Warren Franklin Hatheway – A Friend of Labour

By: Harvey MacLeod

“See to it that you advance with the time and that you get the share of life and liberty due to every decent man, and do not allow yourselves to be thrust back into tireless rounds of unending work by the ruthless hands of the millionaire.”—Mechanic and Labourer—Frank Hatheway, 1906.

On May 10, 1919, an article called “A Tramp in Sudbury Country” appeared in the Saint John Globe. It was part of the Globe’s continuing series “BYWAYS & HIGHWAYS.” The article contained these words:

The workingman has made a rapid advance since 1913. That one, strong, giant figure, the labourer now stands erect. For years low wages and long hours have given him stooping shoulders and bent back. With his strong, knotted oak-like arms against the ground, on his back he has held up all the others, king and queen, bishop and priest, lawyer and doctor, merchant and manufacturer—all were on his back. The muscles of his mighty arms, the sinews of his legs support this vast load. He lifts that body upright, and rightly demands a larger compensation as his share. This demand must be heard and shall be agreed to. These great extremes: the one, low wages with long hours, create discontent and beget the thug and the assassin—the other, large incomes and power create laziness, arrogance, vice and pride. It is far better for the state that these two be brought nearer together. This is what the new generation is demanding; it is what the re-born labourer asks.

This article was signed “Belmont.” This was the pen-name of a Saint John writer, merchant and political reformer named Warren Franklin Hatheway.

Hatheway was a rare spirit in New Brunswick in his time. He was a tireless champion of the working people of the province and an eloquent advocate of greater equality for all the people of the earth. He was both a socialist thinker and a Conservative Party politician. He was a man with great gifts as a writer and speaker whose words and counsel were widely heeded, both in the province and across the country. He was a successful businessman who started revolutionary profit-sharing schemes for his employees. In all, he was a remarkable figure in New Brunswick in the closing years of the 19th century and the opening years of the 20th century and his story is one worth following.

Hatheway was born in Saint John in 1850. He was the youngest of eleven children born to Thomas Gilbert Hatheway and Harriet E. (Bates) Hatheway. Thomas Hatheway was a descendant of Ebenezer Hatheway, who served as a captain of Loyalist troops in the Revolutionary War. Ebenezer was granted 112 acres in Burton upon which he built a house. He died in 1811, survived by his wife and seven sons. One of Frank Hatheway’s cousins—George Luther Hatheway— became Premier of New Brunswick in February 1871, but unfortunately died in office in July 1872.

Frank Hatheway’s father died when he was four years old and support for the family fell on the shoulders of an older brother who was a doctor. When Frank was fourteen his brother died and the family was left with very little money. As is usually the case in such circumstances, he was forced to get a job. He went to work as a clerk in the office of Small and Hatheway Steamboats. This firm was jointly owned by his Uncle Frederick and Otis Small.

He was educated in the Saint John Grammar school and by private tutors, and developed a love for books that stayed with him all his life. Even after long hours in the offices where he worked, which sometimes went well into the night, he went home to read and study. By the time he was in his mid-twenties he had learned French, German and Spanish. He had also begun to write and his work was published in the Saint John Globe. His writings at this time were such things as dog-fights and cruelty to animals; hardly the stuff of revolution, but the groundwork was laid for his later careers.

In 1868 he left his Uncle’s firm and went to work as a clerk for Messrs. Turnbull and Company. In 1878, the year after Saint John’s great fire, Hatheway went into the wholesale grocery business in partnership with James Harding. They prospered, and within ten years Hatheway bought out his partner and became sole owner. He was a good businessman and was able to say; “When the Maritime Bank failed, and three or four firms beside me on the South Wharf had failed, I stood at the store door one day and said to myself, if the whole wharf fails they can’t make this firm fail.”

With his business running well, he turned his great energies to other things. He began to try to put some of his developing ideas on social matters into practice. He had been writing a series of essays called “Canadian Problems” for the Saint John Globe. They refined the ideas he had been developing from his study of political systems and from his observations and deeply-felt understanding of the injustices of the economic system. In one of them, “The Cry of Labour”, he wrote. “We are not sons of God, but rather sons of Satan if we allow the present system of capitalism to continue.”

