Labour Day (French: Fête du Travail) has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in Canada since the 1880s. The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week. The Toronto Trades Assembly (TTA) called its 27 unions to demonstrate in support of the Typographical Union who had been on strike since March 25. George Brown, Canadian politician and editor of the Toronto Globe hit back at his striking employees, pressing police to charge the Typographical Union with “conspiracy.” Although the laws criminalising union activity were outdated and had already been abolished in Great Britain, they were still on the books in Canada and police arrested 24 leaders of the Typographical Union. Labour leaders decided to call another similar demonstration on September 3 to protest the arrests. Seven unions marched in Ottawa, prompting a promise by Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to repeal the “barbarous” anti-union laws. Parliament passed the Trade Union Act on June 14, 1893, and soon all unions were seeking a 54-hour work-week.
On July 23, 1894, Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson and his government made Labour Day, to be held in September, an official holiday.
We found heritage photos of Labour Day parades in Toronto and Saint John. We would love to know if there are b/w Labour Day photos from Nova Scotia — and Antigonish, which has a strong labour movement.
When Labour Day became a public holiday in 1894, the Saint John New Brunswick trade unions turned out the largest and most elaborate celebration in the Maritime Provinces. Many of the floats consisted of workers applying their craft. Most unions displayed unique hand-painted banners and their dress identified with their particular trade. Over two thousand men marched in the parade and it took half an hour to pass any given point. Some of the floats were so tall that they came in contact with the electric wires.
Labour Day Parade, Saint John, New Brunswick, 1913, The Plumbers Union, Local 531 float along King Street South