Socialist Party of British Columbia

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Not to be confused with Socialist Party of Canada (WSM).
Socialist Party of British Columbia
Former provincial party
Founded 1901 (1901)
Dissolved 1905 (1905)
Succeeded by Socialist Party of Canada
Headquarters Vancouver
Ideology Socialism
International affiliation historically and culturally British Socialism,
with links to labor and socialism in the US

The Socialist Party of British Columbia (SPBC) (later Socialist Party of Canada (British Columbia)) was a provincial political party in British Columbia, Canada, that merged in 1905 into a national political party, the Socialist Party of Canada (SPC). Two years earlier, the SPBC won seats in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia to oppose the provincial government. The SPC was not successful in winning seats in the Canadian House of Commons.

The Socialist Party of Canada in British Columbia joined the BC Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1933.



In 1872, unification of labour began in Canada with a regionally popular Trades Union Bill (also published as Trade Union Act), by the Conservative Party of the 1st Canadian Parliament:[1][2] The federal Trades Union Bill removed penalties for being a member of a union, which were capable of striking for improved employment, closing a company, and/or disrupting access to goods and services in Canada.[3]

In 1898, the first Canadian Socialist League branch and headquarters opened in Montreal, Quebec. Over the next four years, over 60 branches of Canadian Socialist Leagues were opened in Canada.[4] A new branch of the Socialist Labour Party, was formed in Vancouver, British Columbia.[5] On November 23, 1899, a new socialist organization was formed in Vancouver:

"On Thursday, the 23rd, there was started on Mt. Pleasant an organization to be known as "The Vancouver Socialist Club". There was not a very large attendance but those who were there all fighters and mean business. The objects of the organization are to organize educate and agitate the cause of socialism, and in any matters of public interest the Vancouver Socialist Club propose to be heard from."[6]

On November 25, 1899, The Province newspaper reported:

"Mr. I. Olcovick, president of the Seattle Socialist Trade Union Alliance, paid a flying visit to Mr. W. Maclain of this city on Saturday last. Mr. Olcovick was formerly a captain in the United States army, and it was his company of troops which refused to shoot down striking workmen during the famous railway strike of a few years ago. The soldiers were ordered to shoot by their senior officer, but on Capt. Olcovick’s orders they did not do so. He visited the Socialist organization in this city and was well pleased with the progress being made by the members. He left for Seattle yesterday morning."[7]

On June 9, 1900, during the ninth BC general election, the first socialist candidates sought election without success: Labour and Socialist candidates finished last of twelve in the electoral district of Vancouver City.[8]


In 1901 the first use of the political party name "Socialist Party of British Columbia" occurred. The provincial Marxist movement at that date included just five socialist locals which divided their allegiances between the tiny Socialist Labor Party, the Canadian Socialist League, and the United Socialist Labor Party.[9] In an effort to unify these scattered forces, a unity convention was held and the Socialist Party of British Columbia was formed.[9] Provincial headquarters were established in the city of Vancouver.[10]

There was a strong American influence with the new organisation, reflected in the group's leading personnel and programme. Chief provincial organiser of the SPBC was Ernest Burns, formerly an activist in the Social Democratic Federation in Great Britain before moving to North America where he organised for the People's Party and the Socialist Party in Washington.[11] The reform-oriented programme of the Socialist Party of America was adopted wholesale by the new Canadian group.[12]

This new unity proved short-lived, as the comparatively moderate orientation of the SPBC proved insufficient for the revolutionary socialist local organisation in Nanaimo, which quickly broke from the SPBC to form the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Canada.[13] Pressure for a radicalisation of the party was brought to bear and in January 1902 a second annual convention of the SPBC was held which was attended by delegates from 14 local groups, including a delegate of the Nanaimo-based Revolutionary Socialist Party of Canada.[12] The Socialist Party of America's programme was scrapped and a new document eliminating all "immediate demands" was adopted.[14]

Unity negotiations followed this left turn for the organisation and in November 1902 the SBBC and the Revolutionary Socialist Party were successfully reunited by a membership referendum vote.[15] Organisational unity was followed by a unified provincial newspaper in May 1903 when the Western Clarion was formed via the three-way merger of the Revolutionary Socialist Party's Clarion, the Vancouver-based Western Socialist, and the Strike Bulletin of the United Brotherhood of Railway Employees.

Electoral success[edit]

The Socialist Party of British Columbia picked up a valuable adherent in 1903 when member of the provincial legislature J.H. Hawthornthwaite switched his allegiance from the Lib-Lab alliance to the fledgling Socialist Party.[16] Hawthronthwaite won re-election in his Nanaimo riding in October 1903 tenth general election, where he was joined in the legislature by Parker Williams, a former Welsh coal miner who had lived previously in Alberta and Washington state.[17] The pair wound up holding the balance of power at the 1904 legislative session and were able to win legislative victories with respect to coal mine regulation, boiler inspections, and the 8-hour day.[17]

From December 30–31, 1904, the Socialist Party of Canada began to unify provincial socialists to gain legislative assembly seats and sit in opposition to the national government in Ottawa. The fourth annual convention of the Socialist Party of British Columbia was held.

