Thursday, June 19, 2014

52 Ancestors #26: John Moynahan: Labour Leader

Circa 1935: John Moynahan in the arms of his father Ernest Moynahan
with his mother Rhea (Coughlin) Moynahan and sister Patricia Moynahan
No Story Too Small has issued a New Year's Challenge: "Have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.”

This is but a brief blog post with highlights of my Uncle John's life using pictures, newsclippings and web links. 

Much more could be written. I will leave that to my Windsor cousins who knew him best.

Writing about my beloved Uncle John also serves to highlight parts of my own father's (John's brother) early years in Windsor Ontario. He appears in some of the early pictures below.

Left to Right: John, Bernard, Ernie Jr. Ernie Sr. and Patricia Moynahan
Left to Right: Rhea (Coughlin), Ernie Sr., Ernie Jr., Patricia and John Moynahan 
on Marentette Ave., Windsor, Ont
Left to Right: Ernies (Jr and Sr) Patricia, Rhea (coughlin) and John Moynahan.

The Early Years

John identified himself as "The son of a Ford Canada worker" and a "typical Irish Catholic kid who grew up on Erie St."

John Moynahan's father Ernest Moynahan working
 at Fords Windsor, Ontario
"As a youth, he once considered taking up the religious life as a Christian brother but instead became a union leader where he often found himself helping people cope with their problems".

"When he was nine, he began packing potatoes at a grocery store and continued working there through high school. But that job, plus a paper route provided both a boost and the downfall to his academic career.

Moynahan said he always wanted to go to assumption High School but his parents couldn't afford the tuition. In Grade 10 he went anyway, using his part-time job to pay the tuition.

All went well until he and many other students failed Latin and the school decided to hold tutorials after regular classes - meaning he wouldn't be able to work and pay his tuition.

At that point he went to Tech and began his career as a tool and die maker."

"He was eleven years old when he witnessed the historic 1945 strike at Ford almost on his doorstep. In an interview (in 1981), he recalled going to the soup kitchens on Drouillard Road.
1945 Ford Strike - Windsor Ontario
A couple years after the Ford walkout, he led the first strike in Grade 9 at St. Joseph secondary school to lend support to a student demand for additional gym equipment.

The strike succeeded but Moynahan was tabbed as a ringleader and he had to learn the fine art of negotiation with the nun in charge."


Left to Right: Dan, Elizabeth, Shirley (Brazeau), Lorri and John Moynahan
on Arthur Rd, Windsor.
Son Chris (not in picture) was born later and was a CAW labour activist.
(Picture taken c 1961)
John married his life long love Shirley Jewel Brazeau and they had four wonderful children, two boys and two girls. John and Shirley raised their family on Arthur Rd.


President UAW/CAW Local 195


"Moynahan said he started being vocal in the union in the 1950s, but it wasn't until the 1960s that he became actively involved in the union as a skilled trades representative.

He was concerned with the way apprentices were handled and saw the union as a vehicle to express his opinions.

His interest grew as he attended union education courses, but he admits he learned more through talking and arguing with seasoned union leaders."

He started as a Plant Chairman at Dominion Forge before becoming Local 195 President.

"He moved through the ranks of his local and in1971 he was elected vice-president. A few months later, the locals President Bob St Pierre was appointed an international representative in Detroit, and Moynahan found himself at the helm.

John served as the UAW/CAW Local 195 President from 1972-1983; served as an international representative  for Sarnia-Dresden-Chatham-Wallaceburg in 1981; and served as the Windsor Region Director of the CAW from March 1982 until his death in 1987.

Source: Library and Archives Canada

This photograph (above) depicts the Canadian Collective Bargaining Conference held in Toronto on April 10th and 11th, 1976. The conference was held by the United Automobile Workers union who, at the time, represented auto workers in both the United States and Canada. In 1985, the Canadian division would break from this group and form the Canada Auto Workers union which represents auto workers in Canada to this day. The purpose of this conference was to set the general direction for each section of the union and in this case to also protest the wage controls that were being enacted by the Trudeau government at the time. The conference was attended by union representatives from both Canada and the United States. From left to right: Frank Fairchild (Administrative assistant), John Moynahan (President Loc. 195), Robert White (Administrative assistant) and Dennis McDermott (Canadian director of UAW).

Dennis McDermott went on to become the president of the Canadian Labour Congress - Congrès du travail du Canada (CLC) from 1978 to 1986 and Bob White was CLC president 1992 to 1999 (Shirley Carr was president in-between 1986–1992)

Health and Safety Activist: Asbestos

"Stemming from research conducted by McCann and John Pistor, a law student on a Ministry of Labour summer placement with Local 195, the brief presented to Starr by Local 195 president, John Moynahan, outlined in full detail the work histories of the three men - Henry Bednarick, Nelson Masse and Edward Rogers - and how their contact with asbestos was the most likely cause of their cancers. Given that the company had refused union requests to provide more details regarding the work histories of these and other workers, the union was left with no alternative but to present its case to the Workmen's Compensation Board."

This resulted in a precedent-setting decision where the Ontario's Worker's Compensation Board paid a worker who "may have gotten cancer at a Windsor factory."

Ivy Masse, wife of  Nelson Masse at public forum
Montreal Gazette July 23, 1979
The Argus Press Jul 20, 1979

1980 NDP Candidate

"In 1980 John Moynahan took up the New Democrat banner to challenge then incumbent Liberal Mark MacGuigan for the federal riding of Windsor-Walkerville but he was caught in the Liberal sweep across the nation and ran 6,000 votes behind MacGuigan"

Non-profit Social Housing Advocate

A non-profit co-op housing project was named after him: the John Moynahan Co-operative Homes at 1207 Labour Crescent, Windsor Ontario. There are 66 units (Back-split/two-story (4 accessible and modified units)) These homes were established in 1987.

John Moynahan Co-operative Homes, Windsor, Ontario
John Moynahan 1934-1987

"Looking back on his years at the local, he says that he regrets that more has not been done to change some of the inequities of society, and he regrets having deprived his family of his time....and anticipates he may never get around to learning how to play the banjo his wife bought him a few years ago."

Interesting links
Windsor Star Saturday Profile Jan 1981


  1. Hi
    On doing some research on my family I came across your blog. My Great Aunt Maude Ryckman and her husband Herbert lived on Arthur Street as well in Windsor. Do you know much about the street? On a recent senses they lived there in 1921 supposedly. When I do a search for house which was 627 Arthur St. that part of the street does not exist anymore nor do any of the homes. Did your family live close to this block?i'd be interested to know if the street continue down to the water at any point and if your family live within the vicinity. Even better if you had photos of the homes that would be great. Look forward to hearing from you. Duff M

  2. Hi Duff

    So sorry for the late reply. I really do not know much about the street unfortunately. I grew up in Mimico and my cousins lived on Arthur but not until the late 1950s

    You might try and contact the great folks at Windsor Past and present on facebook - lots of experts on Windsor Ontario then

    So sorry that I could not be more helpful