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1917 to 1942 The Early Years — Laying the Foundation

In the early 1900s the idea of workers' compensation insurance was getting attention in all of the industrialized world. Studies done in both the U.S.A. and Europe showed that, under current civil laws, only 20% to 30% of injured workers had a legal case for compensation in the courts. Of that small group, very few actually pursued legal action due to the high cost and the deep pockets of their opponents, the companies. With the advent of a state governed, no-fault insurance system funded by the companies, that was all changed.

The Board had two main activities during this period:

  1. Educate workers, industry, and the public about workers' compensation.
  2. Discover the right things to do and get the organization to begin doing them.

It was an exciting time...

Money flow
Impact on workers
Influencing industry
Inside the Board
Historical events

1917 - 1942 | 1943 - 1972 | 1973 - 2002 | 2003 - present


  • The Workmen's Compensation Act of British Columbia takes effect January 1. The members of the three-person Board of Commissioners appointed to administer the Act are: E.S.H. Winn, Chairman; Hugh B. Gilmour, Commissioner; and Parker Williams, Commissioner. The head office is established in the Union Bank Building in Victoria with a staff of 44. Approximately 75,000 workers employed by 6,000 firms are covered by the Act.
  • The Board starts an educational campaign to acquaint workers, employers, and doctors with the provisions of the legislation. Several hundred talks are given by commissioners and staff members to labour bodies, commercial organizations, boards of trade, medical associations, etc.
  • Benefits under the Act include:
    • Accident Fund is financed by assessments on employers based on the collective liability principle, and a levy of one cent per day on all workers covered to help pay medical aid costs.
    • Capitalized Reserve Fund is set up to pay future costs of pensions awarded during the year.
    • Rates for medical aid to injured workers are as follows:
      • Visit to doctor's office for dressing of minor wounds vary from $1 to $2.
      • Hospital stay for patients charged to Board varies from $1 to $1.50 per day.
  • Claim costs during 1917: $851,024; injuries reported: 12,684; compensation cases: 5,483; fatal cases: 217.
  • A draft of accident prevention regulations for B.C. industry is prepared during the year.
  • The worst accident during the year is a mine explosion at Fernie. Thirty-four workers are killed.
  • WCB Chairman E.S.H. Win states in an interview published in the September 10th edition of The Vancouver Sun:
    "I do not believe there is any similar Board that is meeting claims as quickly as the Workmen's Compensation Board of British Columbia." Mr. Winn declared that, though there were complaints from labour, "no concrete examples were before the Board".
  • In its first year of operation the B.C. Board is commended by the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions for its rapid handling of claims.
Notes to benefits:
All pension payments are given as monthly amounts.
Only changes to benefits are noted.
Benefits are set by statute (in the Act).
Benefits for dependent children, parents and others are monthly amounts for each individual, subject to group limits where noted.
Maximum pension is the fraction of a worker's gross earnings that is paid for total disability.
Waiting period is the number of days off work after the accident before wage loss compensation starts.
Maximum earnings are the maximum annual earnings that are insured under the Workmen's Compensation Act.
Widows who re-marry are paid a remarriage allowance lump sum equal to 2 years of the pension they are receiving.
Disability benefits: Workers
Maximum pension: 55 %
Waiting period: 3 days
Maximum earnings: $2,000
Maximum payment: $92
Minimum payment: $22
Disability benefits: Dependants
Widow's pension: $20
Child under 16 years: $5
Max. number of children: 4
Child < 16 - no widow: $10
Parents or others: $20
Parents & others maximum: $30
Funeral expenses: $75


  • Coverage is extended throughout the year to include fishing and fish packing, manufacturing of explosives, fuses and chemicals, municipalities and some categories of government.
  • The Board's head office is moved from Victoria to 402 Pender Street in Vancouver to facilitate faster handling of claims for the majority of claimants.
  • Claim costs during year: $1,320,992; injuries reported: 22,498; compensation cases: 8,841; fatal cases: 240.
  • Two disasters occur this year:
    • The C.P.R. Steamship "Princess Sophia" strikes a rock in Alaskan waters and goes down with a loss of 343 lives, including 63 crew members. Compensation benefits are paid to the dependants of the lost crew members.
    • In another accident, 16 miners in a Nanaimo coal mine lose their lives when a hoist cable separates.
  • The most unusual claim processed by the Board this year concerns a logger who is shot in his bed at night by a fellow worker after being mistaken for a bear. The wound was not fatal.


