by John Hall

I went back to school after my summer on the stack feeling proud that I had been a real working man, capable of holding down a man's job and paid a man's wages. I had money in my pocket while I was working and it was a good feeling, so good that the idea of leaving school and going to work started growing in my mind. My second summer at the canning factory killed that idea and maybe the boss at the factory knew what I was thinking and decided to show me that bull labour was all I would get if I didn't have an education and hard work didn't always pay well. If that was what he intended, he did it well and I soon learned the error in my thinking and was more than ready to return to school in September. He gave me one of the best paying jobs in the factory and all I had to do for 35 cents an hour was catch bullets from a machine gun. Ted Sinnott who was a second year university student wore a white coat, worked in the lab and got sixty cents an hour because he had the education and training to do the job. 

There was a machine on the main floor of the factory known as the 'monster' and it's function was to put the uncooked peas and liquid into the cans and seal them. The peas and brine were fed into the machine from the floor above and the right amount of peas and liquid was put into each can as it passed a spout. The can was then sealed and fed out of the machine on to a long belt which ran about 30 feet down to a tray on the end. This had ledges on three sides to keep the cans from going off the end, but the fourth side was open and that's where I stood. Immediately to my right was an overhead track on which very large metal baskets ran and eventually pushed down to large cookers in the floor where they were lowered in, the top sealed and everything in the basket was steam cooked. The area I worked in was hot because of the cookers and wet because the cans were wet when they came out of the monster. I soon found out the monster fired the cans out at the rate of 60 cans per minute and my job was to take them from the tray on the end of the belt and put them in the wire basket. When the tray was full a helper pushed it down to the cooker and it was lowered in. By this time I was well into filling the next basket and I had to be careful not to dent the cans when I put them into the basket.

As can be seen, the process of canning peas was well organized and quite efficient, except in one area and that was getting the canned peas from the tray on the end of the belt into the large baskets. That was strictly a handraulic operation and it was my hands that had to do the job. I was given a piece of belt about three feet long and three inches wide and was expected to hold the ends of the belt in my hands and loop it around as many cans as I could hold and lift. I then turned and in one motion placed them in the basket beside me and returned for another load. Remember, cans were coming down that belt at the rate of 60 per minute and I had to move them into the basket without falling behind or dropping them and the machine rarely stopped. There was no relief and the only thing the factory gave me was a few salt pills so I wouldn't pass out. The problem was to be able to get a drink and take a pill and still not fall behind. It was like catching bullets from a machine gun that rarely stopped firing. Hager was my assistant and supposed to spell me off, but he couldn't do it very long before he started to pass out so he really did most of the basket moving and straightening any cans that fell over when I loaded them in. The boss promised me 35 cents an hour to do the job which most called, 'strapping off' and Hager was to get 30 cents an hour as he was to spell me off when I had to go to the bathroom, etc. The first week we worked a full seven days and averaged 12 hours a day, but when we got our pay envelopes we only received 25 cents an hour and we were only paid for eight. There was something drastically wrong and I went to see the boss. He tried to tell me that the Company had overruled him and he couldn't give us what had been promised and that was it. He also told us to "Get back on the line or we would get fired and never work for him again." I thought about that for a few moments and then I realized he didn't have anybody to replace us because nobody else would do the job. There just wasn't anybody in that factory who would strap off for any amount of money and so I said, "You promised us and we did the job fair and square. I think you're trying to cheat us and I don't want to work for people like you. Here's your strap, find somebody else." And Hager and I left.

We went down to the File pond, had a good swim and spent the whole afternoon there. When I went home for supper my Dad told me that the canning factory had been calling me all afternoon and the boss wanted to talk to me. I told Dad what had happened and he was angry we hadn't been paid what we had been promised. As we were talking the phone rang and I answered it. The lady who worked in the canning factory office said the boss wanted to see me and would I come down to the factory. I asked her to put him on the phone and she laughed and said, "He can't Johnny, he's strapping off and it's almost killing him." I told her to get his message and phone me back as I saw no point in going there as the company had overruled the boss and I had no intention of doing that job for 25 cents an hour. If he wanted me back I wanted the money owed me for the work I had done and a raise for all future work to 45 cents an hour and I wanted him to agree in front of witnesses. Otherwise, he could strap off for the rest of the summer. In about 15 minutes she phoned back and Hager's dad who was built like a tank and was known to be a good man in a fight went with us to meet the boss. He agreed to our terms, gave us the back pay we were owed and handed me the strap.

We spent the rest of the summer working at the canning factory, but I realized that education was necessary if I was to get any job that would pay well. I returned to school in September having got rid of my idea of quitting school and going to work. I could wait until I finished school and, while getting a university education wouldn't be easy, every time I was ready to give up I remembered the 'monster' and saw myself catching machine gun bullets for the rest of my life at 35 cents an hour. I also learned that being able to do a job that nobody else could or would was a way to ensure that you would always be in demand and could get a good day's pay for a good day's work. I never forgot it.