News & Events


USask researcher seeks stories about historic 62-year-old mining strike

Posted on 2020-10-20 in Politics & Society, Voices & Opinion, Research, Scholarly & Artistic Work

Last-minute instructions are given to workers on the eve of the Inco strike on Sept. 23, 1958. (Photo: City of Greater Sudbury Heritage Images, Solski Collection, ID# MK3600EN)

By Shannon Boklaschuk

A University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher wants to speak with anyone who has stories about a historic mining strike that started 62 years ago in Ontario and affected thousands of Canadian workers and community members.

Dr. Elizabeth Quinlan (PhD), a sociology professor in USask’s College of Arts and Science, is examining the International Nickel Company (Inco) strike that began on Sept. 24, 1958, and lasted until just before Christmas of that year—impacting 17,000 mine workers in Sudbury and Port Colborne, Ont., along the way. She is hoping to speak with as many people as possible so she can put together a picture of how the strike affected the entire community.

“Bargaining from 1944, when the union was first certified, went well. Improvements in wages and working conditions were made year by year. Then, all of the sudden, in 1958, Inco wasn’t interested in bargaining,” said Quinlan. “We know now—but it wasn’t known so well then—that Inco was sitting on a stockpile of nickel and the metals markets weren’t doing well. So, the strike took many people by surprise. And, as in any strike, there’s no chance for rehearsal. People had to adapt quickly to figure out how to support one another so (they could) survive until a settlement (could) be reached.”

Quinlan was recently awarded federal funding of $68,700, through Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), to conduct a case study on the 1958 Inco strike. By capturing firsthand accounts from strike participants, many of whom are now in their 80s or 90s, Quinlan aims to make a major contribution to the historical record and compile her research into a book.

Elizabeth Quinlan
Sociologist Dr. Elizabeth Quinlan (PhD) has received federal funding through SSHRC to conduct a case study on a historic Canadian labour dispute involving 17,000 mine workers in Ontario. (Photo: supplied)

Quinlan is interested in talking with people from all walks of life—such as mine employees, civic politicians, church officials, store owners, hotel managers, and other community members impacted by the labour dispute—since the strike affected different people in different ways. Many people made sacrifices during the strike, said Quinlan, but some also “developed new skills and learned they had strengths they didn’t know they had.”

“The strikers held up production of the world’s largest nickel producer for a full 13 weeks. That’s no small feat. Women went out into the paid labour market to take up jobs that not only gave them income to feed the family but also the chance to develop new capabilities,” said Quinlan. “In those families where the women went out to work, the men often stayed home and looked after the children. From those role reversals, men and women learned they had strengths and abilities they often didn’t realize they had. This is not a romantic story, but rather illustrates the harsh reality and difficult choices that confronted ordinary people.”

Quinlan also wants to hear from people who may have second-hand accounts of the strike, such as vivid childhood memories of their parents discussing the labour issues. She said the effects of the 1958 strike were also felt beyond the local community.

“The strike marked a turning point in Canada’s labour movement,” she said. “It also had a significant and lasting effect on people’s perceptions of unions, from the post-war period to today.”

College of Arts and Science alumna and award-winning playwright Jennifer Wynne Webber (BA’86) is serving as a research assistant on the Inco strike project. Webber and Quinlan have worked together on labour movement projects before, most recently in relation to the Mine Mill Ladies Auxiliary movement in Ontario that dates back to the early 1940s. That collaboration resulted in the play With Glowing Hearts: How Ordinary Women Worked Together to Change the World (And Did), written by Webber, who has been shortlisted for the 2020 Canadian Authors Association Fred Kerner Book Award.

Quinlan’s current appeal for Inco strike stories has attracted media attention around the country, with news stories published by outlets such as The Sudbury Star and the CBC. To share your stories with Quinlan, call 306-665-1700 or email Recollections can also be sent by mail to Dr. Elizabeth Quinlan, Inco 1958 Strike Project, Arts 1115, 9 Campus Drive, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon SK, S7N 5A5.


This story aligns with the following Think Big – Be Bold: Arts and Science 2025 plan goals:

  Excellence in RSAW
Back to News Listing

Related Articles

College of Arts and Science alumni shortlisted for Saskatchewan Book Awards

Posted on 2021-04-16

The nominees were announced online on Friday, April 16, 2021

Deciduous trees offset carbon loss from Alaskan boreal fires, new study finds

Posted on 2021-04-16

The study, conducted by a team including USask researchers, suggests that faster-growing, less flammable deciduous forests may act as a stabilizing ‘firebreak’ against escalating fire patterns and nutrient loss in the region

'The continents are drying out:' New USask research shows troubling water trends

Posted on 2021-04-16

A pair of satellites collecting detailed measurements about Earth’s gravitational field are giving researchers an unprecedented look at the state of the planet’s water—and the results are worrying

Uniquely USask: Sorokin collection a tribute to world-renowned sociologist

Posted on 2021-04-09

From his role in the Russian Revolution to attracting the attention of Dr. Albert Einstein (PhD) and U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover, Dr. Pitirim Sorokin (PhD) became one of the most influential social scientists of the 20th century

Examining esports excellence

Posted on 2021-04-09

USask computer scientist Dr. Madison Klarkowski (PhD) is studying the skill development and performance of esports athletes

Here comes the sun: ISAS and SuperDARN scientists tracks Solar Cycle 25 at USask

Posted on 2021-04-09

Led by director Dr. Kathryn McWilliams (PhD) of USask’s Department of Physics and Engineering Physics, SuperDARN recently received federal funding to continue research through to 2023