China Town - Cumberland, Vancouver Island, BC

by Phil Thomas
Sung by Paddy Graber
Transcribed from Paddy's home-made tape recording

The song tells in brief the story of a two-year episode in the
long struggle of the coal miners of Vancouver Island to have
the major mine owners accept their right to form a union.

Recorded by Phil Thomas on "Where The Fraser River Flows."

Well, hello, stranger, how do you do?
There's something I'd like to say to you.
You seem surprised I recognize;
I'm no company stool but I just surmise
You're from the place I'm longing to be.
Your smiling face seems to say to me
You're from the island, your land and my land,
So tell me can it be-

Are you from Bevan? I said from Bevan
Where those fields of stumps they beckon to me.
I'm glad to see you!
Tell me how be you,
And those friends I'm longing to see?
If you're from Union Bay or Courtenay or Cumberland
Any place below that Bevan second dam-
Are you from Bevan? I said from Bevan,
'Cause I'm from Bevan too!

Now it was way back in 19 and 12
Our gas committee was put on the shelf.
First we walked out, then we were locked out-
Then by a foul we were all but knocked out.
Our union miners faced guns and jail,
Hundreds of us were held without bail,
But by August 1914 our labor they were courting,
But they blacklisted me


"In the song a man - no longer a coal miner on the island - hails another whom he remembers from one of the colliery communities in the Cumberland area. He recalls the incident which precipitated the two-year dispute, the firing and blacklisting of the miners' representative on a Gas Committee at one of the Dominion Collieries' mines. He then tells of the men's reaction in Cumberland in September, 1912, where the blacklisted miner had sought work only to be turned away by the management. They took a joint "holiday" to protest this discrimination and to discuss what further they should do. The next day the management ordered them to take their tools from the mine unless they would sign individual two-year contracts. The song then refers to the "foul" that nearly knocked them out. The "foul" was collusion in strike-breaking activities between the provincial government of McBride and Bowser and the owners of Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. The strike-breaking included: employment in Cumberland of imported miners and Chinese labourers whom the employers were able to intimidate; turning a mine and its townsite into an armed camp with special police and eventually with militia; condoning of armed strike-breakers at Extension, near Nanaimo, when there was no evidence to suggest that the strikers were armed or intending to arm themselves; arrest by duplicity of men gathered in Nanaimo in peaceful assembly; and finally maintaining military rule over the entire mining area to ensure that no union organization could possibly succeed." From Philip Thomas, Songs of the Pacific Northwest

Pacific Nothwest Folklore Society