Labour Day--A Snapshot of History

Labour Day--A Snapshot of History

Labour Day Celebration--A Snapshot of History

Instead of searching for values that separate us, let us explore and celebrate those that bind us. The first Monday in September, Canada's Labour Day, is one historic day in history we have in common with our US partner to the south.

Labor Day celebrates the 'worker' and for us in the north, that also indicates the end of summer, a return to school, normalcy, and routine.

Canada evoked the statutory holiday in 1894. In the past, workers celebrated the day with parades, speeches, fun competitions, and picnics during the vast industrialization movement.

It allowed workers to forge solidarity and foster that sense of camaraderie. Although women remained in the background by organizing meals for these events, they were staunch supporters of their husband's rights. It was men who marched in a long and military form down the main streets representing their cities. These labor day activities have been in decline since WW2; Toronto and Ottawa still host parades with a strong representation of unionized workers.

The American labor movement heavily influenced the Canadian Labor Day movement as the plight of working conditions was the same across the borders. Before the 1880s, workers held impromptu festivities contingent on larger labor and worker's rights movements and have roots in the Nine Hour Movement by which workers rallied to standardize shorter working days.

The turn of the last century's was a turbulent time whereby workers and unions fought for better working conditions for which we should be grateful for today. Many US labor organizations organized these September celebrations, and their popularity drove the movement on both sides of the border. Such successful gatherings were held in Toronto, Hamilton (Steel), Oshawa (GM), Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, etc.

On the heels of the success, labor groups persuaded respective governments to declare the first Monday in September as a statutory holiday. In March and April 1894, the tide shifted in favor of workers. As many as 50 labor organizations from the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Manitoba, and British Columbia petitioned their parliament representatives in a team effort with trade and labor councils, and Knights of Labor, and based their lobbying on the impactful initiatives from American unions. After the bill arrived for reading at the House of Commons, an amendment to the holiday law passed without much debate. Along with our fellow Americans, Canadians celebrated the holiday, a tradition, since 1894.

For most Canadian, Labor Day now implies a day spent with family, the last chance at a camping-weekend away, a hurried trip to battle the crowds at the mall to purchase the long list of school supplies.

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