BC affiliate of the Socialist Party of Canada[edit]

On February 19, 1905, the first meeting of a national revolutionary Marxist organization in Canada was held, seven years after beginnings of a national agenda for the Socialist League in the province Quebec. The first Socialist Party of Canada was formed by the Dominion Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Canada by merging the provincial Socialist Party of British Columbia and related groups representing socialists in the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. The Revolutionary Socialist Party, with links to manifestos for a national state of workers (workers' state), gained popularity. Socialist Party gained support especially from employees of coal mines and railways, and with immigrants from non-English speaking Europe, notably in the region of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island. The two-year-old Western Clarion newspaper became part of socialist propaganda in Canada. With a circulation of 4-10,000, it was published by E.T. Kingsley.

James Hawthornthwaite and Parker Williams sat for two years with opposition seats in the provincial legislature of BC as members of the SPC.[18] Popularity of the SPC continued in BC until the beginnings of losses to a moderate socialist party in six years.

On February 3, 1907, the eleventh general election for the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia was held. Three Socialists were elected in a Regional District of Nanaimo electoral area and Grandforks (West Kootenay, central BC). They sat with thirteen Liberals as opposition to provincial government. The Socialist Party of Canada (BC section) split into revolutionary SPCBC and moderate Social Democratic Party of Canada.

On November 25, 1909, the twelfth general election was held. Two Socialists were elected from a Regional District of Nanaimo electoral area. They sat with two Liberals as opposition to 30 Conservatives of the provincial government.

Decade of the 1910s[edit]

In 1911, the Socialist Party of Canada (BC section) members joined the new Social Democratic Party of Canada, the earliest example of political party reform in British Columbia and Canada.[19]

On March 28, 1912, Thirteenth general election for Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. One Socialist and one Social Democrat, from a Regional District of Nanaimo electoral area, were elected and sat as opposition to 39 Conservatives and one Independent Conservative of the provincial government.

On September 16, 1912, the Vancouver Island Coal Strike began at Cumberland, Vancouver Island.[20]

On May 1, 1913, Labor Day meeting began a general strike to shut down all Vancouver Island coal mining. Strike-breakers undertook operations against 3,500 miners, and there were incidents of destruction, violence, rioting, arrests.

In July, Minister of Labour for province of British Columbia visited the mine strike on Vancouver Island.

On August 18, a provincial military occupation ended the strike, and a meeting of 1,200 people was held in Nanaimo.

Seaforth Highlanders of Canada "called out to aid civil power during strike in Nanaimo district". Scotland regiment province detachment remained in Nanaimo.[21]

The end of organized coal mine labor on Vancouver Island, as the union lost to owners and strikebreakers. Until World War I, United Mine Workers of America continued strike pay for Vancouver Island miners.

Socialist Party lost one seat before strike, which was not regained in next general election of British Columbia.

From 1914 to 1917, William Arthur Pritchard was the editor of the socialist and labour politics newspaper Western Clarion, British Columbia, Canada.[22]

On September 14, 1916, Fourteenth general election for Legislative Assembly of British Columbia was held. Eleven Socialists were elected, and sat in opposition. The Liberal government included one Independent Socialist, of a Regional District of Nanaimo electoral area.

13 years of revolutionary Socialist Party of Canada sitting in opposition to provincial government and four years in opposition to moderate Social Democratic Party of British Columbia.

In January 1918, British Columbia Federation of Labour forms the Federated Labour Party. Socialists join Federated Labour Party in British Columbia.[23]

The 15-year-old socialist newspaper, the Western Clarion is closed (banned) by the federal government.

From May 15 to June 26, 1919, Winnipeg General Strike took place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. On June 17, eight (also published as ten) strike leaders were arrested and imprisoned, five were members of the Socialist Party of Canada, Winnipeg. The Winnipeg General Strike arose from increasing popularity of a revolutionary communist party, and decreasing popularity of a socialist party. The arrested SPC leaders change their goal to achieving representation of workers for nationally unified employee management named Labour instead of Socialist.[24]

Decade of the 1920s[edit]

On December 1, 1920, Fifteenth general election for Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. No Socialists were elected.

The Federated Labour Party was created by the 18-year-old British Columbia Federation of Labour by absorbing the nine-year-old Social Democratic Party of Canada and part of the 15-year-old Socialist Party of Canada.

In 1921, the two-year-old One Big Union (labour representation project of the Socialist Party of Canada) with over 40,000 members reduced by the departure of the more than 20,000 members of the lumber industry union (International Woodworkers of America) of British Columbia.

On June 20, 1924, Sixteenth general election for Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. No Socialists were elected.

In 1925, SPC membership was declining, and the Western Clarion was closed after 22 years of publishing socialist and labour news. The SPC was closed, and reduced to small discussion groups in a number of cities.[25]

In 1926, the Independent Labour Party was founded as the combined Federated Labour Party and Canadian Labour Party (B.C. section) branches.

In 1932, the Independent Labour Party in Vancouver, led by Ernest Winch, changed its name to the ILP (Socialist) and then, in June 1932 re-founded the Socialist Party of Canada (BC Section).

