GENERAL ARTICLES

MEN BY THE SEA

A Maclean’s editor travels the Maritimes, finds a boom —and a question: "What will we do when it’s over?"

BLAIR FRASER February 15 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

MEN BY THE SEA

A Maclean’s editor travels the Maritimes, finds a boom —and a question: "What will we do when it’s over?"

BLAIR FRASER February 15 1947

MEN BY THE SEA

A Maclean’s editor travels the Maritimes, finds a boom —and a question: "What will we do when it’s over?"

BLAIR FRASER

Maclean’s Ottawa Editor

RESERVE MINES, Cape Breton, is not a pretty town. It stands on the barren plain between Sydney and Glace Bay, a cluster of soot-blackened houses at the head of an abandoned mine.

About six o’clock on a bleak December evening I knocked at the back door of a house in Reserve. I didn’t know the people who lived there, nor they me; I was looking for a man who was their guest.

“He’s at supper,” said the lady who came to the door. “Won’t you come in? I’ll set a place for you.” Maybe there are other places in Canada where a total stranger, arriving uninvited at mealtime, would be asked to share the meal. If so I haven’t been there. But the incident in such a place as Reserve was a symbol of the Maritime plight—a million decent, kindly people trying to live generously on resources that have grown thin.

Not that times are bad just now. On the surface, they’re booming past all precedent.

Lumber, the lifeblood of New Brunswick, is at double the worth of last year’s business and four times what it was pre-war. Maritime farm crops have doubled in value, and the fish catch has more than tripled.

On the trawlers out of Halifax and Lunenburg, deck hands averaged $2,200 apiece in 40 weeks last

year, with everything found. Shore fishermen, lucky to make $500 before the war, cleaned up anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000 in 100 days of fishing, and now are worried about their income ;ax.

Everybody has money—cheques cashed in 1946 were nearly three times the 1939 total. Stores, theatres, trains are crowded. Hotels, even in little towns, are booked solidly through the middle of each week. In rural New Brunswick a cheerful undertaker said, “I always say business is dead— but the unpaid bills on my books are only about half what they used to be.”

Nobody’s Fooled

EVEN unemployment, the worst in Canada, hasn’t dulled the edge of wartime prosperity. In New Glasgow, 38 men are jobless for every hundred working. Yet a merchant on New Glasgow’s “front street” said:

“I did better in every month of this year than in the same month of 1945. Had all I could handle— when I can move into my new store across the street, I may take on a bit more.”

But these boom times fool nobody down East. Westerners and Upper Canadians say, “Can it last?” Maritimers say, “What are we going to do when it’s over?” They know it will be over fairly soon.

A good deal of today’s loose cash is Government money, strictly temporary. Grants and credits to

veterans alone ran about a million and a half dollars a month at the end of 1946. More and more of the 20,000 jobless, civilian and ex-service alike, were coming to the end of their entitlement. Nothing was in sight for them except 6,000 jobs that they either can’t fill or won’t take. And even the most prosperous regions have few plans to make room for them.

Snug little Prince Edward Island, for instance, had almost no unemployment of its own. Among 10,000 veterans back from war,only 380 are drawing out-of-work benefits. But at the present level of economic activity there’s no room there for more people, nor for the young men growing up. A quarter of the whole population works on farms— far more than all other occupations combined—and the farms are all taken.

It’s the same in rural Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Farmers are doing all right, especially in the fruit-rich Annapolis Valley, but little if any expansion there is possible. In Nova Scotia more than 5,000 farms were abandoned in the 10 years before the war; not many will be worth working again. Indeed, probably as many more are “marginal” and will go the same way if farm prices drop a bit.

You could say of the whole Maritimes what Dr. J. E. Lattimer, after an economic survey in 1944, said of P. E. I.: “Trying to put more people to work in the farming business is impossible and undesirable.”

Lumber will be booming as long as houses and newsprint are scarce. But the lumber trade, however prosperous, won’t solve the Maritime employment problem.

Down East, not many men want to work in the woods if they can help it. British Columbia loggers get luxurious meals and semiprivate rooms with showers; Maritime camps still offer bunkhouse quarters which “in many instances,” said a Royal Commission in Nova Scotia in 1944, “are unfit for human habitation.” Yet a Maritime lumberjack gets about half, sometimes less than half, the West Coast wages.

“There’s too much loose money around,” one New Brunswicker said gloomily. “The men won’t stay in the woods. A truck goes into a camp taking 20 men in to start work, and the same truck will bring back another 20 who’ve quit.”

