About Us



History


THE EARLY BUILDERS

The origin of brickwork is lost in antiquity. With almost every new discovery of the ruins of ancient civilizations, still older bricks are found. The earliest of these finds are sun-baked brick with a straw or grass binding of the type mentioned in Exodus, where the Israelites complained of the Pharaohs executive order requiring them to find their own straw for brick-making.

From the Pyramids of Egypt to the temples of Ancient Greece and practically every civilization known to man, our craft has left a lasting impression. Many of these great ancient monuments were built by slaves or under such poor working conditions that the idea of standing together as a group to strive for better working conditions was founded.

The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers is the oldest continuous operating Union in North America. Founded on October 17, 1865 when nine delegates from Baltimore and four delegates from Philadelphia met and formed the National Bricklayers Union. From this point the National Bricklayers began to expand and in 1881 the first Locals in Canada were formed. In 1884 the Union changed its name to the Bricklayers and Masons International Union of America. This name change was put into place to include the Stonemasons and the Canadian Locals to the north.

 

THE BEGINNING (1901 - 1914)

In 1901, twenty years after the first Canadian Locals were introduced, an elite group of Stonemasons began to organize in Edmonton. In 1903, R. Leary, R. Spencer, H. Jonston, R. Scott, W. Allyen, R. Willington and N. Percell came to a decision and applied to the Bricklayer International Union for a charter in Northern Alberta. On May 15, 1903 the charter was officially granted and these seven men became Local #1’s first executive.

With a new beginning and strong leadership our Local began to flourish. In 1904 the population in Edmonton was 8350 and growing fast. Unemployed tradesmen from across the country were flocking to Edmonton and with the population increase came the need for housing and commercial buildings. At a time when most buildings were made of cut stone or brick we were at the top of the heap, holding the same kind of position among the building trades as the Railway Engineers. Our wages were the highest in the city among the trades, earning $4.00 per day for a Journeyman and $4.50 per day for Stonecutters.

From 1903 to 1913 the boom was on in Edmonton. Such landmarks as the Flat Iron Building, the Academy at King Edward, the Strathcona Post Office, and the Legislative Buildings were constructed, making Edmonton the capital of Alberta.

Work was so good in our region that in 1907 thirty members from Local #1 traveled across the North Saskatchewan River to install a new Local, Strathcona Local #4, at Orange Hall.

The membership voted in a new executive in 1908. Frank Blake became our President, James Brereton, our Vice President, and William Collier our Financial Secretary. They held their general meetings every fourth Tuesday at 8:00pm in Thourston Hall.

The first record books in our Hall date back to 1912. At this time Initiation fees were $25.00 for a Journeyman, $5.00 for an Apprentice, and Local dues were $1.00 per month. By November 1913 our Local hit a peak of 281 members who were instrumental in negotiating a 48 hour work week down form the previous 54 hour week.

By 1914 the situation in Europe had an immediate effect on our hall. World War I was upon us and the financial barons of London decided to withdraw their capital, bringing construction to a standstill until the situation stabilized. Many of our members answered to our Country’s call and our Local made sure they stayed in good standing while praying for their safe return home.

 

THE LEAN YEARS (1915 - 1945)

This was a time when our members were off to war and the last major construction work, the Grand Truck Pacific Railway Building (The MacDonald Hotel), was near completion. In 1916 our Local was in financial trouble and owed our International $1564.45. By 1918, dues rose to $1.35 per month to help combat the situation.

At the end of World War I our members returning home were disheartened.  Construction was at a standstill and our membership had fallen by three quarters.  By 1927 work was beginning to pick up only to be hit by the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression of the Thirties. The “Dirty Thirties” struck our Local extremely hard and many of our loyal members found they were unable to maintain their dues. Our membership declined from 129 Brothers in 1930 to only 10 members by 1937.

Local # 1 owes a debt of gratitude to those 10 members: H. Alying, J Bawden, S. Bounds, J. Hood, H. Demmark, A. Hunter, W. Smitlen, S. Parson, J. Wilkins and President at the time Arthur Ball. Without their loyalty and Trade Union Principles, our Local would not have survived.

Soon World War II was upon us, but it had quite a different effect on our Local. With a large expansion of services connected with the War effort and an opportunity for employment, our Local began to grow. The Initiation Fee was dropped to $15.00 and wages were set at $1.25 per hour. By 1946 there were 78 members on the books and a 40 hour work week had been established.

 

THE COMEBACK YEARS (1946 - PRESENT)  Image Links: Image 4

In 1947 Alberta commenced an unprecedented boom. Oil was discovered in Leduc, and the fall out would change the face of the Local. Not only would we command the Brick, Block, and Stone work, but a new avenue of work would become more prevalent – “Refractory Installation”. With Oil being discovered on a daily basis and the influx of European Tradesmen flocking to our region, our Local again had a strong footing. By the 1950’s we were not only building such places as Petro Canada, Texaco, and the first coal-fired generating plants in Wabamum, we were also constructing a modern city.

A new breed of Bricklayers was coming on strong. Local #1 hired its first full time Business Manager, Brother Murdo MacFarland, in 1958. He later became an instructor and trained our young apprentices. In 1960 Ken Thompson took the helm and remained our Business Manager until 1983. Along his side as our President was Duncan Grant. Together they directed our Local for 23 years, before they both retired in 1983, leaving a void in our executive. At this time Gilbert Thomas was elected as our Business Manager, serving one term and Wally Shaw was elected as our President, a position that he held until 2003.

Local #1 experienced unprecedented growth up to 1980, when we were 806 members strong. However, a continuous development of three decades was about to come to an end and would hit Alberta hard. Work was poor and with a right-wing government in leadership, union busting tactics were put in place. The “24 Hour Lockout” was in effect and Local #1 was forced to take a roll back of wages from $18.00 to $12.50. Many of our good members left the province or attained work in other fields. Local #1 membership declined to 254 members by 1986. At this point our members elected Tomas Rowan as the Business Manager.

However this downturn in the economy would not last. By the mid-nineties a new word hit the airwaves. The Mega Project and Oil companies again began to build. In 1999 we were able to purchase our first office building. Alan Ramsay was elected as the Business Manager in 2001, after the retirement of Tom Rowan, and Brother Malcolm Kane was hired as the full-time organizer of our Local Hall in 2002. Today, Local #1 sits at almost 800 members province-wide, following the merger in 2014 of Locals #2 and #4 (Tilesetters) into Local #1 Alberta. 

Bricklayers Local #1 has seen its share of hardships over the past 100 years. We remain confident that the foresight and dedication of our forefathers will not be forgotten, but will serve as a guide to future generations that are working towards a better way of life.