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McMILLAN (MacMillan), JOSEPH C., printer and trade union leader; b. in 1836 in Scotland; he and his wife Mary had at least three children; d. 9 Jan. 1889 at Toronto, Ont.

Journeyman printer Joseph C. McMillan arrived in Toronto in 1867 or 1868. In December 1868 he joined the Toronto Typographical Union, local no.91 of the United States–based National Typographical Union (later the International Typographical Union), and he rose rapidly through its ranks to become vice-president of the local in December 1870. The following year, when he was acclaimed president, the membership of the local was 190. He was a prominent leader in the Toronto printers’ strike of 1872, called when demands for an increased wage scale and a nine-hour day were vigorously opposed by the Master Printers Association led by George Brown*. McMillan and 12 other members of the TTU were arrested in May for seditious conspiracy. They were later released on bail and in November the charges against them were dropped after the Trade Unions Act was passed.

In September 1872 McMillan and two of his TTU colleagues, David Sleeth Jr and James S. Williams, formed the printing firm of Williams, Sleeth and McMillan and bought the Ontario Workman, the first major Canadian labour newspaper, from the Toronto Cooperative Printing Company. This purchase was partly funded by a loan from Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald* who had earlier that year cemented his bonds with the fledgling Canadian trade union movement by passing the Trade Unions Act in response to George Brown’s attack on the printers. The paper ceased publication in 1875 although there was a brief attempt to revive it in late 1877. The firm continued, however, as a job printing shop until 1882, and the partners lived as next-door neighbours on Ontario Street for some 10 years. From 1882 to 1884 McMillan ran a small book and stationery store, which was a centre for labour activity and served as an agency for the Toronto Trades Union Advocate. In 1884 McMillan returned to the printer’s case with the Grip (Toronto) and later was employed by Warwick and Sons with whom he remained as foreman until his death.

McMillan had represented the TTU in the Toronto Trades Assembly from 1872 to 1878. He served the assembly as a trustee, responsible for its financial transactions, except from January to August 1875 when he was president. McMillan also represented the TTA at various Canadian Labor Union conventions. He became treasurer of this association in 1877 and was a member of its parliamentary committee in 1876 and 1877. In these various offices he was a key member of the Toronto “junta” which in the 1870s lobbied for the changes in federal legislation that firmly established the legal basis of trade unionism. These changes included the Trade Unions Act of 1872, amendments to the “violence, threats and molestation” provisions of the criminal law in 1875 and 1876, and the Breaches of Contract Act of 1877. The last three acts were especially important because they legalized strikes and ended the legal discrimination against workers previously entrenched in the old masters and servants acts. The new political responsiveness to workingmen clearly demonstrated the growing importance of the young labour movement.

In May 1881 McMillan and his close friend Williams were chosen by the TTU to start discussions aimed at founding a new central body in Toronto to replace the lapsed Toronto Trades Assembly. The initiative taken by the printers resulted in the formation of the Toronto Trades and Labor Council on which McMillan served one term as a representative in 1883. His career as an important Toronto labour leader, however, was coming to an end in 1881 because a new group of leaders with strategies alien to men such as McMillan rose to prominence through the Order of the Knights of Labor. This new leadership stood for the organization of all workers without regard for level of skill, sex, or race. In addition, some of them called for independent labour representation in all levels of government.

McMillan was in many ways typical of the artisans who provided leadership to the early labour movement in Canada. Like fellow printers Daniel John O’Donoghue*, John Armstrong, and Williams, he drew strength from the craft traditions of “the art preservative” with its requirements of literacy and pride in culture. He was able to pass his craft on to at least three of his sons, all of whom became printers in Toronto. In this he, and other printers of his generation, enjoyed a privilege that few of their fellow skilled workingmen were able to maintain against the incursion of machinery.

At his funeral on 12 Jan. 1889, friends, some 150 fellow craftsmen from the TTU, and lodge brothers from the Sons of Scotland, the Order of Chosen Friends, and the Iron Hall gathered to pay their last respects. The pallbearers included not only his old comrades Sleeth and Williams but another printer and co-conspirator of 1872, Edward Frederick Clarke, who in the late 1880s became mayor of Toronto and a member of the provincial parliament; Clarke’s prominence was a tribute to the battles men such as McMillan had waged throughout their adult years.

Gregory S. Kealey

CTA, Toronto assessment rolls, St David’s Ward, Ontario Street, 1880. PAC, MG 26, A; MG 28, I44; I72; RG 31, A1, 1871, Toronto, St David’s Ward. Canadian Labor Union, Proceedings of the Canadian Labor Union congresses, 1873–77, comp. L. E. Wismer (Ottawa, 1951). International Typographical Union, Report of proc. (New York, etc.), 1868–89. Empire (Toronto), 14 Jan. 1889. Evening News (Toronto), 14 Jan. 1889. Globe, 1868–89. Ontario Workman (Toronto), 1872–74. Toronto Daily Mail, 14 Jan. 1889. Trades Union Advocate (Toronto), 1882–83. Toronto directory, 1868–90. G. S. Kealey, Toronto workers respond to industrial capitalism, 1867–1892 (Toronto, 1980); “The working class response to industrial capitalism in Toronto, 1867–1892” (phd thesis, Univ. of Rochester, N.Y., 1977). Wayne Roberts, “The last artisans: Toronto printers, 1896–1914,” Essays in Canadian working class history, ed. G. S. Kealey and Peter Warrian (Toronto, 1976), 125–42. S. F. Zerker, “A history of the Toronto Typographical Union, 1832–1925” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1972). G. S. Kealey, “‘The honest workingman’ and workers’ control: the experience of Toronto skilled workers, 1860–1892,” Labour ([Halifax and Rimouski, Que.]), 1 (1976): 32–68. S. [F.] Zerker, “The development of collective bargaining in Toronto printing industry in the nineteenth century,” Industrial Relations (Quebec), 30 (1975): 83–97; “George Brown and the printers’ union,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 10 (1975), no.1: 42–48.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gregory S. Kealey, “McMILLAN, JOSEPH C,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcmillan_joseph_c_11E.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/mcmillan_joseph_c_11E.html
Author of Article:   Gregory S. Kealey
Title of Article:   McMILLAN, JOSEPH C
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   September 21, 2023