Here are some interesting facts about Labour Day. The holiday is now so much a part of our culture that Canadians rarely pause to consider its true purpose and meaning.
Today, Labour Day is often more associated with fairs and festivals, and a last summer weekend at the cottage, than with what it was meant to be – a heartfelt celebration of workers and their families? That’s too bad, but perhaps not surprising. In a way, the holiday has become a victim of the labour movement’s enduring success in improving the lives of working Canadians.
Today we take paid holidays, safe work places, medical care, unemployment insurance, fair hours, union wages and “the weekend” for granted. But how many of these advances would have happened if it were not for the long-forgotten heroes who fought so hard to make unions, and Labour Day, a reality in the first place?
Labour Day began in Canada on April 15, 1872, a mere five years after Confederation. On that historic day the Toronto Trades Assembly, the original central labour body in Canada, organized the country’s first significant ‘workers demonstration.’
At the time trade unions were still illegal, and authorities still tried to repress them, even though laws against “criminal conspiracy” to disrupt trade had already been abolished in Britain.
Despite the obstacles, the assembly had emerged as an important force in Toronto. It spoke out on behalf of working people, encouraged union organization and acted as a watchdog when workers were exploited. Occasionally, it also mediated disputes between employers and employees.
By the time the landmark parade was organized in 1872 the assembly had a membership of 27 unions, representing wood workers, builders, carriage makers and metal workers, plus an assortment of other trades ranging from bakers to cigar makers.
One of the prime reasons for organizing the demonstration was to demand the release of 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union, who had been imprisoned for the “crime” of striking to gain a nine-hour working day.
The event took on a life of its own and was one that authorities could not ignore.
10,000 people throng the streets
Held on Thanksgiving Day, which was then observed in the spring, the parade featured throngs of workers and a crowd estimated at 10,000 Torontonians who applauded as the unionists marched proudly through the streets, accompanied by four bands. In speeches that followed, trade union leaders demanded freedom for the ITU prisoners and better conditions for all workers.
It was a defining moment in Canadian labour history, opening the door to the formation of the broader Canadian labour movement over the next decade and sowing the roots of what is now an annual workers’ holiday around the world.
The Toronto parade inspired leaders in Ottawa to stage a similar event. A few months later, on September 3, 1872, seven unions in the nation’s capital organized a parade more than a mile long, headed by an artillery band and flanked by city fireman.
The ‘Old Chieftain’ kept his word. Before the year was out the hated laws were gone from the statute books in Canada.
Around the world today Labour Day is celebrated at different times.
Here are few events within the region:
20th Annual Marshville Heritage Festival August 30, 31 – September 1, 2008
Celebrates the rural heritage of the Village of Wainfleet (formerly Marshville) circa 1850. There are 14 buildings restored by the volunteers of the Marshville Heritage Society Inc. During the Festival visitors may tour these buildings, see many hands-on demonstrations of yesteryear, and shop at the 100+ crafter venues. Also an antique car show on Sat & Sun. Lots of entertainment throughout the weekend.
You can visit their site here: Marshville Heritage Festival
Lincoln County Fair September 5, 6 and 7, 2008
A historical fair featuring 3 days of livestock and 4-H competitions and demonstrations; agricultural education displays; quilt, food, craft exhibits; antique tractor pull; family theatre; nightly entertainment; demo derby; midway; food and vendors.
You can visit their site here: Lincoln County Fair.
38th Grimsby Festival of Art September 6, 2008
The Grimsby Festival of Art is a one day celebration of over 100 fine artists and artisans from the Niagara Region and beyond who exhibit and sell original, handmade creations. It is one of Niagara’s premiere juried art events. Funds raised by the Festival are used to support the work of Community Living – Grimsby, Lincoln & West Lincoln and the Rotary Club of Grimsby. The festival takes place on the street of Nelles Boulevard in Grimsby and in front of the Seniors Centre on Livingston Ave. Children 12 and under are free.
The Grimsby Festival of Art information can be found here.
Hope you’re enjoying the long Weekend!!