The year 1901 was one of labour unrest and strikes in Saint John and Hatheway offered as much support as he could to the strikers. He recommended a series of improvements that they could demand from their employers. They included a guaranteed daily wage, national life insurance, civic taxation that taxed the rich more heavily and compulsory, binding arbitration. He also suggested that the gas and electrical utilities should be publically-owned and that other means of communications such as the telegraph, telephone and railways should be nationalized. “All works for the general public use,” he wrote, “which involve a large outlay of capital and which could easily become monopolies should be owned and managed by state or city.”

He formed the Fabian league of Saint John along the lines of the famous British model. Its aim was to work for the ideas of the establishment of practical socialism. Hatheway, as president, had become interested in the idea of compensation for workers injured or killed on the job and the league adopted the idea as its own. Hatheway and other members wrote and spoke endlessly to any group that would listen and eventually sent a delegation to Fredericton to discuss it with the Premier of the province. The result was that the Premier agreed to introduce legislation to create a Workman’s Compensation Act for New Brunswick. He was as good as his word. He introduced the act, but later withdrew it—for further study.

This cynical action, perhaps more than any other, made up Hatheway’s mind for him. He decided to run as a candidate in the next provincial election. He became the candidate for the Saint John Trades and Labour Council and made his first appearance as an active politician at the 1902 Labour Day Parade. The election was called in 1903 and the campaign was dirty. The government was worried that Hatheway, with the support of Labour, was a strong candidate and it tried to tarnish him personally. In spite of the support from the Trades and labour Council, Hatheway lost the election.

Workman’s Compensation had become an issue in the campaign and in the new session of the legislature an Act was passed. It was a considerably watered-down version of what the group from Saint John wanted and was totally unacceptable to the Saint John Trades and Labour Council.

Hatheway appeared before the Premier again to urge the passage of a Factory Act to regulate the conditions in New Brunswick factories. Although he was not a member of the legislature, he was instrumental in getting this Act passed in 1905. It tried to ensure that factories in the province were reasonably clean and safe and that there were washing facilities and bathrooms in separate locations for men and women. He also served as a volunteer factory inspector.

In the election of 1908 he ran again for a seat in the legislature. He had learned from the campaign of 1903. He knew that he could not hope to be elected as a representative of a third party and he knew that he could be of more use inside the legislature than outside it. He had been a Conservative for some years before 1903, so he mended his fences with the party and ran as a Tory. Labour supported him anyway and he won.

In his first session, he introduced an act to amend the Workman’s Compensation Act of 1903. There was great opposition, mainly from lumber mill, railroad and factory owners and great pressure on the government not to make any changes. The 1903 act had denied any coverage at all to men who worked in mills, quarries and on ships. In New Brunswick these were three of the most common and most dangerous places to work. Hatheway wanted the act extended to cover all workers and to increase the benefits paid to them. He also wanted the workers covered if they were injured because of the negligence of another worker.

The government yield to the pressure from business and made only slight changes to the 1903 act. Nevertheless, because of Hatheway’s support as champion of the bill, it became known as “the Hatheway Act.” Hatheway supported it, not because he agreed with its provisions, but to preserve the principle that workers injured on the job were entitled to compensation.

Organized labour rejected the legislation outright, and Hatheway’s support for the legislation cost him labour support. There was a labour press in the province then and he was attacked by it. He also seems to have lost the support of his party and decided to take an independent line in the house. For the next three years he served as an independent. This is probably the best thing he could have done because it allowed him to speak on all sorts of things he never could have addressed as a member of the government party. He supported many ideas; more money for education and agriculture, the establishment of agricultural and technical colleges in the province, free school books and kindergartens, more fishing leases for Indians, preservation of the forests, the end of long-term and perpetual forest leases and votes for women. In voting down the proposal of votes for women, one government member said, “Politics could make women worse, but never better… putting women into politics would be like putting one good apple into a bucket of bad ones.” Hatheway’s wife, Ella, was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement in the province and in the fight for free kindergartens.