  • It is estimated that 110,000 B.C. workers are now covered by the Act.
  • The Privy Council in London, England reverses a decision by Supreme Court of British Columbia which had been upheld by the Court of Appeal of B.C., stating that the Board had erred in payment of compensation to dependants of Princess Sophia crew members. The Board appealed to Privy Council to permit continuance of payments to dependants.
  • Additional accident prevention regulations are instituted by the Board.
  • Workmen's Compensation Boards of New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia form an Association to help develop more common administrative procedures, and to consider ways and means of preventing accidents.
  • The following excerpt appears in the 1919 Annual Report of the Board:

    "Throughout the year frequent requests were made by both workmen and employers that claims be allowed for sickness disabilities that were alleged to have arisen out of industries. It is difficult to explain and convince the parties that the present Act is confined to accidents and industrial diseases, and that there is no discretion in the Board to pay compensation for other than these." (Many claims are filed by persons claiming compensation as a result of the disastrous "Spanish Influenza" outbreak of 1918-19 which took more than 2,000 lives in B.C.)



  • Government amends the Act to increase benefits to dependent widows and children.
  • More than 40,000 cheques are issued during the year to workers, dependants, and for medical aid.
  • The Board continues to assist permanently disabled workers in finding suitable employment.
  • The Board institutes new accident prevention regulations in B.C. industry for the protection of workers.
  • An official of the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. is quoted in the Victoria Columnist newspaper as saying that the B.C. Workmen's Compensation law is the most efficient, most economic, and most comprehensive of any of its kind in the United States or Canada.
Disability benefits: Dependants
Widow's pension: $35
Remarriage allowance max: $480
Child under 16 years: $7.50
Child < 16 - no widow: $12.50
Parents or others: $30
Parents & others maximum: $45


  • Injuries reported decline to 16,883 of which 162 are fatal. Compensation costs during the year amount to $1.7 million.


  • The Act is amended to provide a maximum $300 penalty on employers whose negligence is responsible for accidents.
  • The Board's first aid service regulations go into effect.
  • An underground explosion in Cumberland Coal Mine kills 18 men.


  • Further benefit increases are announced by the government.
  • Farmers are now able to apply for compensation coverage of their workers. A provision is also made in the Act to cover office and other clerical workers in industries covered under the Act.
  • A coal mine disaster in Cumberland takes the lives of 33 miners. Industrial fatalities reported to Board total 268.
  • Two thousand people in B.C. are now doing first aid work.
Disability benefits: Workers
Maximum pension: 62.5 %
Maximum payment: $104
Disability benefits: Dependants
Funeral expenses: $100


  • The Act now protects 160,000 workers.
  • B.C. Lumber Manufacturers Association appoints Will D. Jenkins as first full time safety director.
  • Inspectors under the Boiler Inspection Act and Electrical Energy Inspection Act now report directly to the WCB.


  • Only 23 of the 30,365 accidents reported this year involved an employer not being registered with the WCB when they should have been. The vast majority of businesses now understand and comply with their responsibilities under the Act. (In all 23 cases the injured worker is taken care of and the employer is assessed the payments that should have been made, and often a penalty as well.)
  • Time-loss compensation is now paid from the date of disability, when the disability continues for more than 14 days. For those cases of 14 days or less, the first three days are still not compensated.

  • In cases where a worker with children dies and leaves no widow, or the widow subsequently dies, a close relative or other suitable person may act as a foster parent to the children. Foster parents receive the same compensation as the widow would have.
  • The federal government, under W. L. Mackenzie King, begins the Old Age Pension.

Disability benefits: Dependants
Child < 16 - no widow: $15
Foster mother's pension: $35
Disability benefits: Workers
Waiting period: 3 days; 0 days after 14 days off work


  • More than 250,000 work injuries have been reported to the Board since the Act took effect. More than $22 million has been paid out in benefits.
  • Fatal accidents in the B.C. logging industry take 73 lives, one of the worst years on record.
  • A Vancouver Sun editorial dated December 21, 1927 calls for the establishment of a Workmen's Compensation Medical Appeal Board.


  • Work injuries reported rise to 36,750, up 4,000 from last year. Logging accident deaths increase to 84.
  • The Board moves to new offices at 411 Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver.


  • A coal mine disaster at Blakeburn kills 45 men.
  • A slide of rocks and earth demolish bunk house at Anyox mine. Nine men killed.
  • The Board calls on employers to help in the vocational rehabilitation of permanently disabled workers who cannot return to their previous occupation because of their disability. Some success is being achieved in this field.


  • The Industrial First Aid Attendants Association is founded.
  • An editorial in The Vancouver Star on March 24 states:

    "It is safe to say that no public commission functions more admirably than the Workmen's Compensation Board. This in large part is because, from the first, it has been a strictly non-political body, a piece of well balanced and self-acting machinery in which the late government may take justifiable pride..."


