Savage, Robert (1917–)

“Doc” Savage spent only a brief time in Saskatchewan, but it was a very dramatic period. Born in England to a family living in desperate poverty, he was sent as a young boy to work on farms in Ontario. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, Savage was unemployed and rode the tops of freight trains to look for work with thousands of other jobless young men. He joined the Communist Party and was active in the party’s trade union arm: the Workers’ Unity League.

Doc Savage was prominent in the Relief Camp Workers Union (RCWU), a League affiliate which organized the residents of work camps set up by the government of R.B. Bennett. The RCWU called a general strike of relief camp workers in the spring of 1935, and the camps emptied their inmates into Vancouver. Although he was only 18 at the time, Savage was put in charge of Division 3 of the RCWU, which included the union militants who had been blacklisted out of the government work camps. Division 3 undertook some of the most aggressive demonstrations and protests by the unemployed during the Depression.

Doc Savage was also one of the leaders of the 1935 On-to-Ottawa Trek, which ended in Saskatchewan with the Regina Riot. After the riot, Savage avoided arrest, which was the fate of other Trek leaders, by traveling to the then remote northwestern part of Saskatchewan and then moving west. In the years that followed, he organized saw mills and lumber camps for the International Woodworkers of America, and was an active member of the Canadian Seaman’s Union while working on merchant marine ships around the world.

Robert Savage got the name “Doc” after coming to the aid of a fellow worker who needed some medical attention. He is now retired and living in Quesnel, BC.

Garnet Dishaw