Booth and His Employees

Loggers in a Booth lumber camp, 1895 National Archives of Canada / C-075266

Booth's relationship with his employees is characterized by generosity and sternness. His desire to ensure the well being of his employees was tempered by his fervent belief that he could best ascertain what their needs were.

Examples of Booth's generosity are many. In 1895, he reduced their working day from 11 to 10 hours without any corresponding drop in wages. Other mill owners soon followed his example. In August 1910, Booth gave his 2,000 employees full pay for the time lost due to a strike on the Grand Trunk Railway. The company paid out over $12,000 voluntarily. Booth told his crew it would be a pity if they had to starve because someone else decided to strike. On July 1, 1911, Booth received great praise from the labour unions because he reduced the working hours of his men in the paper mill to eight hours a day without any request on the part of the employees.

Not only did Booth take the initiative to ensure that his employees were well looked after, he responded to the concerns of those he trusted. In 1910, J.R.B. Coleman, Booth's nephew, briefly worked in one of his uncle's lumber camps. When visiting his uncle at headquarters one weekend, Coleman questioned his uncle about the disparity in the quality of the food served in the camps and the food served at headquarters. "Down here they eat fresh beef, biscuits, pickles, and they have just anything they want, but in the lumber camps we don't have any of those things." J.R. didn't say a word, but the next week in came the beef, barrels of pickles, biscuits, everything. "He just didn't know what we were fed in the lumber camps," Coleman explained, "for he had never worked in a camp."

Cookery on J.R. Booth's raft, ca. 1880 William James Topley / National Archives of Canada / PA-008405

 

While Booth generally maintained good relations with his employees, he violently disliked interference by outside parties. After a brief strike by 400 of his workers in December,1918 because of Booth's refusal to grant them an increase in wages, the journal, Canada Lumberman and Woodworkers, carried a less than complimentary editorial about Booth which subsequently appeared in the Ottawa Journal. Booth wrote a strong letter of protest, pointing out that,

"All the timber lands that I hold I bought in the open market in the same way P.D. Ross, editor of the Ottawa Journal, might buy a printing press, and I paid for most of them a price that was considered exorbitant at the time. I have not written this letter to boast of what I have done but I do not wish people to think that I have got something for nothing, and that I am unfair to my men with whom I have had the best relations for so many years and shall have again, if outsiders would not seek to stir up strife."

Despite J.R. Booth's authoritarian mannerisms and his great wealth, his employees felt he was one of their own. He could afford the most extravagant carriage, yet for 50 years traveled to work with a mill hand in a horse and buggy. Booth never changed his industrious working habits or adopted the manners of the rich. He wore his clothes until they were "green with age'' and his piercing blue eyes and shock of white hair were familiar sights in his mills right up to his death in 1925.