Plots, Shots, and Liberal Thoughts: Conspiracy Theory and the Death of Ginger Goodwin (in 1918)

Article excerpt

Mark Leier, "Plots, Shots, and Liberal Thoughts: Conspiracy Theory and the Death of Ginger Goodwin," Labour/Le Travail, 39 (Spring 1997), 215-24.

CANADIANS IN THE LEFT and labour movements have been as fascinated by the events surrounding the death of Albert "Ginger" Goodwin in 1918 as Americans have been with those around the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In both cases the official explanation has been attacked by critics who reject the "lone gunman" theory in favour of conspiracies that reach to the highest levels of government and capital. No documents, witnesses, or verifiable testimony of a conspiracy exist in either instance. Instead theorists reinterpret forensic evidence to make the case.

In the case of Kennedy, conspiracy theorists make two forensic claims to support their case for more than one shooter. The first is that a single bullet could not have caused damage to the president and to Texas Governor John Connally and remain nearly intact. The second is that the movement of Kennedy's head after the second shot -- back and to the left -- indicates he was shot from the front. Both claims are mistaken, and there remains no other hard evidence to support the suggestion that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy. (1)

Forensic evidence has been used in a similar fashion to argue that Ginger Goodwin was killed on orders of the federal government and capital. Immediately following Goodwin's death, people in the left and labour movement questioned the official account. The rumours and doubt of the official story continue to this day. Unlike the Kennedy assassination, no one has debated who killed Goodwin. Instead, the mystery and myths have surrounded the circumstances in which the homicide took place. The general story is well known. Albert "Ginger" Goodwin was born in Yorkshire, England, on 10 May 1887. The son of a coal miner, Goodwin started in the pits in 1902. Four years later, he emigrated to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where he worked as a miner for the Dominion Coal Company. He took part in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) coal strike of 1909-1910, and moved to Cumberland, BC by early 1911. There he went to work for Canadian Collieries, formerly owned by Robert Dunsmuir and his family. Goodwin was active in the UMWA and the 1912-14 strike against Canadian Collieries, served as delegate to the BC Federation of Labour, and was an organizer for the Socialist Party of Canada (SPC). Blacklisted after the strike, he went to Trail, BC, and worked in the Cominco smelter there. He organized for the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (Mine-Mill), and was elected secretary of the local as well as regional vice president of the BC Federation of Labour. A provincial candidate for the SPC in 1916, Goodwin was an outspoken opponent of Canada's involvement in World War I. Initially exempt from conscription because of ill health, he was later reclassified as fit for service and ordered to report for duty. Like many others, he refused and took to the bush to avoid fighting in a war he considered unjust.

The federal government sent police after Goodwin and other resisters. On 27 July 1918, Dominion Police Special Constable Dan Campbell encountered Goodwin near Cumberland, BC, on Vancouver Island. According to his version of the events, Campbell and Goodwin surprised each other in the bush. Both were carrying rifles. Campbell ordered Goodwin to surrender. Instead, Goodwin raised his rifle and Campbell shot him in self-defence. Controversy immediately swirled around this account. Many did not believe Campbell's story, and he was charged with manslaughter. A grand jury, however, determined that there was not enough evidence to bring Campbell to trial, and he was set free.

Goodwin's death enraged the province's labour movement. In Vancouver, a one-day general strike was held on 2 August 1918, while thousands attended his funeral in Cumberland. Many believed that Goodwin's death could not have been the result of accident or self-defence. …