Alan Twigg’s tribute to Rudolf Vrba

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The shooting of Ginger Goodwin

August 07th, 2012

Hollywood discovered me two years ago. One morning a movie-type phoned and asked if we could talk about producing a script about Brother XII, a BC character on whom I was writing a book. Like any healthy writer, I saw money – bags of it – in the offering.

I know better now. If the man had two pennies to rub together, they were safe at home. He was a hustler looking for ideas to sell. Others have rung up since then, but there’s mostly pie-in-the-sky in Hollywood North.

But it’s hard to give up hope that legitimate producers will discover BC’s character-rich and colourful past. Now I wish someone would take a chance on one of our few authentic folk heroes, Albert Goodwin, as he has been caught on paper in Susan Mayse’s ambitious new biography, Ginger: The Life and Death of Albert Goodwin (Harbour).

Ginger Goodwin was shot to death by Dan Campbell on Saturday, July 27 in 1918. It was all very legal. Sort of. Campbell was a hired government gun, a disreputable ex-policeman in a posse ordered to hunt down Goodwin, a pacifist who refused to serve in World War I. Goodwin had taken refuge in the woods of Forbidden Plateau, above Cumberland.

To a simple stooge like Campbell, Goodwin was simply a draft-dodging, shifty-looking “Jew”; a real good-for-nothing. Goodwin’s body was left near a blackberry patch from Saturday until Tuesday. By the time some Italian-Canadian miners put the corpse into a canvas bag and carried it downtrail to Cumberland, it was crawling with maggots.

Cumberland miners staged a mile-long protest march. Workers in Vancouver held a 24-hour protest strike. Twenty years later Cumberland miners placed a stone on his until-then unmarked grave with the truthful inscription, “A Worker’s Friend”.

But Ginger Goodwin’s martyred life has faded into obscurity – a Vancouver Island legend, largely unknown to the rest of Canada – long awaiting a biographer to dig up the details of the miner’s controversial life and death.

Susan Mayse is the granddaughter of a Yorkshire pit-miner, a fourth-generation Vancouver Islander who grew up on stories of the mining towns of Cumberland, Bevan, Nanaimo, and Wellington. Her many years of research into Ginger Goodwin previously resulted in a Mayday special on CBC Radio’s Ideas.

Ginger, the biography, reveals that Albert Goodwin was a young, tubercular coal miner, a Brit whose only crime was the belief in democracy.

He came to work at Cumberland on Vancouver Island in 1910, where he found hundreds of fellow miners dying from blacklung, explosions and deadly vapours. He ran unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1916. He went to Trail and demanded an 8-hour day for miners. In 1917 he brought 1600 Consolidated miners to strike action, crippling Canadian arms manufacturing.

Newspaper reports of the day described him as a Socialist who spoke in a very clear-cut manner. “He invited anyone who wished to see present conditions continue, to vote for the Liberals and all they represented, which he considered much the same as the Conservatives as far as the workingman is concerned. From Nova Scotia to British Columbia, he stated, the record of the Liberals was anything but favourable to labour.”

Soon after Goodwin directly opposed the Canadian munitions industry, he was reclassified from Category D (unfit for military service) to Category A.

The gig was up. Goodwin headed for the mountains behind Cumberland, a hideout for an unknown number of similar-minded men. There, close to friends and fellow workers, he was safe enough to sometimes attend local dances. He had TB, ulcers, rotten teeth – and few other choices.

Campbell said he shot Goodwin in self-defence. But Mayse’s research shows it was extremely unlikely that Goodwin, a slight man with no record of violence, would even dream of shooting it out with Campbell, especially since Campbell already had the drop on him.

Four days after Goodwin was killed – the day Goodwin’s body was hauled from the bush – the government declared an amnesty for conscientious objectors.

Mayse uses the skills of a novelist to compile a portrait of Goodwin and his times, having first conducted many interviews and apparently consulted all available sources.

“In the sunlit photo a young man pauses on the porch step. On his way to work, he’s clean for a coal miner. His freckles show clearly, and his hair shines so its bright red is lost to the brighter blaze of morning sun…

“Smile. Don’t look at the camera. Not knowing what to do with his hands, he folds them in front of his waistcoat. He looks sixteen. He’s twenty-four, and has already worked nine years deep underground in the dark.

“The light is in his eyes, turning his half-smile into a perplexed frown as he looks west, where sunshine is striking the glacier on Mount Albert Edward and the wooded flanks of the Forbidden Plateau… on a sunny 1911 day he steps down into a red-dirt Cumberland street, out of the photograph and into the morning.”

A few years ago Philip Borsos made his mark with a film called The Grey Fox about BC train robber Bill Miner. Kootenay Lake mountain man Kootenay Brown is now the subject of a film in production, scripted by John Gray. As a fugitive from injustice, trade unionist Albert “Ginger” Goodwin would be an ideal celluloid companion to Miner and Brown.

Mayse’s biography has been preceded by Derek Hanebury’s slim fictionalized account, Ginger Goodwin: Beyond the Forbidden Plateau (Pulp Press) and numerous articles – one of the best of which is Eric Jamieson’s “Ginger Goodwin: Hero or Martyr?” which recently appeared in Canadian West magazine.

Essay Date: 1990

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