But even when the “loose money” is spent and the lumber camps have all the men they want, logging will remain seasonal employment, drawing most óf its labor from farmers and farm help

M n

who work on nearby land in the summers.

Fishing is another sound Maritime industry that may well expand in value even beyond the record levels of the last few years. But it could do this and still employ fewer than the 30,000 men who called themselves “fishermen” in 1941. Fish prices now are 50% to 100% above normal, and the bottomless wartime market is already a thing of the past. The average shore fisherman, with his hand line and his little ópen boat, soon may be little better able to compete than he was 10 years ago.

So long as times are reasonably good, though, these primary producers will at least get along. The real troubles lie in the industrial heart of the Maritimes, the coal and steel areas of Nova Scotia.

100 Men for Every Job

ON paper it looks worst in Pictou County, where some plants have shut down altogether. In November, New Glasgow had 2,300 unplaced applicants and exactly 23 unfilled jobs. But the cold smokestacks in Trenton, the silent shipyard at Pictou did leave the observer one comfort.

“If only we had some orders,” he might say, “we could put everybody to work again,”

Down in Cape Breton they have the orders. The Sydney steel plant is running at capacity; even the union admits more men have been working than were really needed. Glace Bay mines could use a couple of hundred skilled miners at the coal face, but that’s all.

With every wheel turning and every post filled, Cape Breton still has 3,7.00 registered unemployed. That’s almost exactly as many as the whole working force at the Sydney steel plant. What is to be done with these surplus men?

Boards of Trade have a pat answer. “Secondary industries,” they say. “We need factories to make consumer goods out of our raw steel.” But if you ask them who’s going to build and operate these factories, the conversation stops.

Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation, which owns all the mines and steel works in Nova Scotia, lately expanded its fabricating plant—but not by building in the Maritimes. Dosco bought a factory in Montreal, figuring that a fabricating plant at the end of 1,000 miles of rail haul wouldn’t pay. Dosco has had 50 years experience in Nova Scotia. No private investor has yet been found to rush in where Dosco fears to tread.

But, far from expanding in the Maritimes, Dosco is contracting. In 1943, at the height of the war boom, the rolling mill and the nut and bolt mill at Trenton were closed permanently. They had been

losing money for years. When the Regional War Labor Board granted Trenton workers an increase in pay, Dosco decided the higher wage costs would make the losses too heavy to bear.

What’s the root cause of all these Maritime troubles?

Premier Walter Jones of Prince Edward Island had one answer. “It’s the fault of you Upper Canadians,” he said. (He’d forgotten I was born a bluenose.) “You’re sucking our blood.” The Premier expounded his theme for half an hour with eloquenceand detail, ending with this Parthian shot:

“The real trouble is, we shouldn’t be part c Canada at all.”

I don’t know that Mr. Jones really meant that last remark—he was giving mé the shock treatment, which Upper Canadians need. But a few years ago it was everybody’s view, in dead earnest. Every ill that afflicted a Maritimer, from poverty to chilblains, was blamed on Confederation. Tilley and Tupper had “sold us out for 80 cents a head, the price of a sheep’s hide,” and that was the germ of all woe.

A friend of mine remembers, from childhood, an elderly gentleman who used to go to every political meeting in his neighborhood, no matter of what party. Halfway through the main speech, this ancient would get up and bawl, “Sold for a sheepskin,” at the top of his voice. Then, having registered his protest, he would go home.

This spirit is not yet dead. The typical Maritimer would still accept Joseph Howe’s description of the “Canadians”—“a poor lot of people, a little eccentric at times, and at the worst given to rebellion.” And his prejudice is reinforced by a number of actual, incontrovertible disadvantages that Confederation did bring to the Maritimes.

Hangover From 1867

ITEM: Fiscal subsidies which (in Nova Scotia) came to only half the cash value of the tariff revenues they replaced.

Item: Exposure to unprotected competition with central Canadian industry, which was big enough to wipe out the little Maritime factories but not big enough to give consumers the benefit of low prices.

Item: Diversion from their natural market, New England, to a Canadian market over 1,000 miles away, in which few Maritime industries have been able to compete.

Maybe the New England market would have gone anyway, with the end of reciprocity. But as a consumer the Maritimer loses out in any case. He pays high Continued on page 54

Men By the Sen

Continued from page 8

Canadian prices, with freight added.

An auto from tariff - protected Windsor or Oshawa costs about $100 more in Saint John than it does in Toronto. In Maine, two hours away, it costs a great deal less than in Toronto. I bought a U. S.-made Christmas present in New Glasgow for $6.80, and inside the box found a card saying “OPA ceiling price, $5.”

