by Contributor on Jun 18 2013
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COUNCIL MISCELLANY: Local support for winter shuttle, branding decision deferment, tourist support for local trailsby Arlen MacLaine on Jun 17 2013
by Nelson Daily Sports on Jun 16 2013
by Murray Dobbin on Tuesday Jun 18 2013
by Miranda Holmes on Monday Jun 17 2013
by Katrine Conroy on Sunday Jun 16 2013
by Michael Jessen on Thursday Jun 13 2013
by Arlen MacLaine on Thursday Jun 13 2013
TALES AND LEGENDS OF THE MOUNTAIN KINGDOM: “Fighting Joe” Martin incites a brawl
When looking at Rossland’s early history, it’s important to keep in the back of our minds how important the goings-on in town were in the broader context of the history of British Columbia, and even Canada. Rossland was not only a bustling mining town and centre of commerce, but it was also a place that helped inspire sweeping changes to the mining industry and the laws governing it.
Because of all this, we have seen a parade of characters throughout this series, some important, some eccentric, some who had influence here without even setting foot in the place. When looking at the broader picture, I start to get the feeling Rossland was kind of the centre of the universe in its heyday. Rossland back in the day is appearing more and more like one of the degrees in the six degrees of separation between the oddest, most diverse dramatis personae I’ve ever come across.
Joseph Martin, also called “Fighting Joe”, was involved in a fairly minor, yet quite bizarre, incident in Rossland’s history in 1899. He wasn’t a local. He was a politician of some infamy, however, and this small, isolated event changed the political landscape of BC at the time.
“Fighting Joe” hailed from Milton Ontario, where he was born in 1852. When his family moved to Michigan in 1865, he worked very briefly as a telegrapher before heading off to Michigan State Normal School. But before this stint at school, he became involved with a farmers’ protest movement called the Patrons of Husbandry. He headed back to Toronto in 1873 to attend the normal school there. A normal school was where people went to train as teachers, and Toronto had quite a prestigious one.
However, Fighting Joe was already creating a name for himself, because after only a year, he was expelled from the school for “unruly behaviour”. The source goes on to say, “His quarrelsome nature and his tendency to resort to his fists to settle disputes would soon earn him the nickname Fighting Joe. Suspicious in nature and with a capacity for pettiness, he would be known throughout his career for his feisty, combative spirit.”
He did teach school in Ottawa for a time after being expelled, and it was in Canada’s capital that Fighting Joe found a home in liberalism. He also became quite anti-French. He did a brief stint at the University of Toronto but didn’t graduate and in 1879 he returned to Ottawa to study law.
Perhaps he’d burnt too many bridges in Ontario, because in 1881, he and his new wife and step-daughter upped stakes and moved to Manitoba, first arriving in Winnipeg but settling in 1882 in Portage la Prairie. Fighting Joe soon became heavily involved in provincial politics. He ran as a Liberal party candidate and won after a by-election in 1883, and he would hold the seat for 8 years. “His feistiness made him effective in opposition; he was a skilful debater with a biting wit. He took a leading role in the assembly,” says the aforementioned source. He was against railway monopolies in the west and was an avid critic of the CPR and a harsh critic of Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald’s new meddlesome railway charters policy.
Fighting Joe’s party won the provincial election of 1888 and he became the railway commissioner and the attorney general of the province. He became particularly controversial later when he was involved with the Manitoba school question--which was basically around a dual public school system for the French and English--and he soon began to become a liability to his party. He resigned his provincial posts in 1891, went back to practicing law in Portage la Prairie, and then became a federal MP in 1893. There were a bunch of dramas, and eventually lost his seat in the next election. After that, he and his family moved again, this time to BC, where he became the solicitor for the CPR there. And, again, he became involved in politics.
And again, he was heavily critical of railway monopolies in BC, as he was in Manitoba. He particularly didn’t like the two men who had railways operating in our neck of the woods, Daniel Corbin and Frederick Augustus Heinze. But he became Attorney General and acting Minister of Education.
“He had difficulty being a team player, however, and his propensity to change his mind made him unpredictable. His blurring of the distinction between his public and private responsibilities brought him into conflict with his legal clients and with his cabinet colleagues.”
Yet more drama.
And here’s where our minor yet bizarre Rossland event comes in. The premier of BC at the time was Charles Semlin, and it was his government who had passed the new 8 Hour law, which legislated an eight-hour workday for miners. As discussed before in this space, this was a very unpopular law with the mine owners. In Rossland, on June 20, 1899, a huge banquet was thrown in honor of Charles Herbert Mackintosh, who was one of the big names around the whole LeRoi Mine sale fiasco involving J. Whitaker Wright. A character named T. Mayne Daly was also there, and he was also involved in that LeRoi Mine fiasco as he was the British America Corporation’s lawyer in Rossland. Interestingly enough, Daly had been a Conservative opponent of Fighting Joe’s back in Manitoba (Joe defeated him, too), so they would have known each other well.
That fateful night at the banquet, which was public, Daly gave a rousing speech in which he, according to Jeremy Mouat, “described earlier illustrious Canadians in warm an approving terms. However, his cast of characters included only Conservatives.”
Fighting Joe was not impressed with how partisan the speech was, and when he came to speak next, he went on for an hour, and soon the audience began to heckle him. Some began chanting out “Eight-hour Joe”, in reference to the new law, and even perhaps in snarky reference to how long his speech was taking.
He was not happy and he began to bite back, in typical Fighting Joe form. He threatened to cancel the building of a brand new courthouse in Rossland (imagine what this place would have been like without that landmark!) and then he insulted the audience by calling them “well-dressed hoboes.” Someone tried to turf him from the banquet, but instead a full-on brawl broke out, necessitating a call to the police, who came in and broke it up. (Remember, incidentally, that Jack Ingram was the police chief at the time.)
The story made the local papers, and it was the just the excuse Semlin needed to fire Martin from Cabinet, which he did a few days later. In retribution, Fighting Joe crossed the floor to his opponents’ side and helped bring down Semlin’s government in February of 1900. Martin was then briefly the premier of BC--our 13th--though defeated in a non-confidence vote and eventually defeated at the polls in June. Though his party lost, he maintained his seat, and he kept it until June of 1903, when he resigned from the Liberal Party.
In 1909 Fighting Joe decided to retire to London, England, where, guess what, he became involved with politics! Within days he found himself nominated for the Liberal candidate for Warwickshire. His platform called for “abolition of the House of Lords, votes for women, a land tax, and free trade.” But he didn’t win (I’m not surprised). He did however, impress the people of St. Pancras, where he was nominated for the 1910 election. This he did win. And in 1911, he took on Lord Admiral Winston Churchill himself in a parliamentary debate, but apparently good old Winston silenced Fighting Joe with one biting remark. He’d finally met his match.
Fighting Joe came back to Canada, ran in the 1920 provincial election, founded a newspaper, and died in March of 1923.
1. Roaring Days: Rossland’s Mines and the History of British Columbia, my Jeremy Mouat
2. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=8270
4. The Manitoba Historical Society web site, http://www.mhs.mb.ca