Friday, September 3, 2010

The Union House

A now-abandoned lock of the Second Welland Can...Image via Wikipedia



Black and empty now, Hallett's Bar has been standing on Merritt Street in my home town of Merritton, Ontario, since 1875.

Hallett's Bar is also known as 'The Union House'. I never knew how it had earned its nickname until last year when my 94 year old aunt told me a little of its history.


When she was a young girl she managed to land a job in one of the factories in town. The working conditions were grim; long hours, low pay, no breaks and a boss who terrified the girls.

Then one year the union came in from Toronto and organized the workers. They got a pay raise, breaks, a real bathroom and the boss was forced to stop his bullying.

Happy ending, right?
A publick notice about the opening of the Firs...

Well sort of.

The new problem was the union meetings.



You see, Merritton was settled by Irish Protestants and Catholics who came to build the first Welland Canal. They had been fighting with each other since before the earth was formed.

 When they first arrived in this area in the early 1800s their battles were murderous and often required intervention by the local militia.


The Toronto Union leaders had no idea of what they had gotten themselves into, because suddenly the descendents of the original Irish workers had a common enemy .

The first rule was that every worker, male or female, had to attend the union meeting. The second, (unofficial), rule was that on the appointed day the men had to get off work, go straight to Hallett's Bar and get drunk first.

Hallett's became a clubhouse for the male workers. Hence the name, 'The Union House'.

Unfortunately, the female workers often got caught in the ensuing mêlée.



Well the factories are all gone now, moved to Mexico I suppose, and the unions are also gone, (but not likely to Mexico), and if you tried to find it on a map, even my old home town of Merritton is gone, swallowed up by St. Catharines.

But 'The Union House' is still there - closed and quiet, a reminder of a time when the labour movement was young and the factories of Southern Ontario kept this country running.

Have a great Labour Day Weekend, everybody!







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