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DARLINGTON, WILLIAM, blacksmith and trade union leader; b. 1855 in Birmingham, England; d. unmarried 9 March 1913 in Montreal, and was buried there 11 March.

Shortly after his arrival in Canada in 1886 William Darlington became involved in the Montreal trade union movement. An active member of the Knights of Labor [see Olivier-David Benoît*], he helped organize a protest against the federal government’s immigration policy in 1888. Darlington was one of the founders of the Tenants’ Defence Association, which demanded the vote for tenants in municipal elections, a goal much sought by Montreal trade unions. In 1889 he became master workman (president) of Dominion Assembly 2436 of the Knights of Labor and he retained the office until 1891. In this capacity he represented his branch at Montreal District Assembly 2.

A delegate to the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada on several occasions between 1889 and 1899, and a member of its legislative committee for Quebec for a couple of years, he participated actively in meetings. He moved resolutions supporting the establishment of technical schools, an eight-hour day for public works employees, the appointment of a Canadian-born governor general, and a ban on municipal bonuses and tax exemptions aimed at attracting industry. In 1889 Darlington argued for a measure that was controversial in Quebec: free, compulsory, non-denominational education for all children.

When a delegate to the 1889 congress proposed that an independent political party be established to champion the interests of workers, Darlington, who had probably been influenced by socialist thinking in England, supported the motion. Neither of the existing parties had shown any concern for the reforms sought by workers, and Darlington believed that this new party would serve to obtain these measures. The resolution was passed, but no steps were taken in Montreal to give effect to it. In 1894 Darlington thought that the efforts made by the congress to represent the interests of labour to government were ineffectual and that the organization should focus on political action.

Putting his beliefs into action, Darlington and Richard J. Kerrigan, a fellow worker who was also from the British Isles, founded Montreal’s first socialist group as a cell of the Socialist Labor party, an American organization led by Daniel De Leon. In a manifesto distributed to Montreal workers on Labour Day 1894, Darlington and Kerrigan claimed that “the appropriation by private individuals of the natural means of production and tools of labour is the indisputable cause of all economic slavery and political dependence.” Five years later Darlington and other trade union activists such as Joseph-Alphonse Rodier* served on the organizing committee of the Labour party in Montreal, which had a more moderate platform.

At the turn of the century, as the popularity of the Knights of Labor waned in Montreal, Darlington left the organization. A delegate to the Trades and Labor Congress in 1899, he even moved a resolution to bar Knights of Labor assemblies “because they existed in name only and they were bringing discredit upon Canadian labour bodies.” On his departure Darlington joined the Journeymen Horseshoers’ International Union of America, which represented his trade, and he remained a member until his death. Towards the end of his life he withdrew from leadership responsibilities.

Jacques Rouillard

AC, Montréal, État civil, Anglicans, Grace Anglican Church (Montreal), 11 March 1913. Le Canada (Montréal), 11 mars 1913. Montreal Daily Star, 31 Aug. 1889, 10 March 1913. La Patrie, 22 sept. 1899, 10 mars 1913. La Presse, 2 oct. 1899. Eugene Forsey, Trade unions in Canada, 1812–1902 (Toronto, 1982). Le Réveil (Montréal), 8 sept. 1894. Jacques Rouillard, “L’action politique ouvrière au début du 20e siècle,” in Le mouvement ouvrier au Québec, sous la direction de Fernand Harvey (Montréal, 1980), 185–213. Trades and Labor Congress of Canada, Proc. of the annual session (Toronto), 5 (1889)–6 (1890); 16 (1900).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jacques Rouillard, “DARLINGTON, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/darlington_william_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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/darlington_william_14E.html
Author of Article:   Jacques Rouillard
Title of Article:   DARLINGTON, WILLIAM
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