“I figured out once,” said a Cape Breton mill manager, “that it would pay us to retire every shoe worker in Canada at full wages for life. Buying shoes at American prices we’d still be in money.”

Westerners are familiar with this sense of outrage. In the Maritimes it’s embittered by another factor—resentment against having been dragged into this situation against their will. In every Maritime province the people voted against Confederation at least once; only in New Brunswick did they ever have a chance to reverse that judgment. They feel to this day that their leaders sold them out.

Such are the roots of the Maritime grievance, which now has been nursed for three generations. The grievance itself is real and in part justified. The nursing of it has been a regional vice. Lately, for the first time, responsible men are beginning to say so.

Three years ago the Nova Scotia Government named Prof. R. McGregor Dawson to head a Royal Commission on reconstruction. The Dawson Report pulled no punches.

“The most depressing element,” it said, “is the attitude of Nova Scotians themselves, who are apt to spend too much time bewailing their handicaps and too little time bestirring themselves to devise expedients to overcome them.”

In Antigonish I talked to Right Rev. M. M. Coady, a father and moving

spirit of the famous co-operative movement at St. Francis Xavier University, that gave new hope to destitute fishing villages in the ’30’s.

“Anti-Confederation talk is the greatest curse that ever hit the Maritimes,” he said. “Even if it’s true, it’s an easy excuse for not doing things. For one thing we couldn't do because of Confederation, I’ll name you two or three we didn't do.”

William H. Moore, New Brunswick’s go-getting Deputy Minister of Reconstruction, says, “People who sit back and weep about Maritime Rights are living in the dark ages. If we want anything done we’ll have to do it ourselves.”

New Spirit

This new, vigorous spirit is the most encouraging thing in the Maritimes today. People are getting to grips with difficulties instead of blaming somebody else. But they have plenty of difficulties to face, and a long way to go to mend them.

Take the tourist industry. All three provinces have plenty to offer. New Brunswick streams and Nova Scotia sea fishing draw sportsmen from everywhere. Prince Edward Island has beaches, not yet developed, that are said to equal anything on the whole Atlantic coast. Cape Breton’s Cabot trail is as beautiful as the Rockies. But none of these advantages is exploited to the full.

Outside the cities, good hotels are few. At least one “resort hotel,” where prices are as high as the best, will rent you a “room with bath” in which the bathtub sits in the middle of thè bedroom, and the toilet is sheltered only by a beaverboard partition. The place is not typical but it does exist.

In some country inns, like the Marshlands in Sackville, the food is as good as any in Canada. In others, particularly the smaller cafés, it is bad beyond belief and far beyond digestion. Nothing but his own nose warns the tourist against these places, and in some towns he has no alternative.

Even where the food is good, little advantage is taken of local specialties. Prince Edward Island has the finest oysters in the world, but Charlottetown’s excellent hotel didn’t have them on the menu. In the hotel dining room of another town you can look right out at salt water, while you

eat a slice of thawed halibut that tastes like wet newsprint.

During the war, the late Duke of Kent was once grounded by bad weather in a Maritime city which had better be nameless. When His Royal Highness arrived at the local hotel, the manager beckoned to one of the Duke’s aides.

“Please tell the Duke,” he said, “that the dining room closes at 7.30.”

The Duke got down on time. If he’d arrived at 7.31 he, being of royal blood, might have been fed anyway. The ordinary tourist wouldn’t.

Maritimers are rightly proud of the beauty of their country—all three provinces have lots of places that are lovely to see. But the beauty is Godgiven. Man has done little to preserve and almost nothing to create it.

Saint John, a couple of years ago, hired a Montreal architect to advise it on town planning. He lived there a

year, turned in a report on how to cure the “drab ugliness which depresses the visitor consciously and the native unconsciously.” His prescriptions were pretty drastic. Of 15,000 dwellings in the city he found “the great majority . are obsolete.” In Saint John’s slums, “among the worst and most extensive of any community in the country,” the City Assessor and Building Inspector reported “half the dwellings surveyed should be demolished, and over four fifths of them are definitely substandard in their present condition.”

Saint John looks no worse than Halifax, “whose slums,” said the Dawson Report, “are admittedly among the worst in Canada.” And the imining towns, of course, look far worse than either.

To cure all this would take time and much money. Another problem, far more serious, could be solved quickly with no outlay at all—in some places it is being solved, this winter. That problem is the low production rate of Maritime labor.