Looking at the list of things he was interested in and at the province today, we see that less progress has been made than should have been expected by now. Some of Hatheway’s concerns are much the same as those of today. Here is what he wrote on some old but current topics:

Women’s Liberation—“Listen to this about a man who was educating his son to be a doctor. I could not help asking; what about your daughter… why don’t you make her a doctor and give her a good education? He did not see it quite that way. She must stay at home and share the farm work with her mother and besides all the spare cash must be used to put the boy through college. How utterly unjust! To aid the one who is supposed to be the stronger and leave the weaker one without assistance. I am convinced that in most cases, it is pure pride which makes a farmer wish to turn his boy into a doctor. He is so anxious to see his own name perpetuated that he sacrifices the girl for the boy. This, also, will the new democracy change…”

Natural Resources—“Isn’t that fellow ahead, I whispered, one of our legislators who in 1895-96 gave away to the treasure-hunters the coal, oil and gas of seven counties and laid the foundation of the N.B. Petroleum Company? No he replied, on the contrary, he was the one who fought against the gift; but it was of no use. Government in those days did not realize the value of our natural resources.”

Bilingualism—“Dr. A: what do you think about this dual language that was so condemned by our Saint John member last session? I think precisely this, I said, that it is wise in the interest of society and trade to learn French, to speak it and to read it…”

In 1910, still sitting as an independent in the legislature, he proposed a bill to establish a Bureau of Labour in the province. This was an idea from his days in the Fabian League. The proposal passed almost unanimously. The Bureau of Labor is the predecessor of the current Department of Labour and it restored him to favour with labour groups in the province. His star rose further with labour in 1912 when he propose amendments to the Workman’s Compensation Act that restored most of the provisions removed by the compromise of 1908. He had redeemed himself with labour and he made an attempt to rejoin the government. He wanted to be the Commissioner of labour in the new Bureau that this bill had set up. This would give him a position in the Cabinet. The Premier refused to appoint him, despite the fact that he had the support of labour groups in the province. The Premier obviously found Hatheway to be too much of an independent. He wanted someone that he could control. Hatheway was profoundly disappointed and decided not to run again for the legislature, even though it is quite clear that he could have won easily.

As previously stated, during the 1903 campaign the opposition had tried to smear his reputation as a friend of the working people. They accused him of overcharging in his wholesale grocery business and that he speculated in land making unreasonable profits. Both suggestions were false. He was not a man to suggest that others should follow his principles and deny them himself.

As far back as 1883 he had begun to apply the co-operative idea to his business. He gave each employee a share of the firm’s profits to proportion to his salary. Later he took his long-term employees into partnership with him. It has been said that he was the first businessman in Canada, and perhaps in the British Empire, to include his employees in his business. As for the charge that he speculated and made unreasonable profits from the sale of land, the reverse is true. He literally gave land away. As usual, when he did so he had the well-being of working people at heart. He and his wife Ella gave a large tract of land at Ragged Point in Millidgeville to the members of the various trade unions in the City, for what he described as a “Labour Park.”  He set-up a Board of Trustees composed of representatives of several city unions and charged them with seeing that the land was used “for the recreation, moral and mental improvement” of the working people.

He said that the land was to be used for a Labour Park, but agreed that the Trustees might find it more useful for the trade unions to build a Labour Temple in the city. He said that if this was the case, the land at Ragged Point could be sold and the proceeds used to help finance it. His only stipulation was that no “spirituous or malt liquor, wine or other intoxicating liquor could be sold,” either at the park or the temple.

The Trustees did eventually sell the land and a substantial amount of the money was put into restoration of the W. Franklin Hatheway Pavilion at Lily Lake and the Frank and Ella Hatheway Labour Exhibit Centre was established as part of the restoration.

The last few years of his life were spent in the tranquility. He continued to write for the Saint John Globe, but where the earlier essays had directly addressed themselves to some problem that he was interested in, the later ones took the form of descriptions of walks in the countryside, or of fables of rural life. He never lost his concern for the little man or any of the causes he had believed in. He would interrupt a lyrical description of the flowers he found growing in a hayfield in June to report the conversation he had with the farmer who owned the field. In the course of the conversation he would write of the farmer’s complaint about how poorly compensated farmers were for the loss of the land where the telephone company had erected a row of poles. He would go on to explain how a different system was used in New Zealand, and then return to his description of the New Brunswick countryside.

He kept the faith to the end of his life, but he was not revolutionary. He believed in adapting the government to the needs of the governed.  He was so far ahead of his contemporaries in his thinking that many of his battles have not yet been won and his writings deserve a much higher place in the history of literary work in New Brunswick than it has received.

When he died in 1923, the working people of the province lost one of their most firm supporters and most eloquent voices. He was one of the best friends labour ever had.

(Harvey MacLeod is a former CBC journalist. Now retired, he resides in Hampton, NB.)