Leading Black trade unionists

By Lincoln DePradine

One of the Black pioneers  serving at the highest level of trade unionism in the construction industry is Ucal J. Powell.

Powell joined the Carpenters’ Union in 1970. For 23 years, he ably represented the union and retired as Executive Secretary/Treasurer of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario.

In 2011, Powell, he was appointed to the Order of Ontario.

Ucal J. Powell

“We are grateful for his contributions to the labour movement and the construction industry,’’ one union official said. “He augmented the image of the Carpenters’ Union in the Black community as a caring, philanthropic organization that is connected to them.’’

Another of the union’s outstanding members, who also has retired, is


Dory Smith.

Smith, originally from St Catherine in Jamaica, joined the Carpenters’ Union in the 1970s and also was a member of

Dory Smith

the Canada branch of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America. In fact, he was the first full-time Black Business Representative in the history of the United Brotherhood in Canada.

Smith was Business Representative for Local 27 of the Carpenters’ Union, and also served as its Vice President, chair of its special events’ committee and a member of the board of trustees for the Local’s Benefits & Pension Plan.

In addition to active membership in the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Smith also served as Vice President of the Carpenters’ District Council of Toronto & Vicinity, and as a member of the national apprenticeship advisory committee of Canada. He also ran for Vice President of the Canadian Federation of Labour. 

Smith is credited with initiating the idea in the 1980s of charging just one dollar to attract Black workers to the Carpenters’ Union, Local 27.

Smith and Powell, undoubtedly, were trailblazers. This legacy of Black leadership, which includes the union’s active participation in the flagship NextGen Builders’ Mentoring Program of Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), is now being carried on by union members such as Sean Blake, Clifton Donegal and Errol John.

Sean Blake

Sean Blake

Sean Blake held various positions in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Allied Workers (Local 27), since becoming a member 23 years ago. He’s been a Business Representative for Local 27, chair of the Shop Steward Committee, member of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and a delegate to Toronto and York Region Labour Council.

Blake, as well, is a CBTU member and mentors young participants in TCBN’s NextGen Builders Mentoring Program.

Clifton Donegal

Clifton Donegal

Clifton Donegal has called Canada home since arriving here from Jamaica in 1994. He’s a Red Seal Carpenter and member of the Carpenters’ Union Local 27. Donegal has been employed on several projects including oil refineries, the CoGen plant in Brampton and the OPG Nuclear Generation Station in Pickering, working as both a carpenter and a radiation protection coordinator.

Donegal, at the moment, is a carpentry instructor at the Woodbridge-based College of Carpenters and Allied Trades Inc. He, too, is a CBTU member, a TCBN youth mentor and an ardent volunteer, saying “it is very important to give back to the community and share our skills and knowledge with those who seek to follow in our footsteps’’. He has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in home-building in Haiti, the United States and Canada, and also in constructing a school in Jamaica as part of a “Food for the Poor’’ and “Helping Hands Jamaica’’ team.

Errol John

Errol John

Errol John is one of the employees on Eglinton Crosstown transit line that is being built by the Ontario government agency, Metrolinx. He’s shop Steward/Safety Rep on the Crosstown project.

A member of Local 27 of the Carpenters’ Union since September 1984, John also volunteers his time and skills to a variety of causes and organizations. They include the annual Labour Day and Toronto Carnival activities and the Build Pride event. John also mentors young apprentices and journeypersons. His community involvement includes membership of such organizations as CBTU, TCBN and Toronto and York Region Labour Councils.

For more than 20 years, John has been a delegate to the CDCO – the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario. Currently, he’s a trustee and executive board member of the Carpenters’ Union, Local 27. He’s been holding the trusteeship for nearly a decade.

John considers himself fortunate to have worked with several skilled tradespeople as part of his carpentry training, and says he now “feels obligated to pay it forward’’.