Even at best, Maritime production might be handicapped. Many plants are old. In Glace Bay the coal seams run out to sea, and the coal face may be five miles from shore. Every year in a busy mine, the haul becomes half a mile longer and the cost of coal at the pit head is a few cents higher. In Sydney they make steel from ore that has too much phosphorus, with coal that has too much sulphur—extra manhours will always have to be spent removing those unwanted elements.

When all that is said, it’s still true that manhour production is too low.

Before the war, the mines were producing 2.3 tons per man per day. Today the figure is 1.4 tons, though wages are up more than a dollar a day and cost at the pit head is double the U. S. average. Miners work on a quota system—so many boxes are the equivalent of an eight-hour shift. It’s no trick to work two “shifts” in one working day. A miner in Reserve told me he could usually get in six shifts a week without working Saturday or Sunday.

Upping Production

In the axle plant at Trenton, a nineman hammer crew makes 35 axles a shift. In Michigan City, Mich., six men on the same type hammer make 80 axles. True, it’s hard work—but the Trenton crew takes only three or four hours for their “eight-hour” quota. On one occasion, when they were in a hurry, a crew finished its day in an hour and 45 minutes.

Those details I got from the management side, but labor leaders don’t dispute them. In the tiny Trenton union hall, an organizer said:

“The company’s told them and I’ve told them, right in this here hall, they’ve got to get production up. They won’t listen. In the war, when they were on a new operation, they turned out guns faster’n any plant in Canada. Our manager got a letter from Mr. Howe—I seen it myself—that our record was the best in the country. But back on the old job, they go back to the old quota. Don’t matter how quick they can do it, ’twas a day’s work 25 years ago and it’s a day’s work now.”

Up to a few months ago, many people would have said this laborproduction trouble was incurable. But since last October there has been proof that it can be cured.

After the steel strike, chiefs of labor and management were called to a meeting in Montreal. The controller of the industry, figuratively speaking, knocked their heads together.

Hamilton, he said, produced 10 tons of steel with a given number of man-

hours; Algoma produced six. In Sydney the figure was three tons. He was bored with hearing labor and management blame each other for this. Let them get together and improve production. Otherwise, the Government might stop meeting Dosco’s deficits with subsidy and subvention, and management and labor alike could go off and fish for lobsters.

Apparently, it worked. At year’s end, workers and employers were each testifying to a “new spirit” on the part of the other. Relations had never been better. By mutual consent the working force had been cut about 10% with no fall in production. Just a year ago the union secretary had assured me any such attempt would be sure to cause a strike. Even yet the process is not easy. Older men are being retired on pension, and the pension is low—I know one man of 26 years service who gets $40 a month.

Young men with no seniority have to be laid off, and there are no other jobs for them at home. But the company is working closely with the union on staff reduction, seniority is being scrupulously observed, and so far there have been very few hitches, all of them minor.

Equal Work, Equal Pay

Another trouble is wages. The company claims that with its ore problem and its long haul to market it can’t—even with maximum efficiency —pay the same wages as Hamilton and still compete. The workers not unnaturally feel that a day’s work in Sydney is worth as much as a day’s work anywhere else—living costs are very little below Ontario levels, though living standards are a good deal lower. The National War Labor Board, in a ruling last November, upheld the workers’ point of view and equalized steel wages. Whether Dosco can make money on this basis remains to be seen.

If they can hold on for a few years, though, steel men have great hopes for the long future. The high-grade iron ore of the Mesabi Range on Lake Superior is running out. When it’s gone, unless some new iron mines are developed, Dosco’s Wabana ore will be as good as any in its competitive field. Cape Breton’s position will become as good as it is bad now, and Maritime steel will take a new lease on life.

Meanwhile, though, there are no jobs for 8,000 to 10,000 men unemployed in industrial Nova Scotia. New construction will take up some of that slack, when materials become available. But for a good many of them, the Federal Government has offered the only immediate solution—a free ticket to central Canada, where there are still more jobs than men.

The week the Federal Government offer was announced, I met a Toronto man in Saint John. He was bug-eyed at the Maritime’s reaction to this emigration scheme. “To hear them holler, you would think Ottawa was herding them into cattle cars at bayonet point, and shipping ’em to Siberia,” he declared.

The outcry was no surprise. There’s reason to believe that underneath it the scheme is going down well enough with the people to whom it matters most.

After all, emigration is nothing new down East. About 1,000 people have left Prince Edward Island every year since 1931—that’s about 10% of the population. For the other provinces I have no figures, but of the people I knew well in college only two or three are still in the Maritimes. Boys who could afford the rail fare have always left home in large numbers. Now the Government offers the same chance to boys with no money.

