Arthur Embert Skaling was born in Cambridge, Nova Scotia on September 9, 1891, into a family of five brothers and two sisters. He was the son of Joseph Frederick Skaling, who was a mason contractor, and Margaret Belle MacLean.
Skaling received his early education in the Nova Scotia public school system. He also took a variety of subjects in night school, including business courses, blueprint reading and estimating. His first employment was with S.M. Brookfield & Company of Halifax. In 1912 he married Belle L. Brown of Windsor, Nova Scotia. They had a son (Gordon) and three daughters (Doris, Nellie and Catherine).
In 1915 he enlisted with the 64th Battalion at Camp Sussex. He was soon sent to the front with the 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalion. In 1916 he was wounded while fighting in France in the Battle of Somme—one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. He was discharged from the army in 1919, with the rank of Sergeant. For his service he was awarded the Victory and General Service medals. He served in the Reserves during the Second World War.
Following the war Skaling returned to Wolfville, N.S. where he worked as a District Manager for R.A. Jodrey & Company. In 1923, Skaling and his friend George Sabean left for the United States and were successful in finding work as bricklayers in Lynn, Mass. There Skaling worked as a mason journeymen, foreman and superintendent.
As a result of the 1929 stock market crash work became scarce, and Skaling and Sabean returned to Canada in 1930. While traveling through Saint John they discovered that work was underway for the new Saint John General Hospital and that the City was looking for bricklayers. Both men found employment with the Mooney Construction Co., Skaling as a masonry construction foreman.
Skaling soon became involved in the trade union movement. On December 4, 1931 he was initiated as a member of Local 1 of the Bricklayers, Masons & Plasterers International Union. He subsequently became president of the local and served in that position for almost twenty years. In 1945 he was elected president of the Saint John Trades and Labour Council and held that position until 1952. He also served for a time as the president of the Saint John Building and Construction Trades Council.
Art Skaling did not restrict his activities to trade union matters. In 1940 he was elected as a Saint John City Councillor and held that position until 1944. While serving on Council he was elected to the executive of Mayors and Municipalities of Canada. He also served as a school trustee, was a member of the Saint John Housing Committee, the Municipal Abattoir Commission, and the Saint John city taxes court of revision. He was also active in a number of local charitable causes, including the Community Chest, the Cancer Society and the Arthritis Association of New Brunswick.
In 1952, he was elected as a Progressive Conservative member of the New Brunswick Legislature, in an election where the labour vote contributed to the defeat of the Liberal government, which had opposed recognition of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers at New Brunswick Power. Premier Hugh John Flemming immediately appointed Skaling Minister of Labour, a position he held until his death in 1960. One of the new government’s first steps was to amend the Labour Relations Act to allow employees of boards and commissions to be brought under the act by order-in-council. During his eight years as New Brunswick’s Labour Minister he introduced the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act which applied to government contracts, the Weekly Rest Period Act, the Vacation Pay Act and fundamental human rights legislation for the workplace, preventing discrimination based upon race, national origin, colour or religion. He also introduced amendments to the Workers Compensation Act that were supported by the labour movement. Art Skaling also served as acting minister of municipal affairs and for a short period of time served as the acting Premier of New Brunswick. In 1955 he was a member of the Canadian delegation to the 38th session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
Art Skaling passed away in the Lancaster Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital on May 24, 1960, following a four-month illness. In spite of his failing health, he had told friends that he intended to run again in the upcoming June 27th election.
When his death was announced, the President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, Angus MacLeod, said: “The efforts of Brother Skaling on behalf of all working people, both as a representative of labour and minister of labour, will not soon be forgotten and cannot easily be replaced. His high ethical and moral standards have always been an example to all of us and have done much to make the labour movement honoured and respected.” Speaking on behalf of District 26 and local 7409 of the United Mine Workers of America, Mathias Wuhr of Minto stated: “Labour in this province has lost a real friend. A delegation of mine workers was always well received and welcome in his office at anytime. He was always very much interested in the welfare of the coal miners and their families.”
When the New Brunswick Federation of Labour met in convention, in August 1960, the respect the labour movement held for Art Skaling was unmistakable. The convention delegates held a moment of silence, in recognition of his passing.
In a statement released to the press, New Brunswick Premier Hugh John Flemming said: “New Brunswick has lost one of the outstanding figures in its public life whose services have been of inestimable value to the province and whose devotion to his public duties has been an example to all.” In a September 14, 1972 interview in the Telegraph Journal, the former premier called Art Skaling, “the most ideal labour leader I’ve ever had anything to do with,” and praised him, “as one of the great figures of my lifetime.”
When his funeral was held on May 27th, at St. George’s Anglican Church in West Saint John, the crowd overflowed onto the surrounding grounds. It is interesting to note that while there were many dignitaries, including Premier Flemming, listed as honourary pallbearers, all of the active pallbearers were representatives of the labour movement. They were: James A. Whitebone, Robert L. Sproul, Hugh C. Tracey, J. Richard Shiels, George Sabean and Albert A. Vincent.
Following the funeral, Arthur E. Skaling was laid to rest in Cedar Hill Extension Cemetery, in West Saint John.