On July 30 (August 1), the SPCBC met to establish a national political agenda in western Canada. Socialist and labour party delegates include SPCBC at 13-year-old Western Labour Conference, in Calgary. Fourteen United Farmers of Alberta delegates were included in choosing new name for the beginning of a nationwide socialist-labour party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. Delegates include 19 jobless men and women of The Great Depression.[26] The Socialist Party of Canada (BC Section) merged with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1933 to become the British Columbia section of the CCF (beginning of the British Columbia New Democratic Party, BCNDP). In August, the SPCBC and the CCF (BC) become associated CCF clubs. SPC members Ernest Winch and Harold Winch were elected to the British Columbia Legislative Assembly as CCF MLAs.

Merger with Co-operative Commonwealth Federation[edit]

In 1935 there was another merger of the Socialist Party of Canada with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, but it retained its own organization within the CCF for several years. The CCF eventually became the British Columbia New Democratic Party.

In 1936, SPC supporters dominated the BC CCF's provincial executive and played a crucial role in a split in the CCF that resulted in the expulsion of moderate CCF leader Robert Connell and the departure of four of seven CCF MLAs who formed the British Columbia Social Constructive Party.

In 1938, Harold Winch became the BC CCF leader. He held the position until 1953.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parks Canada. "Canadian Workers In History, An Interpretation 1600-1975, Labour and Politics", -May 19, 2005-. Retrieved Feb 17, 2007. Archived July 10, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Marsh, James. "Origins of Labour Day", "The Canadian Encyclopedia", -2007-. Retrieved June 15, 2007.
  3. ^ British Columbia Teachers' Federation and the British Columbia Federation of Labour. "Timeline: Workers Take Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back, Key events that influenced today's labour movement.", seven page Supplementary Material, -May 2001-. Retrieved March 5, 2007. Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ page 1, Milne, J. M. "History of the Socialist Party of Canada", 1973. Retrieved from "Socialist Party of Canada", "History" December 8, 2006.
  5. ^ Gambone, Larry. "The Impossibilists", 1995. Retrieved December 13, 2006.
  6. ^ page 8, column 3 of 6, (summary by editor?). The Province newspaper, Friday, November 24, 1899, published in Vancouver.
    • Note: Event article referenced from newspaper found with other newspapers (Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and New York city newspapers) during demolition (recycling) of an unsafe log cabin-house, Okanagan Valley, (Zdralek Cove), Westbank, BC, December 11–14, 1962.
  7. ^ page 4, column 3 of 6, (summary by editor?). The Province newspaper, Tuesday, November 28, 1899, published in Vancouver.
  8. ^ Elections BC. "Electoral History of British Columbia 1871-1986" "9th General Election 1900". Retrieved new link June 12, 2015. (large PDF webpage/download)
  9. ^ a b Martin, Robin. Radical politics and Canadian labour, 1880-1930, p. 40, Industrial Relations Centre, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada, 1968. Link retrieved Apr 24, 2013.
  10. ^ J.M. Milne, "History of the Socialist Party of Canada,", 1973; pg. 5.
  11. ^ Robin, Radical Politics and Canadian Labour, pp. 40-41.
  12. ^ a b Robin, Radical Politics and Canadian Labour, pg. 41.
  13. ^ Milne, "History of the Socialist Party of Canada, pg. 6.
  14. ^ Robin, Radical Politics and Canadian Labour, pp. 41-42.
  15. ^ Robin, Radical Politics and Canadian Labour, pg. 42.
  16. ^ Robin, Radical Politics and Canadian Labour, pp. 42-43.
  17. ^ a b Robin, Radical Politics and Canadian Labour, pg. 43.
  18. ^ page 14, Imagine editors. "A timeline of the early years of the Socialist Party of Canada", source J M Milne, "Imagine", "Official Journal Of The Soclialist Party of Canada", Vol 5, No 1, Summer 2007. Retrieved from "Socialist Party of Canada" December 5, 2007.
  19. ^ Whitehorn, Alan. "Social Democracy", "The Canadian Encyclopedia", -2007-. Retrieved Feb 25, 2007.
  20. ^ Bowen, Lynn. “Vancouver Island Coal Strike", editors. The Canadian Encyclopedia, p. 2244, Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, Canada, 1988.
  21. ^ McEvoy, Bernard. and Capt. Finlay, A.H., History of the 72nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, p. 193, Chronological Table of Events, Cowan & Brookhouse, Vancouver, Canada, 1920.
  22. ^ Campbell, Peter. "Roads to Revolution: Canadian Marxists and the Search for Socialism, 1910-1940", -October 5, 2004-. Retrieved Feb 23, 2007.
  23. ^ see again, Gambone, Larry. "The Impossibilists", 1995. Retrieved December 12, 2006.
  24. ^ Buick, Adam. '"Bolshevik Bullshit", 2004. Retrieved November 25, 2006.
  25. ^ see again, Gambone, Larry. "The Impossibilists", 1995. Retrieved December 13, 2006.
  26. ^ Burton, Pierre. The Great Depression, 1929-1939, p. 163, published by McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, Canada, 1990.

External links[edit]