In the 1940s and 1950s there were, literally, hundreds of small sawmills operating in the Prince George area.
The International Woodworkers of America was looking to organize the workers in those mills, no easy feat given the diversity of mills and the fact most of them were out in the bush.
A key figure in that early work of the IWA, Local 1-424 was Charles Howard Webb, serving as the union’s business agent through many of those early years.
“Webb’s role was crucial at important turning points in the history of labour in both the Interior and one the provincial stage,” wrote Rob-Roy Douglas, UNBC history professor in a handout about Webb. “But more importantly, his tireless work build both the IWA and organized labour in general into important political and social forces in Prince George.”
That work was immortalized Tuesday with the unveiling of a plaque honouring Webb outside the United Steelworkers (formerly the IWA) office on Third Avenue.
“There was, without question, only one place in town to put the plaque,” said Don Iwaskow, financial secretary for the Steelworkers before a crowd of about 25 people Tuesday. “Couldn’t pick a better man to honour.”
The plaque is one of many being erected around the province by the BC Labour Heritage Centre.
“Don (Iwaskow) is also president of the North Central Labour Council, which was an amalgamation of our labour councils in the north,” said Aaron Ekman, BC Labour Heritage Centre board member. “Howard Webb was a co-founder of the original Prince George and District Labour council back in 1956 during the amalgamation of the Canadian Labour Congress and the CCF into what’s now the modern New Democratic Party.”
Ekman also referred to a “foundational” strike in Prince George in the early 1950s that Webb was a part of.
“It was a long and bitter strike that would not have been won without the leadership of Brother Webb, but also the foundational support of the community,” said Ekman.
Former city councillor and MLA Alf Nunweiler praised Webb, who worked on his campaign when he originally ran for office.
“He was always there when you needed him,” said Nunweiler. “He never missed a beat. He’s the finest guy I ever worked with.”
Webb died in 1977 at the BC New Democratic Party’s annual convention.
Ekman said the B.C. Labour Heritage Centre is working on several projects highlighting the history of the labour movement in British Columbia, including plaque placements, videos, and a book, coming out in 2017.
The bronze plaques have been cast in a unionized foundry in Richmond, which has operated since 1928. Ekman said they have identified about 150 locations around the province where they want to erect plaques.
“They honour not just the organizations, but the individuals who played a significant roles in their community to advance the rights of workers and union,” Ekman said.