By Lexi Bainas, Cowichan Valley Citizen, 22 January 2010
The eighth annual Joseph Mairs Memorial Sunday, Jan. 24 will again honour workers who’ve died on the job.
Held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Hall, 1135 4th Ave., Ladysmith starting at 1 p.m., the event has become a special day of remembrance for many in the Valley’s labour movement as they honour the man they call a labour martyr: Joseph Mairs.
Every year the event has a theme and for 2010, it’s “fighting exploitation at home and opposing war abroad.”
The keynote speaker is Dr. Ben Isitt, assistant professor and postdoctoral fellow with the department of history at the University of Victoria.
He will present a talk and visual display entitled “British Columbia Workers and the First World War: Lessons for Today.”
His forthcoming book, From Victoria to Vladivostok: Canada’s Siberian Expedition 1917-1919, is being published by UBC Press in 2010.
Isitt also plays an active role in local grassroots campaigns for social justice and environmental protection.
Again, this year the memorial will also include live music by local musicians linked to the labour movement including Art Farquarson, Beverley McKeen and Martyn Jones, Charlie Fox and Lily Haythornthwaite.
Organizers are also planning what they expect to be a lively forum to explore ideas for building a more dynamic opposition to the war in Afghanistan.
After the indoor program, a procession will form behind piper Frank Nichols for a walk to the Ladysmith cemetery to place flowers at Mairs’ graveside.
Mairs was a trade unionist and a coal miner. He died in 1914, a month short of his 22nd birthday, after being arrested by armed government troops during a strike by Vancouver Island coal miners who were looking for an eight hour day, health and safety regulations and union recognition.
Mairs grave is topped by a cairn that his fellow miners erected in his honour with the inspiring inscription “A Martyr to a Noble Cause – the Emancipation of His Fellow Men.”