The Smelter Poets: The Inspiring Role of Worker Poetry in a BC Labour Newspaper during the "Age of C10"


  • Ron Verzuh Simon Fraser University



radical poetry, radical literature, trade unions, Communism, mining, newspapers, poetry, Trail


Worker poetry found in a Canadian trade union newspaper in the “age of the CIO”


When celebrated Wobbly troubadour Joe Hill purportedly visited the Rossland Miners’ Hall in the early 1900s to lend his support to the first Canadian local of the rugged Western Federation of Miners (WFM), he no doubt shared some of his inspired verses with the mine workers who are said to have protected him.[1] Claims of his visit are unsubstantiated, but if he did get to Rossland, British Columbia, he likely would have sung them some of his most popular tunes about struggle, resistance, and the dream of a workers’ paradise, and in so doing he would have been performing the same service that poets and songwriters had rendered working people since the earliest days of the trade union movement. This paper explores examples of that historical literary tradition through a study of smelter worker poetry found in the pages of The Commentator, a trade union newspaper published in Trail by Local 480 of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (Mine Mill) in the late 1930s and early 1940s as labour activists were striving to rekindle the union spirit at the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada (CM&S Company), then the world’s largest lead and zinc smelter and a key munitions manufacturer during the First and Second World Wars.

[1] Jeremy Mouat, Roaring Days: Rossland’s Mines and the History of British Columbia (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1995), p. 71, notes that Rossland miners formed Local 38 of the Western Federation of Miners in 1895. The WFM was instrumental in the founding of the IWW ten years later.

Author Biography

Ron Verzuh, Simon Fraser University

Ron Verzuh is a PhD student in history at Simon Fraser University. He has published two books, several booklets and numerous magazine, newspaper and journal articles. He is also the retired national director of communications for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.