Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

‘The best men that ever worked the lumber’: Aboriginal Longshoremen on Burrard Inlet, BC, 1863-1939

Document type Article
Author Parnaby, Andrew
Journal Canadian Historical Review
Volume 87
Date 2006 March
Pages 53-78


This essay examines Aboriginal longshoremen, most of whom belonged to the Squamish First Nation, on Burrard Inlet, British Columbia, from 1863 to 1939. Beginning with a consideration of the Squamish adaptation to wage labour in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, this essay analyses the ways in which Aboriginal workers negotiated the daily demands of waterfront work. Their encounter with the work process, labour politics, welfare capitalism, and class conflict are studied in depth. Despite intense competition from non-Aboriginal workers for limited job opportunities, Aboriginal longshoremen worked on Burrard inlet for a long period of time; in addition to the daily demands of waterfront work, this essay also explores the strategies that Squamish dockers adopted to protect their positions on the waterfront. Often mentioned in the scholarly literature, but never studied in a systematic way, the 'Indian'waterfront provides a window into the importance of waged work to Aboriginal people on Burrard Inlet and the sophisticated ways that the Squamish responded to Canadian colonialism and capitalism.