The Passing of a Giant

On November 4, 2022, Harry Antonides passed away at age 91.

Adapted from a eulogy given by Ian Dewaard, CLAC’s Ontario Director, at Harry’s funeral.

If you knew Harry, you know that he had a deep and abiding passion for his vocation at the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), where he worked for 35 years. He was a man who had ordered his working life around the idea that a Christian world and life view, when lived out personally and through the ordering work of an institution such as CLAC, had something valuable to offer to the workplace and to the worker.

The passion Harry held for biblically inspired ideas about work, conflict and justice was so central to his being that it seemed to ooze from his pores. He was an avid storyteller and a humble and gracious guest. He rarely spoke in first person, preferring to recount the major achievements and hardships in CLAC’s history always as what “we” had experienced.

Harry began his career in 1962 as the second representative hired by CLAC. But he had been involved with establishing the organization for many years before as a volunteer and supporter. In the 1950s and early ‘60s, the organization was still fighting in the courts to achieve the legal status it needed to organize and represent workers, something that multiple labour boards had denied CLAC because of the overtly Christian language in its constitution. When reflecting on those days, Harry explained, “It was important to say who we were, without hiding our colours. If the communists could sing their songs, and the socialists have their creeds, surely a union that confesses to be guided by Christian principles also had its place.”

It took great courage to start a career with an organization that at the time lived only as an idea. As he recounts in interviews and articles, Harry spent his early years travelling across Ontario from Sarnia to Kingston, working most nights in the week to drum up support from like­minded workers and engaging in discussion and dialogue around a new vision for labour, one based on promoting dignity for all.

In 1964, a year after the Ontario Supreme Court decision that labour boards must recognize CLAC, Harry and his family relocated to B.C. to shore up support that had waned during the years of long court battles, and to organize workers. Then, in 1970, he moved back to Toronto to become CLAC’s first research and education director, a job he did for 27 years until his retirement. Although he believed that he was a less gifted writer than others, he went on to pen numerous books and booklets, government submissions, and many, many articles and op-eds.

Harry’s thorough research work and strong advocacy of the relevance of Christian principles won him the respect of academics and colleagues alike. His work enabled CLAC to grow in maturity, and to impact provincial governments and labour boards throughout Canada. His work also became known and quoted on several continents. In the latter years of his career, he travelled to places such as Mexico, El Salvador, Europe and South Africa as an invited speaker and lecturer. Today, his articulation of principles and ideas about our work are still relevant and compelling, a testament to the enduring quality of his contributions.

Harry exemplified the sacrifice and dedication that the founding generation offered. They toiled with no promise of reward, with no promise that their efforts would succeed, and in the face of bitter and sometimes violent opposition from their adversaries.

In this work and throughout his career, Harry was most of all a thought leader and spokesperson for Christian ideas made practical. It would be easy, but too simple, to say that the legacy of Harry and the early founders is CLAC, a national union of over 60,000 workers, that has organized many thousands of workplaces, and that is a known name and presence on the Canadian and international labour relations scene.

Harry on the picket lines in 1975.

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