Labour Day’s Canadian Roots (from a Vancouver Sun article)

Did you know Labour Day has Canadian roots? I’m glad this was included in the Vancouver Sun as I don’t believe we were taught this in secondary school.

“It all started on April 15, 1872, when Canada was just five years old. Although the United Kingdom had repealed a law making membership in a union a criminal offence in 1871, the crime still existed in Canada in 1872, and 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union, who had been striking for a 58-hour work week, had been imprisoned.

That led the Toronto Trades Assembly to call its 27 unions to attend a demonstration, and on April 15, 10,000 people turned out to hear speeches calling for the repeal of the law that made union membership illegal.

Buoyed by that success, on Sept. 3 members of seven Ottawa unions held a parade a mile long, led by the Garrison Artillery Band and flanked by city firefighters. The parade made its way to the home of then prime minister John A. Macdonald, picked up the PM — literally — and took him, by torchlight, to Ottawa city hall in a carriage.

Ever the savvy politician, and evidently aware that it was best not to rile up a mile-long parade after dark, Macdonald promised that he would “sweep away all such barbarous laws from the statute books.”

Macdonald and the Conservative government made good on his promise the following year. But the trade unions had further work to do, so they continued to hold annual parades and demonstrations.

On July 22, 1882, the Toronto Trades and Labour Council decided to invite New Yorker Peter J. McGuire, the general secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and co-founder of the American Federation of Labour, to speak at the demonstration.

McGuire was duly impressed by the event and, when he returned home, he proposed that the United States celebrate a day in honour of workers. Sure enough, the Americans celebrated their first unofficial Labour Day on Sept. 5, 1882, and McGuire became known as the “father of Labour Day.”

Over the next decade, individual states enacted legislation designating the first Monday in September Labour Day, and on June 28, 1894, the U.S. Congress passed a federal law enshrining the holiday. Just four weeks later, the government of then prime minister John Thompson enacted a similar law, and now the first Monday in September is celebrated as Labour Day throughout North America.”

Read more:
Editorial: Labour Day has deep Canadian roots. (Vancouver Sun)

Labour Day parade (Toronto, Canada)

Labour Day parade (Toronto, Canada) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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