ARCHIBALD, LEWIS A., baker and trade union leader; b. 1840 or 1841 in Country Harbour, N.S.; d. 8 Oct. 1913 in Halifax, survived by one son.
Of all the voices raised for labour in 19th-century Halifax, Lewis Archibald’s was perhaps the most persistent, eloquent, and visionary. A journeyman baker, and briefly a self-employed small master, Archibald believed deeply in the values of craft independence and class solidarity, and he became a bitter critic of capitalists in his industry whose greed, he argued, made them enemies, not just of the workers, but of civilization itself.
It is likely that Archibald’s first experience of labour struggle came in 1868 when the Halifax Journeymen Bakers’ Friendly Society, founded that year, launched a campaign for the 12-hour day in a trade dominated by night work and punishing hours. Although the union’s Constitution and bye-laws is unsigned, its distinctive tone is characteristic of Archibald’s later speeches and writings. “We wish to do nothing unfair; all we seek is even-handed ‘Justice’: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work; and not, as has been too long, unlimited labor for limited pay. To put an end to this anomaly cannot be denied to the working-man at the present day, as his undoubted right, since it has the sanction of the whole civilized world.”
Unfortunately for the bakers, “the whole civilized world” did not include, among others, the industrialist William Church Moir*, who was intent on transforming his bakery business into a great industry, and who relied on strikebreakers and intimidation to defeat the union. For Archibald and others this defeat must have been appalling. In 1868 they had analysed long hours and night work as the cause of “untold suffering, ill-health, premature old age, and death.” And “in a moral and intellectual point of view it is nearly as bad, as we have no time for recreation, no moral improvement; no time to spend in the social or family circle. We have no time for the public meeting, lecture, concert or religious duty; the Sun shines in vain for us, the trees and plants may grow, and the flowers may bloom, but not for us. To us the delights of the country are a sealed book; to prepare for our early toil we have to go to bed, (those that have one), while the rest of the world is awake, and work while the rest of the world is asleep, thus reversing the laws of nature. No wonder that some of us have recourse to stimulants in order to give a spur to our overworked and failing nature, and for the time to bury in oblivion our degraded position.” Deftly blending such powerful mid Victorian tropes as nature, citizenship, piety, and temperance, this workers’ manifesto speaks eloquently of the journeymen’s heartfelt sense of the enormity of industrial capitalism.
This sense emerged with even greater clarity in the 1880s, when repeated campaigns, this time explicitly the work of Archibald, took up the cause of the journeymen bakers. The union, which had collapsed in 1879, was revived in 1882 as the Journeymen Bakers’ Friendly Union, became affiliated with the Amalgamated Trades Union (the city’s new labour council), and resumed the crusade against Moir and Company and overwork. On 12 Sept. 1884 the ATU launched a boycott of Moir’s products in which the bakers were united with workers across the province, although not – fatally, it turned out, for the success of the movement – those working within Moir’s factory itself. In a masterful speech on 13 Nov. 1884 Archibald, then president of his union, powerfully developed the theme of the factory as degrading to the working man. Of the “arts and mysteries of baking,” the bakers’ leader wryly observed, he had learned the “arts” quite well in a small bakery, but the “mysteries” had been confined to the large establishments. Here was a species of brutal “white slavery,” a “crime against the man, the family, the home, the state, and nature.”
Despite the defeat of the boycott, Archibald struggled on. His was perhaps the most acid critique of industrial capitalism made at the Halifax hearings of the royal commission on the relations of labour and capital in 1888: he brought up the avoidable, unforgivable violence against children in Halifax factories. From 1889 to 1896 he worked to establish Halifax Local 89 of the Journeymen Bakers’ and Confectioners’ International Union of America, which won the nine-hour day in 1890, but lost it, once more thanks to Moir’s, in 1891; he continued to work for the ATU, for a spell even as janitor; he also ran his own small bakery in 1894, before becoming a journeyman in the employ of J. J. Scriven and Sons, a mechanized bakery, where he worked until about two years before his death.
There was much that was “backward-looking” about Lewis Archibald. The 1884 campaign united craft workers, and denounced industrial monopolies on behalf of the small independent bakers, some of whom were involved in the union; but it did not reach out to the factory workers. Some of Archibald’s rhetoric even implicitly disparaged all those – women, children, the unskilled – who fell short of the craftsman’s high ideal of independence. He spoke an older language of citizenship, belonging, stewardship, and respectability. But he spoke that language brilliantly, with an honest and compassionate anger against a new industrial order that violated his sense of right and wrong. And in his support for the ATU, his reaching out to the miners as allies in the struggle against overwork, and his anger over those respectable forms of child abuse that smoothed the path for industrialists such as Moir, he was starting to use the craftsman’s traditional language to new purposes. Gifted, irascible, sarcastic, and idealistic, Archibald deserved much more than the silence and obscurity in which he died in 1913.
PANS, MG 1, 963B, Journeymen Bakers’ Friendly Soc., “To the master bakers of Halifax” (); MG 20, 332, minutes, book 1: 7 Feb., 7 March 1891. Acadian Recorder, 24 April 1882; 26 March 1883; 4 Jan. 1886; 16 Jan. 1889; 29 Jan., 15 July 1890; 13, 22, 28 Jan., 10–11 Feb. 1891; 16 Jan. 1893; 14 Dec. 1894; 28 Nov. 1896; 30 Jan. 1897. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 24 Jan. 1884, 30 Jan. 1890. Morning Herald (Halifax), 14 Nov. 1884. Trades Journal (Springhill, N.S.), 28 July 1880. Baker’s Journal (Cleveland, Ohio), 9, 16 May 1891; 26 Nov., 31 Dec. 1892; continued by Bakers’ Journal and Deutsch-Amerikanische Bäcker-Zeitung, 14 Oct. 1896. Can., Royal commission on the relations of labour and capital in Canada, Report (5v. in 6, Ottawa, 1889), Evidence – Nova Scotia, 14, 179–81. Constitution and bye-laws of the Journeymen Bakers’ Friendly Society, of Halifax and vicinity (Halifax, 1869). DCB, XII (biog. of W. C. Moir). Ian McKay, “Capital and labour in the Halifax baking and confectionery industry during the last half of the nineteenth century,” Labour (Halifax), 3 (1978): 63–108; The craft transformed: an essay on the carpenters of Halifax, 1885–1985 (Halifax, 1985). K. G. P[r]yke, “Labour and politics: Nova Scotia at confederation,” Social Hist. (Ottawa), no.6 (November 1970): 33–55.
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Cite This Article
Ian McKay, “ARCHIBALD, LEWIS A,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/archibald_lewis_a_14E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Ian McKay|
|Title of Article:||ARCHIBALD, LEWIS A|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1998|
|Year of revision:||1998|
|Access Date:||June 2, 2023|