When Local 304 was chartered in 1902, it was one of the first labour unions in Canada. Most of the unions that did exist 100 years ago have long since disappeared. The first official mention of Local 304 in any records is contained in the June 21, 1902 issue of “The Brewery Worker” {the International Union newsletter}. It reported,
“Organizer, Isaac Sanderson notified National Headquarters this week that a new union of brewery workers was organized by him in Toronto with over 50 charter members, and he expected more than 200 to be in the organization within two weeks. He speaks of these new members in the highest of terms and praises their enthusiasm. Preparations are now being made to organize the malt house workers, who number about 120 during the busy season. Once started, the work of organizing the brewery workers in Canada will be carried on with system and energy, and soon our brothers in Canada will learn the great good organized labour can accomplish.” We greet you Toronto brothers in the name of the older members within our ranks, are destined to tie the bonds of international fraternity and solidarity and become helpers in the great missionary work of the working class. Fulfill your duties, enjoy what you have attained through your organization, and follow always the slogan; “United we stand, divided we fall”.”

In that same month, June 1902, Local 304 received its International Charter. This was only 16 years after the first brewery delegates had met in secret in Baltimore to form the International itself.

Local 304 was not the International’s first attempt to form a Canadian local. A charter had been issued for a Local 282, Victoria, British Columbia, as early as August or September 1901 but the Local disappeared within three years and was replaced by a new Local 282, in Ashland, Wisconsin. Then about April 1902, another International Charter was issued to a Local 300, Guelph, Ontario, which did not last long either and was reorganized between 1908 and 1910. This Local 300 was finally merged with Local 304 in 1915, and, considerably later, was replaced by a new Local 300 in Vancouver, British Columbia, which still exists today. Thus Local 304 was the third brewery worker local chartered in Canada and can justly claim to be Canada’s oldest surviving Union in the brewing industry.

The original members of the Local in 1902 were far too busy to spend time on such theoretical matters as relative longevity. They wanted a collective agreement and they got one. They must have made some considerable and rapid progress too, because by the next contract, their demands became even tougher. On May 6, 1904, they went on strike against two of seven Toronto breweries in support of demand for 12 to 15 percent wage increases. The two breweries had refused to negotiate and when the strike started, the other five breweries immediately locked out all of their own employees in sympathy, leaving about 1150 men out of work. All seven breweries then announced publicly that they would have no further dealings with the Local, and that they would operate henceforth strictly on an open-shop basis.

The fledgling Local faced a severe test. Other Toronto companies banded together to support the breweries, and it became quite clear that Local 304 was the first target in a general anti-union campaign throughout the city. The membership of Local 304, however, with the aid of the other Toronto unions, was equal to the challenge. They brought beer in from outside Toronto and organized a highly successful boycott of all the breweries, which lasted five weeks. Eventually the conflict ended when the employers capitulated and agreed to most of the Local’s terms.

The final collective agreement negotiated in 1904 has unfortunately disappeared but the membership of the Local had obviously made their point. By 1908, they were making a minimum of $10.00 per week – high wages in those days – and they had perhaps the first master agreement in Canada covering all seven breweries; Copland Brewing Co., Cosgrove Brewing Co., Dominion Brewery Co., Kormann Brewery Co., O’Keefe Brewery Co., Toronto Brewing and Malting Co., and Reinhardt Co. Further, all seven breweries had agreed to employ only union members – a position which no Toronto brewery has dared to challenge.

The Local has also survived all of these original breweries.
In retrospect, however, that 1908 contract had its humorous side also. One provision, for example, required that; “Drivers shall keep their horses, wagons, and harness in proper condition at all times with the exception of Sunday, when the drivers shall be compelled to put their horses in proper condition.” It might be interesting to see the reaction of a present day Labatt or Molson driver who was forced to live up to that stipulation.

The 1904 dispute and its successful resolution so firmly established Local 304’s position in Toronto that there were only a few major problems for many years. The wage rates and the collective agreements improved steadily every year as the Local became even stronger. There were only two sizeable difficulties throughout this period and until the nineteen fifties came upon us. The first of these two situations occurred when the Government of Ontario adopted the Temperance Act of 1916, which prohibited the breweries from selling regular beer and restricted them to producing only light beer. Naturally the breweries themselves were severely crippled by this limitation and employment among Union members suffered accordingly until the Act was modified in 1925 and was entirely repealed in 1927.

