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Toronto’s Local 353 Celebrates 115th Anniversary

February 2, 2018
ibew local 353 logo with toronto skyline

On February 2, 1903, Canada’s second oldest existing IBEW chapter was formed. Almost 11,000 members strong today, Local 353 is a thriving part of the electrical construction industry in Ontario.

With 60% – 65% of the market share in electrical construction work in the Toronto area, Local 353 is one of the most successful Locals in Ontario.

“We’re very diverse,” comments Business Manager Steven Martin. “That gives us power and strength. Our retirees and young members are really active and play a huge part. Everyone works for the benefit of all.”

Local 353 has weathered two World Wars and several periods of intense economic instability. Throughout its history it has continued to work towards better standards for its members.

Martin is very mindful that his team must continue to improve in order to stay ahead in a very competitive construction market.

“I am proudest of our training centres,” says Martin, “and our ability to to ensure members have health benefits, pensions, training – everything they need to be a success in their careers, in their lives, and in retirement.”

“Since our inception we’ve stayed at the cutting edge of the industry. We don’t react – we enact.” Says Martin.

Knowing Your Roots

CN Tower, under construction.

CN Tower, under construction.

Martin is something of a history buff, especially labour history. “Knowing our history helps us form our future – you need to know how you got here in order to plan your next steps. We have so much history we can draw on as an example, so we know that our struggles today are part of something much greater.”

Commenting on the formation of the local, Martin says, “You have to remember that back in 1903 there was a new wave of innovation in progress. The Wright Brothers had their first flight, and not everyone in our city even had access to electricity. Unions were almost unheard of. Even in urban centres like Toronto, working conditions for electricians and powerline workers were horrible.”

A report from 1900 recorded 394 accidents in the Toronto area, of which 22 were fatal¹. On April 29, 1901, The Globe newspaper commented on the pressure workers faced to get the job done, no matter the cost:

“The workman is admonished by his foreman or employer to take sufficient time to ensure safety, to make everything perfectly secure, and to avoid accidents. At the same time he is admonished by the very same conditions under which he works to sacrifice all things, safety included, to speed for he knows that sloth is the unpardonable sin, that if his day’s work does not show satisfactory results he will be forced in to the ranks of the unemployed without further inquiry.”¹

This pressure is something today’s members understand all too well. “Safety will always be our key driver in how we do things,” says Martin. “Safety is paramount. It does you no good if you can’t go home to your family at the end of the day, or retire with dignity at the end of your career.”

Local 353’s retirees are a vital part of its membership. Martin is scheduling to get together with three members, all over the age of 100.

  • Earl Clarke – 105 years old
  • Stanley Vaivada – 101 years old
  • Sydney Woolnough – 100 years old

The Strength of Many

Round House, circa 1900

The John Street Round House, circa 1900. Today it is known as the Roundhouse Park.

“I’ve been blessed,” says Martin. “There are so many people that deserve my thanks, including our former business managers, and especially all of the members who go above and beyond to give back to their local and to our community.”

“I am also very grateful to all the members of the current executive board. We are 13 people who have 13 different opinions on everything, and we all come to one conclusion.”

In particular, Martin names current President Bob White, current Vice President Jeff Irons, and past Business Manager Joe Fashion (who greatly expanded Local 353’s market share in many construction sectors²).

“I would also like to thank past President Barry Stevens, who was such a great mentor to me.”
Local 353 can claim a number of firsts including:

  • The first NextGen group to be separately chartered in the IBEW.
  • The first retirees group to be separately chartered chartered in the IBEW.

“Any electrical workers, given a choice, choose IBEW over any other union. It changes lives for the better. That’s why I’m working towards representing all electrical workers in our jurisdiction.”

While no formal celebrations are planned to celebrate the 115th anniversary, Martin is sure there will be many smaller gatherings. “We’re planning something big for the 125th anniversary,” he says.

Further Reading:

1 – “Illuminating the Past, Brightening the Future: An Illustrated History of IBEW Local 353 1903 – 2003” by Edward E. Seymour – Page 7
2 – “Illuminating the Past, Brightening the Future: An Illustrated History of IBEW Local 353 1903 – 2003” by Edward E. Seymour – Page 148

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