BCTF Online Museum

The BCTF is born: 
The need for an independent teacher voice

The BCTF was created because teachers needed a voice that was independent from Education Department officials and from Inspectors, the people who “inspected” schools and teachers, according to Harry Charlesworth, the first General Secretary of the BCTF.

Teachers’ Institutes had been around for decades and had annual conferences.  However, the executives of these organizations were primarily the very people who had authority in the system—the department officials and inspectors.  Charlesworth said “it is therefore easy to understand that many questions of direct and vital interest to teachers could hardly be discussed at Institute gatherings.”

This need led teachers in the larger cities to create local associations “for the purpose of discussing educational questions.”  The meetings frequently were held during school hours, with regulations providing for early dismissal for these discussions.

[It should be noted that principals were included as members of the associations and often played a significant role in the building of the BCTF.  They continued as BCTF members until removed by legislation in 1988.]

Charlesworth, writing in the December 1937 issue of The B.C. Teacher, tells the story of how these locals came together to form the provincial organization:

It was perhaps only natural that these Local Associations should in the course of time extend their field of activities to include problems of direct concern to the teachers’ welfare, and particularly those affecting the economic and financial position of the teacher.  When this stage was reached, it soon became apparent that there was need for a more active and definite organization of the teachers, along the lines which would give power and vitality to the collective efforts of the group.

It also became clear that the absence of any co-operation between the various Local Associations was a distinct weakness, especially in view of the fact that many of the problems to be faced by the Local Associations were common and inter-related in their application.  This position was emphasized by the difficulties experienced by all groups in obtaining any satisfactory conclusions to salary conferences and negotiations between individual School Boards and representatives of individual associations.

So history was made, and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation became an established institution destined to become a potent factor in the development of education generally, and in the welfare and progress of the teaching profession particularly. 

Charlesworth commented as well on what he saw as the significance of the formation of the BCTF at its inaugural meeting—this was a meeting in 1916 where three local associations agreed that an organization should be created and led to the 1917 first Annual General Meeting.

  1. The formation of the Federation was a radical departure inasmuch as it was a type of teachers’ organization entirely new in Canada, although in a few years following every province in the Dominion saw the inauguration of a similar provincial organization of teachers, culminating in the formation of the Dominion organization—the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

  2. It was an organization of the teachers, by the teachers, for the teachers.  It was entirely free from control or influence by Department of Education officials, School Board officials or any other body.  For this purpose such persons were excluded from membership in the Federation.

    In view of this fact it was understandable that there would be those who felt the Federation intended to embark upon a policy of non-co-operation with (or, as some expressed it, of antagonism to) the Department and officials.  Those of this opinion were openly suspicious of the new movement, and hesitated to become associated with it.

    ...Fortunately, the activities of the Federation soon proved that suspicions were needless.  A feeling of mutual confidence and respect soon took the place of doubt, and, as is now generally recognized, there is no part of the world in which the relationships between  the teachers’ professional organization  and the Department of Education, and the various authorities, are happier and more satisfactory, than in our own province, and this consummation has been achieved by creating and retaining the complete independence of the Teachers’ organization.  

  3. The Federation was established as a federation of Local Associations, and at the First Annual Meeting, the following associations were admitted upon declaration of their respective presidents:
    Vancouver Teachers’ Association
    Vancouver Women’s Educational Club
    South Vancouver Teachers’ Association
    Point Grey Teachers’ Association
    New Westminster Teachers’ Institute
    Victoria Teachers’ Association
    Chilliwack Valley Association