William Arthur Pritchard

William Arthur Pritchard (3 April 1888 – 23 October 1981) was a pioneer Canadian socialist politician and publisher. Pritchard is best remembered as a principal defendant in a 1920 sedition prosecution of nine leaders of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. He served a prison term for seditious conspiracy. After his release he eventually was elected mayor of Burnaby, BC during the Great Depression.


Early yearsEdit

Pritchard was born in England in 1888. He attended school in Swinton, a town in the City of Salford, part of Greater Manchester.[1] His Welsh-born father James Pritchard emigrated to British Columbia, Canada in 1900, when Bill was 12 years old.[2] While working as a miner in Canada,[3] James Pritchard became a socialist activist, splitting from the reformist Socialist Party of British Columbia in 1902 to help found the short-lived and tiny Revolutionary Socialist Party of Canada before joining the broader movement again as a founding member of the impossibilist Socialist Party of Canada (SPC) in January 1905.[4]

Back home in England the Pritchard family's financial situation remained difficult. Bill Pritchard's conventional academic career came to an end shortly before his 13th birthday when he was apprenticed to a Lancashire building contractor so that he might help support his family while learning the construction trades.[1] Pritchard nevertheless attended night school over the next seven years at two technical institutes, where he gained formal training.[1]

In 1911 Pritchard's father returned home from Canada for a short visit.[1] The 23-year-old decided to join his father on the return trip to North America, sailing with him across the ocean before traversing the breadth of Canada by rail to Vancouver on Canada's Pacific coast.[1] The pair arrived in Vancouver on May 19, 1911, and immediately went to meet with party leader E. T. Kingsley at the office of the Western Clarion, the weekly newspaper of the SPC.[1] Two days later Bill Pritchard attended his first socialist meeting and before the month was out, he was admitted as a card-carrying member of the SPC.[1]

He married in June 1913. His wife was also a SPC activist and ran for office in the 1920 Manitoba election, while William was in prison.[5]

Political careerEdit

The high point of Pritchard's political career was actually reached in the period after 1919, and especially after 1925, when the "Impossibilist" Socialist Party, as such, dropped out of electoral politics.

In 1926 he ran as an Independent Labour candidate in the sprawling federal constituency of New Westminster, promising workers and farmers there a war "on poverty" as an alternative to the personal partisanship of Arthur Meighen and Mackenzie King. He was badly beaten but did win certain polls—such as the railway workers' community of Port Mann. A key concentration of Labour voters in North Burnaby, where Pritchard had settled after his release from federal prison in the wake of the Winnipeg General Strike, was identified, and effectively used by Pritchard in subsequent campaigns for municipal office. Gaining the confidence of north-ward voters in rocky debates over pro-development issues on Burnaby council, he gambled, successfully, on a bid for the reeveship or mayoralty of Burnaby, just as the Depression set in (Winter, 1929–30).

1930s Burnaby MayoraltyEdit

He soon emerged as a major champion for local relief issues vis a vis senior governments, and was rewarded by a staggering majority (66 per cent) in his last municipal race (January 1932.) On his political watch, Burnaby gained unprecedented profile as a real or imagined laboratory of socialistic innovation.. A garbled report in the New York Times ( 23 September 1932) was headlined "Town Dispenses With Money; All Debts Paid with Labor." Although local co-operators had some success in building an alternative economy, municipal debts, as such, could scarcely be addressed by radical means. After long and winding controversy, a symbolic repudiation of municipal debt (a $25 bond payment in late 1932) triggered provincial receivership of the errant municipality. This move is known to have been well received in Conservative circles in Ottawa, where Pritchard was a persona non grata and Burnaby at large had become a strangely significant political headache.

Pritchard joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a new "left" political movement. But he was unable to win elective office under that banner.

He also failed in an ambitious bid to transform the party's provincial newspaper, The Commonwealth, which he edited during the mid-1930s, into a commercially competitive newspaper.

1919 Winnipeg General StrikeEdit

The Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 was the most crucial strike in the history of Canada. It originated from social inequalities along with poor working conditions in the working class domain. The strike resulted in numerous arrests and two deaths by police shootings. It though significantly contributed to the future evolution of labor movements and social democratic politics.[6]

William Arthur Pritchard was a key historical figure in the strike. As well as being one of the strikes leaders, "Bill" Pritchard pursued social and cultural goals.[7] He was arrested and found guilty of seditious conspiracy in March 1920 and sentenced to a year in prison.

While he served his time, his wife ran in the 1920 Manitoba election for the Socialist Party of Canada but she was unsuccessful in securing a seat.[5]

Death and legacyEdit

After Pritchard's engagement in the Winnipeg General Strike, Canadian society began to struggle against poor working conditions, unemployment on par with inflation, and dismal wages.

The legacy of William Arthur Prichard's life is Canada's movement toward more comfortable living conditions for workers, adequate wages, and better relationships between labour and government.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Harry Gutkin and Mildred Gutkin, Profiles in Dissent: The Shaping of Radical Though in the Canadian West. Edmonton, AB: NeWest Publishers, 1997; pg. 99.
  2. ^ Gutkin and Gutkin, Profiles in Dissent, pg. 98.
  3. ^ Peter E. Newell, The Impossibilists: A Brief Profile of the Socialist Party of Canada. London: Athena Press, 2008; pg. 64.
  4. ^ Gutkin and Gutkin, Profiles in Dissent, pg. 97.
  5. ^ a b Pritchard, Reminiscences of the old Socialist Party of Canada and his connections therein, p. 8
  6. ^ Peterson, Larry (1984). "Revolutionary Socialism and Industrial Unrest in the Era of the Winnipeg General Strike: The Origins of Communist Labour Unionism in Europe and North America". Labour / Le Travail. 13: 115–131. doi:10.2307/25140403. JSTOR 25140403.
  7. ^ Campbell, Peter (1992). ""Making Socialists": Bill Pritchard, the Socialist Party of Canada, and the Third International". Labour / Le Travail. 30: 45–63. ISSN 0700-3862. JSTOR 25143621.

Further readingEdit

  • Peter Campbell, "'Making Socialists': Bill Pritchard, the Socialist Party of Canada, and the Third International," Labour / Le Travail, vol. 30 (Fall 1992), pp. 45–63. In JSTOR.
  • Peter Campbell, "Bill Pritchard's Propaganda Tour of Alberta, Winter 1915-16," Labour / Le Travail, vol. 37 (Spring 1996), pp. 265–274. In JSTOR.
  • Peter E. Newell, The Impossibilists: A Brief History of the Socialist Party of Canada. London: Athena Press, 2008.
  • William A. Pritchard, Reminiscences of the old Socialist Party of Canada and his connections therein. Socialist Party of Canada, unpublished manuscript