CLINDINNING, ROBERT WILSON (William), printer and union leader; b. 1815 in the north of Ireland, son of David Clindinning, tailor, and Mary Clark, both of County Monaghan; d. 31 Aug. 1898 in Toronto.
Robert Wilson Clindinning immigrated to Upper Canada in 1819 with his parents, who settled first in Gananoque and then, after six years, in Kingston. He received his early education there during the time when his father owned and operated the Hibernian Inn on Market Square. In 1830 the family moved to York (Toronto). Robert’s training as a printer began on 6 May 1831 in the office of the Courier of Upper Canada, published by George Gurnett*. After the Courier ceased publication in 1837, Clindinning worked for a series of journals in Toronto: Charles Fothergill*’s Palladium, the Morning Star, the Upper Canada Gazette, and the Church. In 1843 he joined the Banner, published by Peter* and George* Brown, and the following year he moved to their Globe.
Clindinning was one of the 24 original members of the York Typographical Society (later the Toronto Typographical Society), a union of printing craftsmen founded in 1832 and reorganized in 1844 after a period of inactivity. He was elected recording secretary in 1844 and became the society’s second president in 1845. Hence, as a leading figure in the establishment of one of Canada’s earliest workers’ unions, Clindinning ranks with other founding fathers of this country’s labour movement. But his contribution is particularly noteworthy because in 1845, at a critical moment in the society’s history, when it was still weak, he willingly sacrificed his own income and security in order to bolster the union’s authority over terms of employment for Toronto’s printers. The occasion was an open war by George Brown of the Globe against the union, which claimed the right to determine wage rates. Brown’s tactics for undermining the union included the firing of those employees who were affiliated with it. He offered Clindinning the wage the society had set, but only on the condition that he quit the union. In May, Clindinning courageously rejected Brown’s enticements with these words, “I will not desert the Society.” As a result he lost his job.
Clindinning left Toronto for New York, where he purchased a printing-office in June and was self-employed for a short time. He sold this business, returned to Toronto about 1846, and went back to the Globe for a year. He then worked at the British Colonist until 1860 and at the Leader until 1878, after which he was employed in the bookroom of Dudley and Burns. He had resumed his affiliation with the typographical society on 6 Sept. 1848 and for the remainder of his life he maintained his loyalty to that union.
On 1 Jan. 1845 Clindinning had married Jane McLean; they had at least one daughter, who died in infancy. He may have married a second time: the York County marriage register records the marriage on 1 April 1855 of a Robert W. Clendinning and Mary Fife of Pickering. A Presbyterian, Clindinning died on 31 Aug. 1898 and was buried in the Necropolis in Toronto.
AO, MS 423, A-2, vol.1, April, 5 May 1845; 6 Sept. 1848; RG 8, I-6-A, 12: 302. Toronto Necropolis and Crematorium, burial records, sect.S, lot 14; reg. of deaths, no.26973. Death notices from “Christian Guardian,” 1851–60 (McKenzie). Dict. of Toronto printers (Hulse). Ont. marriage notices (Wilson). John Armstrong, “Sketch of the early history of No.91,” International Typographical Union of North America, Souvenir of 50th convention (Toronto, 1905). Hist. of Toronto, 2: 31–32. Robertson’s landmarks of Toronto, 3: 131. S. F. Zerker, The rise and fall of the Toronto Typographical Union, 1832–1972: a case study of foreign domination (Toronto, 1982), 30; “George Brown and the printers’ union,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 10 (1975), no.1: 42–48.