract had expired on January 15, 1925. On March 2 BESCO cut off company credit at company stores and U.M.W.A. 26 went on strike 4 days later, with 12,000 miners manning the picket lines, leaving a small workforce to maintain the mines and keep them from flooding.
The miners' resolve was strong, despite the economic hardship which saw families come to the brink of starvation by June. On June 4, BESCO refused arbitration and U.M.W.A. 26 went to 100 per cent picketing. Several days later, BESCO decided to shut down the town of New Waterford's drinking water supply and electricity. Miners promptly went to the pumping station and power plant at Waterford Lake and violently expelled company workers in order to restart the utilities for their company homes, while cutting them off to company facilities.
BESCO tasked its company police force on June 10 with protecting 30 company workers to return to Waterford Lake and continue its plan to restart the water and electricity to its facilities which ran the mine pumps and once again cut off water to the families living in the town. The following morning on June 11, the company police began a patrol pattern of intimidation which led to small clashes throughout town, culminating in a protest by 700 to 3,000 striking miners who marched on the Waterford Lake pumping station and power plant in an attempt to persuade the company workers to support the strike. The company police were staring down the miners at the plant gates at 11:00 AM when the police charged the crowd, firing over 300 shots and injuring many in the crowd. One police officer shot deliberately at Davis, piercing his heart and killing him instantly. The company police force then retreated as the miners swarmed the facility.
Davis' funeral was held on June 14 with 5,000 mourners in attendance, the largest ever held for a funeral in Nova Scotia. In the following days and weeks, miners began attacking company stores and other properties in various communities along the Sydney Coal Field, resulting in the deployment of the provincial police force and almost 2,000 soldiers from the Canadian Army - the second-largest military deployment for an internal conflict in Canadian history after the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.
BESCO eventually relented and settled the strike in November and would never again operate company stores, housing or other services and gave up its attempts to break District 26 U.M.W.A., which by then had grown to become one of the most militant labour organizations on the continent in order to counter BESCO's policies. The company was eventually taken over and merged into a larger conglomerate in 1930 called Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation (DOSCO) but Industrial Cape Breton remained a hotbed of labour activism.
BESCO police officer Joseph MacLeod appeared at a preliminary hearing in Sydney on a charge of murder, relating to Davis' shooting death, however the Crown prosecutor dropped charges and agreed with the defence that the identity of the shooter was unknown and that MacLeod should not be singled out of the many police officers involved that day. However, it was known that William Davis was shot by BESCO police officer Harry Muldoon. The day after William Davis was shot, Harry Muldoon and his family were relocated to Boston, Massachusetts for their own personal safety to begin a new life.
Subsequent meetings of District 26 U.M.W.A. supported establishing a fund for the Davis family of 10 children and their mother, as well as designating every June 11 as an "idle day" in his memory. The first Davis Day, on June 11, 1926 saw many Cape Breton miners refuse to work, parading instead to the union hall in New Waterford and parading to a local church for a memorial service.
Davis Day spread throughout District 26 in the ensuing years and became universally observed by miners throughout Nova Scotia, although it did not become a paid holiday until 1969. Davis' widow, Myrtle (MacPherson) Davis, and his family received a monthly sum from the U.M.W.A. fund, with which she was able to purchase a headstone for her husband's grave; she died in 1955 and is buried with him.
In addition to Davis Day, New Waterford has "Davis Square" which was established in 1985 and the "Davis Wilderness Trail" established in 1996, the latter of which follows the route taken by the miners on June 11, 1925 to the Waterford Lake pumping station and power plant.