Cape Breton's Magazine

> Issue 64 > Page 54 - Work Poetry of John J. "Slim" MacInnis

Page 54 - Work Poetry of John J. "Slim" MacInnis

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1993/8/1 (157 reads)

air of the "Notre Dame March" no less • which is contained in a song sheet put out by the Industrial Relations Department of Dosco in the 1950s: We are the boys who roll out the steel Give 'em the stuff with lots of appeal We make billets, bars and rails The coke, the wire and the rails. After we get the coal and the ore Begins the rest of aU our chores Domcos, Discos, Doscos too I'd bet you'd like to join us too. Tripe aside, there seem to be only jocular albeit not inaccurate ones such as "Dumping Slag over to the Steel Plant," which de? scribes the initial impressions of someone coming to live and at? tempting to sleep in close proximity to the plant, or more recent plaintive, quasi-militant ones like "Let's Save Our Industry" from the 1960s.' Few have come from within the plant gates. The substantial amount of verse and song which came out of the working class struggles of industrial Cape Breton • one thinks especially of the writings of Dawn Fraser, and pieces such as "Arise Ye Nova Scotia Slaves" and "The Yahie Miners" • 'have concentrated little on the situation of the Sydney steelworkers. Yet the strength of local traditions in industrial Cape Breton, the richness of the sources from which it draws, has been rec? ognized.* A recent article makes it clear that the "country of coal" is well represented.* The same cannot be said of the steel- making portion of the industry. Even Dawn Fraser (in his Echoes from Labor's Wars) makes only fleeting reference in his work, mentioning the provincial police charge on church? goers in 1923 in an ode to i Forman Waye, a steel? worker leader of the 1920s.* Maclnnis is him? self unaware of other steel? workers using the pen as an industrial weapon. "Slim" Maclnnis was bom in the Ashby area of Syd? ney in 1911. At eighteen he started at the steel plant. ' Six months later, in Octo? ber 1929, he was laid off. That winter he managed two more months on the plant but after a thirty day period without a shift "I threw my lunch can and cheque number away and gave it up." Like many single, young men he "rode the rods" for much of the next decade. It was "the most interesting period of my life...." (During that period he did work for close to a year on the "Black Diamond" boats carrying coal and rails.) Ten years later he retumed, initially working for a contractor dismantling No. 8 Blast Fumace. When the job was completed he again joined the Dosco work force. He had not forgotten the lost decade and his first attempt at writing verse occurred in this transitional period from the depression to the war econo? my. It was published by M. A. MacKenzie in the Steelworker & Miner and immediately subjected to the scrutiny of govemment officials. They were not amused. ' "It brought us joy, and brought us tears/ It's been here over sixty years/ It built our homes and stilled our fears/ And made this island what it is./ Chorus: Let's save our industry.../ The industry we need...." by Charhe MacKinnon. David Frank, "Tradition and Culture in die Cape Breton Mining Community in the Early Twentieth Century," in K. Donovan, ed.. Cape Breton at 200 (Sydney 1985), 203-18; Charles W. Dunn, Highland Settler: A Portrait of the Scottish Gael in Cape Breton and Eastern Nova Scotia (Breton Books, 1991). An excellent introduction to this still neglected area is David Frank, "The Industrial Folk Song in Cape Breton," Canadian Folklore Canadien, 8,1-2 (1986) 21-42. See also Helen Creighton and Calum MacLeod, Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia (Ottawa 1979); John C. O'Donnell, The Men of the Deeps (Wa? terloo 1975); Ron MacEachern, ed., Songs and Stories from Deep Cove, Cape Breton (Sydney 1979); Alphonse MacDonald, Cape Breton Songster (n.p. 1935); Stuart McCawley, Cape Breton Come-All-Ye (Glace Bay 1966 [1929]). Echoes from Labor's Wars • The Expanded Edition by Dawn Fraser, Breton Books (1992). DON'S FLOWERS Serving Port Hood, Judique, Inverness and Surrounding Areas p. O. Box 179, Port Hawkesbury, N. S. BOE 2V0 Telephone 625-2215 or 625-2717 (Eap' irrton Cape Breton Island You're always welctnne to come and enjoy the vvami hospitality' of Cape Breton Bed and Breakfasts - an island experience that goes hand in hand with our unique aiid splendid scenery. If you appreciate the perstmal touch and all the comforts of a home, then check into a Cape Breton B&B; tm your island vacatitm. 1-800-565-9464 for inttirmatitm. Suppliers of Commercial Recreational Fencing p. 0. Box 98, King St., North Sydney, N. S. B2A 3M1 794-4773 "HAVE OUR AUGER TRUCK DIG YOUR HOLES." DON'T MAKE A MOVE WITHOUT US! • LOCAL • LONG DISTANCE • OVERSEAS LARGE OR SMALL - WE MOVE IT ALL 'MOFFATT Moving & Storage SAFELY, EFFICIENTLY & INSURED CALL THE PROFESSIONALS • OVER 40 YEARS EXPERIENCE Financing Available O. A. C. 30- to 90-Day Interest Free VISA I Mastercard on Long Distance FREE ESTIMATES 562-0222 80 MARINE DR., SYDPORT '' AUos Weekends & Atter Hours VAN LINES / AGENT 564-0963/562-1978 "
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