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Everyone gets a slice after miners negotiated wage increase in 1917

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Just a few non-war related stories from the year 1917 – particularly from the summer of that year – and all items from the Porcupine (as if I had to tell you that).

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Gigantic whoops of joy were heard from the Hollinger Mine when it was announced that labour relations were taking a turn for the good, and that underground miners could expect a “new and improved” minimum wage of $4 a day.

The Hollinger claimed its biggest need was for muckers and that at a minimum of four bucks a day, the positions would quickly be filled. Other mines in the area like the Dome and the McIntyre negotiated 50-cent increases with their workers while still other employers like the Porcupine Crown and the V.N.T. were still in talks.

The mining outfits chose to negotiate with the workers directly. The union did not ask for recognition during the talks and the mine managers were quick to note that the increases offered and accepted by the employees were greater than those initially asked for by the union.

Also of interest was the fact that miners in Cobalt had taken a strike vote a week earlier, and the results were 1,121 for a strike and 100 against – a little leverage for the Porcupine miners, no doubt.

And seeing how the mines had paid out over $10 million in dividends for the 1916 year, the raise I am sure was affordable.

A few merchants took advantage of the raise in wages at the mines to do a little price adjusting of their own.

The local restauranteurs raised the price of the popular meal ticket used by many single men in the community, making it $6.50 for 21 meals, a 50-cent increase. Single meals went from 35 cents to 40 cents. Local barbers followed suit – “now if a man wants to get a haircut for less than half a dollar, he must go to some other town – or to jail – which may be the same thing.”

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Shaves could be had for 25 cents – a huge increase over the 15 cents that was usually charged. A neck shave remained the same at 5 cents; other services increased included a shampoo and oil at 35 cents; massage, 35 cents; tonic, 15 cents; moustache trim, 5 cents; children’s haircut 35 cents; razor honing, 35 cents; and a singe for 25 cents (which involved burning the ends of the hair to seal split ends – I wouldn’t recommend it).

To give a little more perspective on what could be purchased with that new paycheck, one need only look at the local merchant ads.

J.R. Gordon, a local grocer with shops in Timmins, Schumacher and South Porcupine offered up prime steer roasts at 22 cents a pound; he also made his own sausages – “Our pure pork sausage is in a class by itself, made from choice, select government-inspected young pork, mildly seasoned with pure spices and made fresh daily – do not buy sausage made four or five hundred miles away – it is generally about 10 days old and is liable to sour, causing gas and fermentation.”

Sounds like a plan.

Meanwhile, Marshall-Ecclestone’s store on Third Avenue was selling McClary ranges and stoves for $40 to $63 as well as the new 1900 Gravity Washing Machine for $16.

Murtagh and Ryan, purveyors of gentlemen’s clothing and furnishings, were closing their doors so the sales were pretty fantastic – men’s underwear (good quality) were going for 39 cents a pair, dress boater hats for 69 cents, wool pants for $1.79, dress shirts for 69 cents, shirt collars 7 cents each and dress shoes for $2.98.

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Well, you knew this was coming: The federal government had, in 1916, introduced a tax on corporations, with the goal of raising money to finance the war.

By 1917, much more money was needed and a “temporary” tax on incomes was introduced in Parliament, and accepted in September of 1917.

“I have placed no time limit upon this measure … a year or two after the war is over, the measure should be reviewed,” stated Sir Thomas White, Minister of Finance.

It was duly reviewed and, seeing how the war had to be paid for, it was kept (and a sales tax was added in 1920 because even more money was needed, and by 1948, the “temporary” tax on income was deemed necessary to the function of government and the Income Tax Act was introduced and passed).

But in 1917, the tax looked like this: A married man making $4,000 a year paid $40 in tax, while an unmarried man paid $80. On the top level of the scale, a man earning $200,000 a year paid $43,760 will an unmarried gentleman paid $43,800. The biggest complaint in all of this was that “Big Business” escaped the tax (the argument sounds familiar).

So, I guess we can say “in one hand (the raise) and out the other (that necessary income tax).”

But we’re used to that, aren’t we?

Karen Bachmann is the director/curator of the Timmins Museum and a writer of local history.

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