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Political Science Labor & Industrial Relations

A Hard Man to Beat

The Story of Bill White: Labour Leader, Historian Shipyard Worker, Raconteur

by (author) Howard White

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Oct 2011
Labor & Industrial Relations, Business, Historical
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2011
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 16
  • Grade: 11


Bill White (1905–2001) was an itinerant ranch hand and trapper, a member of the RCMP and an Arctic traveller, but he was best known for his work as the head of the Vancouver Labour Council and president of the Marine Workers and Boilermakers Union, the largest local union in Canada in his time. It was a position he held for eleven straight years during WWII, the heyday of the West Coast shipbuilding industry. Known as "Bareknuckle Bill," White was fierce and unrelenting in his condemnation of the companies and governments that refused to treat their workers like human beings. He personally fought one of the first big right-to-work cases in BC history, all the way to the Privy Council of England.

From the scaffolds and docks of the shipyards to the battleground of the bargaining table, White's stories about the struggle for labour and human rights in Vancouver in the '40s and '50s make for harrowing and fascinating reading. A Hard Man to Beat not only covers all the major labour events of the period, but brings to life the personality of the man, Bill White, in his own colourful—and sometimes expletive-filled—language. Author Howard White spent years of intensive research and worked closely with Bill to create this oral history, which sold out its first printing in two days when it was first published in 1983.

A Hard Man to Beat is one of ten Vancouver 125 Legacy books, an initiative created by the City of Vancouver, the Office of Vancouver's Poet Laureate Brad Cran and the Association of Book Publishers of BC to bring back into print a collection of books to celebrate Vancouver's 125th anniversary.

About the author

Howard White was born in 1945 in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He was raised in a series of camps and settlements on the BC coast and never got over it. He is still to be found stuck barnacle-like to the shore at Pender Harbour, BC. He started Raincoast Chronicles and Harbour Publishing in the early 1970s and his own books include A Hard Man to Beat (bio), The Men There Were Then (poems), Spilsbury's Coast (bio), The Accidental Airline (bio), Patrick and the Backhoe (childrens`), Writing in the Rain (anthology) and The Sunshine Coast (travel). He was awarded the Canadian Historical Association's Career Award for Regional History in 1989. In 2000, he completed a ten-year project, The Encyclopedia of British Columbia. He has been awarded the Order of BC, the Canadian Historical Association's Career Award for Regional History, the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award and a Honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree from the University of Victoria. In 2007, White was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He has twice been runner-up in the Whisky Slough Putty Man Triathlon.

Howard White's profile page

Librarian Reviews

A Hard Man to Beat: The Story of Bill White: Labour Leader, Historian, Shipyard Worker, Raconteur

This is a biography of the leader of the largest union in Canada during his lifetime. “Barenuckle Bill” was pivotal in both the Vancouver Labour Council and then, more importantly, in the Marine Workers and Boilermakers Union. His passion for and commitment to getting fair and humane treatment for blue-collared workers is ably and admirably described and documented in this work. White’s gift for and tactics in bargaining are emphasized as well as the labour and economic scene in BC during much of the 20th century. This oral history narrative is not only a tribute to the accomplishments and tenacity of White but also a very interesting overview of Vancouver’s labour scene from the Depression to post WWII.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2012-2013.

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