All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Social/Economic Impact

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Railway Employees Welfare Association

After WWI Newfoundland found itself in a state of depression and crippling unemployment. Before the war ended workers in St. John's, led mainly by Newfoundland Railway employees, had organized the Newfoundland Industrial Workers Association, the NIWA, a workers' welfare movement. Organized in 1917, it dedicated itself to advancing the welfare of the ordinary worker. It published a newspaper, secured representation on local boards and committees, set up a co-op store, and organized lectures and discussions on social questions relevant to its members' interests.

In 1919 a Workmen's Compensation Act was passed by government, as well as an Industrial and Provident Societies Act to facilitate the setting up and operation of cooperatives and non-profit welfare associations.

Day to day conditions for railway workers gradually improved after 1923. In 1927 the Railway Employees Welfare Association (REWA) was established. A Sick Benefit Plan was established designed to maintain the income of a member while off sick from work. Right from its beginnings, the Association operated a Savings and Provident Fund which enabled members to save on a systematic basis through payroll deductions and to borrow for "any worthwhile purpose" at reasonable rates of interest. This fund continued over the whole life of the Association and was credited with helping members buy or build over 2,500 houses, mainly in St. John's but also in Bishop's Falls and other communities where railway men lived.

With Confederation in 1949, the Newfoundland Railway Company passed into the hands of the Canadian National Railway. This resulted in increased benefits to employees, better locomotives, and less strain on the provincial budget.

Group picture of the Railway Employees Welfare Association Board of Directors 1928-1931.
The Railway Employees Welfare Association introduced many social benefit programs for its workers at a time when such programs were unheard of in Newfoundland. Railway Coastal Museum.
Miners securing a section in a mine in Buchans.
"Shoring-up" in Buchans Mine. The Reids' vision of profitable mines in Newfoundland's interior did not live up to their expectations. However, the Buchans mine, which began shipping lead and zinc ore in 1928, was of great importance in helping Newfoundland's economy through the Depression of the 1930s. A.N.D. Company Collection.