  • System of experience cost rating for many employers in the lumber industry begins trial period in the hope that cash incentives will encourage employers to accelerate their accident prevention efforts.
  • Seventeen B.C. logging companies west of the Cascade mountains are granted interim injunction by the Supreme Court halting payment of special assessments required by WCB. The Supreme Court later dissolves injunction which is upheld by the Court of Appeal. On application to the Privy Council in London, England, logging companies lose final appeal, confirming Board's right to levy assessment.
  • One class of navigation has third-highest WCB assessment rate of 10 percent of payroll. (Owners of boats under 500 tons, some of which are suspected to be "rum-runners" to the U.S., are affected by this rate. Owners of boats 500 tons and over pay 2 1/2 percent of payroll.) Aviation ranks first with 20 percent, followed by structural steel erection at 12 percent. Logging ranks fourth at 9.75 percent of payroll.
  • H. D. Twigg, M.L.A., calls for a Royal Commission to investigate Workmen's Compensation Act.
  • The collection of WCB assessments from many employers becomes more difficult as a result of depressed industrial conditions. WCB assessment rates rise in some industries because of lower payrolls in the province.
  • An editorial in the January 26th edition of the The Vancouver Daily Province states:

    "...The Workmen's Compensation Act has proven one of our most useful and humane measures. It has not added to the liability of any industry for its accidents. It has merely spread the cost of accidents over the whole industry. It has, in fact, by eliminating litigation, decreased the aggregate cost. And it has had an important effect in adding to the assurance and improving the morale of the workers. British Columbia must be careful in improving the Act not to permit any changes which will interfere with the principle. Having led all Canada on the way toward a decent level of social legislation, she must not allow panic, in these times of depression, to force her into the position of leading the country on the way back."



  • Work injuries reported to Board decline to 18,274 as a result of depressed industrial conditions — the lowest number reported since 1917.
  • Fifty-three relief camps open in B.C. None of the young single males are covered by workers' compensation (91 other camps across Canada are the same).


  • H. B. Gilmour, Commissioner of the Board, dies. He is succeeded by J. H. Pillsbury.
  • Harry Walker, a railway union official, is quoted in the June 6 edition of The Vancouver Sun saying that the B.C. Workmen's Compensation Act is one of the best and practical acts of its kind in Canada, but its detailed workings are not sufficiently understood by the public generally and in many cases not even by the workers themselves.


  • Government increases minimum compensation benefits.
  • A snow slide buries a mine camp near Bridge River. Seven men are killed.
  • Two hundred lawyers at the Bar Convention indicate that they will call for an appeal to the courts in workmen's compensation cases. The Vancouver Trades and Labour Council opposes the lawyers' proposal.
Disability benefits: Workers
Minimum payment: $43


  • Silicosis in the metal mining industry is made a compensable disease for cases of disablement on or after January 1, 1936.
  • Annual medical examination of miners begins.
  • A runaway tender crashes into workers clearing C.P.R. right-of-way east of Revelstoke — 16 men are killed.


  • Reported injuries rise to 35,000 as a result of increasing industrial activity.
  • More than a half million work injury reports have been processed by the Board since the Act came into effect twenty years ago.
  • First Aid Service Requirements, applying to all employers under the Act, are issued by Board.
  • The Board sets up a silicosis prevention department to control dust and improve ventilation measures in B.C. mines.


  • Government announces benefit increases to widows and injured workers.
Disability benefits: Workers
Maximum pension: 66.66%
Maximum payment: $111
Disability benefits: Dependants
Widow's pension: $40
Foster mother's pension: $40
Funeral expenses: $125


  • Employers registered with the Board total 8,588 at year end.
  • Lumber industry injuries account for nearly half of all accidents reported.
  • An irate logger files claim for a chest injury which ocurred when he ran into a tree while chasing a bear which had stolen his lunch off a stump. The bear escaped with the lunch.


  • As a result of a government appointment, the Honourable Gordon McGregor Sloan opens a Royal Commission to investigate the Workmen's Compensation Act.
  • Two hundred thousand B.C. workers are now protected by the Act.
  • The Board appeals to employers to increase their accident prevention efforts to help Canada's war effort.
  • Superannuation plan takes effect for Board employees.


  • The Sloan Royal Commission continues hearings and reports to government on recommendations to improve the Act and its administration.
  • Ten accident prevention inspectors are now employed by the Board.
  • The Board opens the Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver to treat injured workers. During the last three months of the year an average of 262 workers are treated daily at the Centre.
  • Work injuries soar to 65,475, up from 33,173 in 1939. Many of the workers injured are either younger or older than those regularly employed in peacetime, as drastic need for manpower continues because of the war effort. Steel shipbuilding accounts for one-fifth of all injuries reported to the Board.