Roger Ernest Bray

Published by BC Labour Heritage Centre on

Winnipeg’s “Most Dangerous Man”

became one of North Vancouver’s oldest and most respected citizens

Written and researched by Donna Sacuta

Relief Camp Workers Union at the United May Day Conference Parade, May 2, 1936 | Vancouver Police Department photo, Vancouver Archives CVA 417-9.

Under close police surveillance, the 1936 Vancouver May Day parade announcer mocked passing effigies of local white nationalist Tom MacInnes and Mayor Gerry McGeer . “Volunteers to throw Tom and Gerry into the bay?”  he taunted the crowd in his familiar Scottish brogue, who cheered in response.

The announcer was not just any voice. He was Roger Ernest Bray, a man of national prominence though now residing in British Columbia. Bray had been declared “the most dangerous man in the city”  by the Winnipeg Northwest Mounted Police in 1919. In 1936 he was chosen by 63 labour and socialist organizations to chair the Vancouver May Day parade and demonstration committee.  The theme of the parade was opposition to war and conscription.

Roger Bray speaks to a crowd in Winnipeg, 13 June 1919. Four days later he and seven others were jailed, denied access to counsel and prevented from notifying their family members.  Manitoba Archives | N12322.

“I have no apologies to make nor any regrets”.

Bray fought in the First World War and upon his return to Winnipeg in 1918 began to organize disillusioned returned soldiers. That and his skilled oratory was enough to make him a police target.

One of eight leaders sent to jail during the Winnipeg General Strike, Bray told the jury at his trial for sedition that “whatever my comrades are guilty of, I am guilty of also, as I endorse everything they have said and done. I have no apologies to make nor any regrets.” 1

Bray was a Methodist preacher until he became a socialist and left the church. “Christianity was not the means of correcting social injustice.” 1

Bray’s daughter always recalled the police raiding the family home in Winnipeg looking for co-conspirators such as JS Woodsworth and Bill Pritchard. “The failure of the strike devastated him,” says his great-nephew.

Winnipeg General Strike leaders photographed at Vaughan Street Jail 1919. L-R back row: Roger E. Bray, George Armstrong [elected as MLA while in jail], John Queen, ‘Bob’ Russell, Dick Johns, William Pritchard [elected Burnaby Mayor in 1930].  L-R front row: William Ivens [elected as MLA while in jail], Albert Heaps [elected as MP in 1935]. Manitoba Archives | N10322

Strike leader makes home in North Vancouver, becomes noted horticulturalist

After six months in jail at Stony Mountain, Roger Bray and his family ended up in North Vancouver where he became an award-winning horticulturalist. But he never gave up his political passion. He was a founder of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in 1932 — forerunner to the NDP — and was a frequent public speaker on their behalf.

Within the CCF Bray once denounced its leaders as “bourgeois-democrats” and argued the party must focus on economic policy. At times his opinions were at odds with those of his former cellmate William Pritchard. 2  He traveled the province with other CCF speakers organizing grassroots support and shared the lectern with luminaries such as JS Woodsworth, Ernest Winch, Leo Nimsick and others.

The Vancouver Sun, 11 August 1951

Remaining a committed socialist, another passion nourished his family. In North Vancouver, Bray established a cut flower shop and bred gladiolas at the corner of 8th Street and Mahon Avenue, an unlikely livelihood for a “most dangerous man”. The “tall patriarchal man who grows glads on the North Shore”3 sold his prize-winning blooms at the Main Street farmers’ market in Vancouver.

The Province 02 Aug 1947, p.23

Roger Ernest Bray died in 1952; eulogized as one of the North Shore’s oldest and most respected citizens”. He had suffered a stroke while speaking on behalf of Dave Stupich at a CCF meeting in Nanaimo six months earlier.

With thanks to the family of Roger Bray for their assistance.

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  2. The Vancouver Sun, 27 July 1935, p.4[]
  3. The Province, 02 Aug 1947, p. 23.[]