Letter from Dr. Bergin, MP, Cornwall Town and Township, 1872 – 74; 1878 – 82; and Stormont 1882 – 96.
A late 19th centurycabinet card of Dr. Bergin, MP, taken by Nathan Moore, 36 Pitt St., Cornwall. Donated to the museum in 1991.
BERGIN LED FIGHT FOR SAFE WORKING CONDITIONS.
Cornwall, the :factory town,” not only led the way in industrial innovation, but was also the home of Canadian safety legislation in the workplace.
Led by Cornwall MP Dr. Darby Bergin, who the editor of the “Freeholder” called a “snapdragon…degenerate and a mongrel politician” for being a Conservative, Bergin was ridiculed by industrialists and his ambitions restricted by the courts.
In 18979 the law declared that employees were aware of the risks they took when entering into employment, as to work or not was theoretically a matter of free will, the employee was said to have made the choice to endure those risks as part of the conditions of employment, therefore the employer was not to be found liable for any injuries sustained by workers on the job.
Bergin’s ideas for factory safety standards were denounced by lawyers as unconstitutional. Newspaper editors seconded this opinion by writing that Bergin’s proposals would undermine the independence and self reliance of workers with safety equipment.
These attacks, however, did not diminish Bergin’s popularity. In 1882 campaigning against the Liberal John Bethune, Bergin polled 545 votes to Bethune’s 95, by stressing John A. Macdonald’s National Policy that called for high protective tariffs to shelter Canadian industries.
Bergin’s funeral notice, acquired by the museum in 2009.
Below Begin from the “Belden” Atlas of SD & G., 1879.
Bergin, like so many Victorian gentlemen bachelors, was more than a social legislator. Born in York (Toronto) in 1826, the son of Irish Catholic immigrants, his father rose from being a waiter to become a successful merchant. Bergin learned respect for hard work and the labouring class from an early age.
Earning his medical degree from McGill, Bergin settled in Cornwall because his mother Mary, of the Flanigans of Flanigan’s Point, Glen Walter came from here.
The first evidence of his public spirit showed itself in 1847, when he and Dr. Roderick Macdonald, worked with typhus victims at the local quarantine hospital full of Irish immigrants.
Bergin next entered public life as the surgeon for the local militia. Rising to to become Major for the local volunteers, Bergin twice led the men to the banks of the St. Lawrence River and the Cornwall Canal to apprehend suspected Fenians.
When the militia were re-organized after Confederation, he became Lieutenant-Colonel of the newly created 59th Battalion of Volunteer Infantry.
During the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, Bergin went on to become the Canadian Army’s first Surgeon-General.
Cornwall has honoured Dr. Bergin’s contributions with a plaque to those injured in the workplace on the foundations of the old Augustus St. swing bridge, and a plaque near Flanigan’s Point, in Glen Walter.
The Cornwall Community Museum has additional archival material not shown regarding Dr. Bergin.