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Memorable Manitobans: Robert Boyd “R. B.” Russell (1888-1964)

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R. B. Russell
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Labour leader, socialist.

Born at Glasgow (Springburn), Scotland in October 1888, he came to Canada in 1911. A member of the Socialist Party of Canada, he was not active in labour’s opposition to the First World War or to conscription. He attended the Calgary Convention in early 1919, and was chosen one of the five Manitoba delegates to “carry on the propaganda” for the One Big Union. Leader of the International Association of Machinists Local 122, and secretary (a paid position) of district Number 2 in 1919, he was a main leader of the Winnipeg General Strike and a member of the Central Strike Committee.

He was arrested on 17 June 1919, and two months later became secretary-treasurer of the Winnipeg Labor Council formed by the One Big Union. Russell was the only member of the 15-person Central Strike Committee charged with seditious conspiracy. His trial began on 25 November 1919 and the verdict of guilty was delivered on 23 December 1919. The court was not sympathetic to Russell’s insistence that he was only acting as a paid agent of the strikers, and sentenced him to two years in prison. His appeal to the Manitoba Court of Appeal was unanimously dismissed, the court finding that his actions amounted to a seditious conspiracy. He tried to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, but failed because the matter was held to be a criminal rather than civil one. He subsequently successfully defended the OBU against a Communist Party takeover, but was unable to win office in the 1921 federal general election. He held on through the Depression as secretary of the OBU in Winnipeg.

He died at his Winnipeg home, 9 Kingston Row, on 25 September 1964 and was buried in Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens. In 1966, a new vocational high school in Winnipeg was named after him.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: R. B. Russell Vocational High School (364 Dufferin Avenue, Winnipeg)

Profiles in Dissent: The Shaping of Radical Thought in the Canadian West by Harry and Mildred Gutkin (1997), pages 135-180.

R. B. Russell and the Labour Movement by Kenneth Osborne (1978).

Sources:

1911 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.

Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 26 September 1964, page 34.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

We thank Norm Larsen for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 20 June 2017

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society.

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