“Prominent Labour Man Dies in City” read the headline in the April 19, 1954 issue of the Saint John Evening Times Globe. George Rennick Melvin had passed away on April 18th following a short illness of two weeks. Born in Saint John on March 1, 1888, he was the son of Daniel H. Melvin, who was in charge of the civic electric street lighting plant for many years. His mother was the former Annie Rennick. On June 15, 1915 he married Sadie Alberta Kenny. They had one son, George Kenneth. He resided on High Street, in the City’s North End and regularly attended the Portland United Church.
Melvin was educated in the Saint John public school system. In 1907, he left school to go to work for the White Candy Company, situated on Union Street. He left that company in 1912 to take a job as a wire drawer at the Maritime Nail Works. There he joined his first union, the Nail Workers Federal Labour Union 14199. In 1923, he left the Maritime Nail Works to take a position with the Hydro Power Commission as a station operator. He held that position until his retirement in 1953.
In 1914, Melvin attended the convention of the newly formed New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL) as a delegate from the Nail Workers Union. His leadership abilities were soon recognized and in 1918 he was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Federation. He continuously held that position for thirty-six years and became prominently identified with the labour movement in the province. He served for many years as the legislative representative for the Federation and was the author of a booklet on the history of the NBFL (1914-1933). He was, also, the Federation’s regular delegate to the national conventions of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada.
Melvin held a number of different positions in the Saint John Trades and Labour Council, including the office of Secretary-Treasurer and, at the time of his death, was the chairman of the finance committee. He was a chartered member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 502, and served as its President/Business Manager from 1932—1954.
He served for lengthy periods of time on several provincial boards and commissions. He was one of the original members of the New Brunswick Labour Relations and Fair Wages Board. During the Second World War he served as a member of the Wartime Labour Relations Board. He was a director of Maritime Blue Cross and a member of the Saint John Board of School Trustees. He served on the Vocational Committee of Saint John Vocational School and was a member of the Local Employment Committee of the Unemployment Commission. In 1931, he was appointed to a Commission of Enquiry into the Educational System in the province. He was often called upon to act on conciliation boards and was recognized as an authority on workmen’s compensation. At the time of his death, he was still active in many of these activities, including Secretary-Treasurer of the NBFL and President/Business Manager of IBEW, local 502.
Following his death there were many tributes acknowledging his contribution to both the labour movement and the province, including one from the Federal Minister of Labour, Milton F. Gregg, who released a statement recognizing his “devoted and successful service, not only to the Federation, but to his Province and the country.”
An editorial in the local newspaper stated, in part, “With the passing of George R. Melvin the organized labour movement in this province has lost one of its most active and widely known members…he was highly respected for his ability and for his readiness to give freely of his time and effort to worthwhile causes…his death removes a conscientious official, who made a useful contribution to the well-being and progress of labour in this part of Canada.”
His significant contribution did not go unnoticed by his Brothers and Sisters in the labour movement. The Saint John unions that were affiliated with the New Brunswick Federation of Labour erected a stone at his grave site. The inscription on the headstone reads: “36 years of Unselfish Faithful Service—Well done thou Good and Faithful Servant.”