Fonds RBSC-ARC-1181 - Arthur H. Evans fonds

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Arthur H. Evans fonds

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30 cm of textual material

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(April 24, 1890 - February 13, 1944)

Biographical history

Arthur was born on 24 April 1890 in Toronto, Ontario to English and Irish immigrant parents Samuel and Mary Ann Evans (nee Bryan). Arthur left school at age 13 to support both of his parents, who were of ill health. He worked at a variety of jobs including selling newspapers, driving a team of horses, and apprenticing as a carpenter. He left Toronto in 1911, at that time a journeyman carpenter. He travelled west working on farms in Saskatchewan. He also travelled to the United States where he became involved in labour rights movements. He was arrested and jailed for three years in Kansas City for reading the Declaration of Independence at a free speech rally. In 1913, Arthur was shot in the leg by a machine gun at a coalmine strike in Ludlow, Colorado.
Ethel and Arthur met while Arthur was working in Drumheller. Ethel had four sisters and six brothers, and the family was involved in militant movements to establish a union in the coal mining community. Ethel and Arthur married on 4 August 1920 in Drumheller. They had their first child, a son named Stewart who was born on 13 April 1922 and died in 1925 during the diphtheria epidemic in Vancouver. Their daughter Jean Stewart was born on 12 February 1927.
Arthur joined the Communist Party in 1926. In 1932, he became the British Columbia organizer of the National Unemployment Association, and later leader of the Workers’ Unity League. His opinions of workers’ rights were not always popular and throughout his career, he was kidnapped, jailed, shot, and had his car demolished. Arthur Evans is most well known for leading the On-to-Ottawa Trek in 1935 during which over 1,000 unemployed men rode the rails to Ottawa to appeal to the government for better working conditions at the government organized labour relief camps. This Trek ended in Regina on 1 July 1935 when a riot broke out among Trekkers, supporters, local police, and the RCMP.
On 23 January 1944, he stepped off a streetcar and was struck by an automobile while crossing the street at Kingsway and Joyce, Vancouver. At the time of the accident, he was employed at West Coast Shipyards as the shop steward in the Amalgamated Shipwright’s Union. He died on 13 February 1944 at the age of 54.

Custodial history

The fonds was donated to UBC Rare Books and Special Collections in 2008 from the On-to-Ottawa Historical Society. The files were not organized, and were received by the Historical Society intermingled with files created and assembled by Ben Swankey and Jean Shiels, co-authors of a book about Evans called Work and Wages! David Yorke from the Historical Society has attempted to return the files to their original order when possible, though some remain incomplete. When no original order could be ascertained, Yorke organized the papers in a way which reflects the nature of the documents, their origin, and the relationship to Evans’ life story. The documents created or assembled by Shiels and Swanky were removed and made an accrual of The Jean Shiels—Ben Swankey On-to-Ottawa Research Collection.

Scope and content

Fonds consists of legal documents, reports, publications, speeches, newspaper clippings and other material related to Evans’ labour activities, including the On-to-Ottawa Trek and resulting Regina Riot Commission, and the defence of Trek members arrested in the Regina Riot. There is also material related to the Canadian Labour Defence League, the Communist Party of Canada, and material in support of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.

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Physical condition

Some documents in this fonds are very fragile. Care should be used when viewing the materials.

Immediate source of acquisition


Arranged and described by David Yorke prior to arrival at UBC Rare Books and Special Collections. Processed at Rare Books and Special Collections, and finding aid created by Nicole Maunsell in 2008. In 2018 a small accrual was made in the form of a single file. This has been described intellectually as a part of Series A On-To-Ottawa, and has been physically arranged to follow the last physical file in the fonds.

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Finding aid created by Nicole Maunsell in 2008, revised by Claire Williams in 2018.

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