Aboriginal Commitment

BC Ironworkers Local 97

Ironworking has been part of Aboriginal tradition for over a hundred years. The craft has been passed down from one generation to the next and is a source of pride for many Aboriginal families in Canada.

Oral history tells that the first Aboriginal peoples to practise ironwork were the Mohawks of central and eastern Canada. In 1886, the Canadian Pacific Railway {CPR} began construction on a bridge that would span the St. Lawrence River, connecting the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve to Montreal, Quebec.

CPR hired men from Kahnawake to work on the bridge as labourers. But from the beginning, it was clear that the people of Kahnawake were suited to ironwork. As soon as construction was finished for the day, the Kahnawake labourers climbed the skeleton of the bridge and walked bravely across the high girders.

Their grace, balance, and agility did not go unnoticed. When management became aware of the labourers’ ability to walk the high beams, they hired and trained a dozen Kahnawake men as ironworkers. Co-workers were so impressed with the new tradespeople that they recognized them as natural ironworkers.

Over the years, many people from other First Nations communities followed in the footsteps of the Kahnawake Mohawks. Their bravery and natural balance became legendary across Canada and the United States.

In the early 1900s, when iron bridges and modern-day skyscrapers first made an appearance, ironworkers from Kahnawake, Six Nations of the Grand River, and the nearby Mohawk community of Akwesasne took their craft to New York City. In keeping with the nomadic tradition of their ancestors, Aboriginal ironworkers from both communities travelled to Manhattan to work on the Empire State Building, the George Washington Bridge, the Chrysler Building, the United Nations Building, and the World Trade Center.

And it didn’t stop there. Workers from Aboriginal communities in Quebec and Ontario travelled west to build the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver.

Today, people from Aboriginal communities across Canada proudly earn a living as ironworkers. It’s become a family tradition for Aboriginal workers in eastern and western Canada alike. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba all have a strong contingent of Aboriginal ironworkers in the reinforcing industry.

Whenever 97 undertakes a large-scale project, there are Aboriginal members in the crew. There’s always been a place for Aboriginal ironworkers at Local 97, and there always will be!