The second and more serious difficulty arose in April 1923 when O’Keefe Breweries refused to grant the same wage rates, benefits and working conditions that had been secured throughout the rest of the industry. There was a strike, and although the strikers eventually went back to work without securing all of their objectives, the dispute continued until June, 1930, and was not resolved until the brewery changed hands and the new owners adopted a more reasonable policy towards their employees.


Lager Beer
Wash House $11.50 $10.50
Bottlers 10.50 10.50
Drivers 13.00 11.50
Drivers’ Helpers 10.50 10.50
Single Drivers 11.00 11.00
Team Drivers {Bottlers} 11.50 11.50
Team Helpers 10.50 10.50
Cellar Men 13.00 11.00
Fermenting Room 13.00 13.00
Kettle 12.00 12.00
Stable Men 11.00 11.00
Other Help not specified 10.00 10.00″

Even back then, however, it wasn’t all work. In September 1906, the Local took time out to host the first convention of the International Union to be held outside the United States. There were 142 delegates to the Convention, the largest the International Union had held to date, and it lasted for 13 days, and a few nights. The record shows that a fair amount of business was transacted during the session, including the passage of one resolution to exempt boys and girls employed in the breweries from the payment of special assessments provided that their regular wage was less than $10.00 per week. There was also a resolution to increase strike benefits to $7.00 per week. This increase in strike benefits allowed most members of Local 304 to receive almost 70 percent of their base rates during strikes and lockouts.

There was time for entertainment too. The official minutes for the second day of the convention, September 11, 1906 reported that;
“An invitation of the Local Unions of Toronto to take part in a street-car ride through the city was accepted and the motion carried to adjourn until tomorrow, Wednesday morning at 9 o’clock. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon the delegates assembled near the City Hall from which point the trolley ride began. The tour was arranged in such a manner that all things worth seeing, especially the breweries in the City of Toronto were shown to the delegates, but only from the outside. A curious law forbids the proprietor of any brewery from giving any beer to visitors, or even to employees and this may have been the reason why the delegates were not invited to visit inside the breweries. As a matter of fact we saw in a daily paper that proprietors of breweries at Berlin, Ontario and Hamilton, Ontario were fined $25.00 and costs for giving beer to their employees. The trip brought us to a park or rather forest on the east end of the city, which, in its still virgin-like condition made a fine impression. To our regret, we could find only New Jersey Ice cream and warm soda in the line of refreshments. It is not necessary to say that very little of those delicacies was consumed by the delegates. On the way back the whole length of the city was crossed again until we reached High Park, located at the west end of Toronto on Lake Ontario. Here we finally got an opportunity to quench our thirst and kill our hunger, as the Locals of Toronto had arranged for a very good lunch and a few kegs of beer. The delegates amused themselves for several hours in boating and in having a good time in general until later in the evening, when we rode back to the city enjoying the tunes played by the bank we had taken along.”

A few days later on September 15, the delegates did get an invitation to tour O’Keefe Brewery. It is to be hoped that, curious law or no curious law, they managed to refresh themselves with something more than ice cream and soda.

Meanwhile Local 304 had not been negligent in other areas. Organizing was a priority and the membership was extremely energetic about it. Only four months after the Local was originally formed, the malt workers in Toronto were organized as part of Local 304, and then given a separate charter as Local 317. They retained this Charter and identity until February 1917, when they again merged with Local 304.
After the Convention, the organizing work began in earnest. From 1911 on, branch locals were established in Peterborough, North Bay, St. Thomas, Welland, and St. Catharines. Eventually all these branches ceased to function, with the exception of the one in St. Catharines, which was separately chartered as Local 326 in 1934, and only ceased to function in the 1960’s when most of the major breweries centralized their Ontario operations in Toronto.

St. Catharines was also the home of another local, Local 305, which was chartered almost at the same time as Local 304. Local 305 had a rather turbulent history. It became a branch of Local 304 in 1908, was reorganized as Local 305 in 1910, and then became a branch of Local 304 again in the same year. It was finally disbanded in 1917.