Up to mid-January, nobody had

actually been moved under the new emigration plan, though several hundred were sent during 1946 without any particular fanfare at all. Applicaions for resettlement were coming in at the rate of about 40 a day.

Planning for Expansion

For those who will remain—the married men, the homeowners, the men with a stake in the country—expansion is going forward in other Maritime industries and it’s hoped to create enough new opportunities to go round.

Premier Angus Macdonald has appointed a Nova Scotia research council, recommended in the Dawson Report. Its job is to survey Nova Scotia’s resources, lay plans to develop them.

Premier J. B. McNair of New Brunswick, in a speech in midDecember, said his province no longer deserved to be called “poor,” and he backed the statement with an impressive list of new industries. There was a new $4 million pulp mill going up at New Castle, an extension worth $1J^ millions at Atholville, other expansion plans that he said would run into millions. As for government investment, the power commission had a $10 million project to end the present shortage of electricity.

New Brunswick’s reconstruction department can give you an impressive list of new industries, not one of them employing a large number of men but all together giving jobs to thousands. War factories have been taken over and converted into lumber processing plants. One firm is going into plywood in a big way. Every town in the province seems to have at least one or two new factories and there’d be more if they could find space for them.

Always the accent is on secondary industry, doing something with the natural resources. New Brunswick now has seven kilns for drying lumber, and operators are encouraged to ship not rough logs or rough-sawn planks, but “dimensional stock”—seasoned wood cut to specified sizes, saving on freight charges and bringing a higher price besides.

Prince Edward Island has no large plans for industrial development—it will remain a farming province—but its tourist potentialities are considerable. Boosters in Charlottetown think the Island could support 150,000 people, half as many again as live there now. Their biggest grouch against Ottawa is the bad communications with the mainland—their one car ferry was sunk in a storm several years ago, and is only now being replaced. Ferry charges on automobiles are fairly high, and on trucks exorbitant. Islanders think ferries should be free, like interprovincial bridges.

Fishing, in all three provinces, looks like a healthier industry than of old. Before the war, a quiet survey in central Canada showed that Maritime fish on sale there fell into three groups. About a third of it was of quality that a Halifax housewife would have bought without question. About another third she’d have been doubtful; the rest she’d have turned down. Some of it was actually, literally putrid.

Progressive dealers have been work-

ing to correct a situation which, they think, gives fish a bad name among inland buyers. Wartime inspection for export helped them a great deal. Deep freezing, for which new plants are being installed all over the Maritimes, will help still more.

Eventually, effective control over fish products may be established all the way from wharf to table. Perhaps with some such device as a “Canada approved” label from the fisheries department, first-class quality would be guaranteed not only to inland dealers but to inland retail buyers—only merchants with clean shops and refrigeration tables would be allowed to handle Maritime fish.

Inland Canadians now eat only about four pounds of fish per person per year.

If that consumption could be doubled, by a supply of really fresh seafood, it would change the whole economic picture for the Maritime fishing industry. And though not many more men might be employed directly, the indirect employment would be considerable. Today it’s scarcely worth while to make twine, nets, fishing gear, Diesel engines in the Maritimes, but with an expanded fishing industry these things would become profitable ventures.

“Put another thousand men on the deep-sea fishing fleet,” said a man who knows a great deal about it, “and I’ll bet you’d create 10,000 new jobs on shore.”

Self-help Scheme

Closely linked with the fishing industry is another all-Maritime project that has won international fame, the co-operative movement centring in St. Francis Xavier University. Actually it is an adult education movement. The co-operatives have been a result; the primary aim was to teach people, give them knowledge with which to help themselves.

People who come down to study the Maritime co-operatives and the adult education scheme often ask, “Where are your textbooks?”

There are no textbooks—“We don’t emphasize teaching, we emphasize learning.” The idea has been to get the people together, start them talking, start them thinking, start them working to solve their own problems. About 40,000 people are in the movement now. They’ve built themselves homes, set up libraries, marketed their products—just now they’re putting up a combined freezing and storage unit in rural Guysborough that Dr. Coady calls “the prettiest thing you ever saw.”

Leaders of the movement are priests, but it’s open to all faiths and has friends, and enemies too, in every sect. Talking to Dr. Coady, a burly Cape Bretoner who still speaks with the accent of his native Margaree, you get a stronger feeling of hope for this land than anywhere else.

“We have here,” he says, “the cradle ‘ of a great civilization—not a mushroom growth of cities, but communities that can be lifted in their amenities to a nice level. Build ’em up not to any great size but to an efficient, small-scale economy.

“That’s our manifest destiny, those are our possibilities. There’s no law of Cod or man that says you can’t develop your possibilities.” ir