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The Workers' Festival

The Workers' Festival: A History of Labour Day in Canada

Craig Heron
Steve Penfold
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 340
  • Book Info
    The Workers' Festival
    Book Description:

    The Workers' Festivalranges widely into many key themes of labour history - union politics and rivalries, radical movements, religion, race and gender, and consumerism/leisure - as well as cultural history - public celebration/urban procession, urban space and communication, and popular culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5734-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-ix)
    (pp. xi-1)

    The marshals had their hands full pulling together the three thousand workers who converged on Market Square in London, Ontario, on 3 September 1894. It was the first nationally recognized Labour Day in Canada, and the local labour movement was out in force. Eventually, the first union contingents headed off down the city’s main streets under the blazing noonday sun. Leading the way was a group of seventy-five butchers on horseback, who set the tone of respectable craftsmanship with their crisply white shirts and hats and clean baskets on their arms. Several other groups presented themselves in identical outfits – the...

    (pp. 3-39)

    Holidays have a long history. They had always meant a break from the daily routines of work, whether tilling the soil or toiling in a factory. Today, we tend to use the term holiday interchangeably with vacation, but our modern notion of a vacation – a concentrated two to four weeks of private relaxation or travel each year – has not been around for more than half a century for most of the population. More often in the past, everything came to a halt at the same time, and the whole community threw itself into holidaying together. Holidays were always public. In...

    (pp. 41-79)

    The members of the Halifax Typographical Union had plenty of business on their agenda on the evening of 15 June 1889. They had been summoned to a special meeting to hear the report of the Labour Day committee they had elected two weeks earlier. First, they examined and debated sample badges and sashes and decided which to order. Then they agreed on the flags to be carried and voted to get a horse for their marshal and a carriage for elderly members. Headgear was more controversial. The committee recommended bowler hats, but an amendment in favour of top hats (‘beavers’)...

  7. chapter three SHARING LABOUR DAY
    (pp. 81-113)

    ‘Labor Day was celebrated throughout the dominion in a quiet and orderly fashion,’ the MontrealGazetteremarked in 1894, ‘contrasting strongly with the festivals held on the European continent with the same end in view.’ While Canadian workers went to church, walked in military-style processions under the ‘guardianship’ of police, and passed the afternoon in respectable ‘amusement,’ European workers marked May Day with ‘violent’ speeches and deeds, rioting and bloodshed, and skirmishes with police and soldiers. As far as theGazettewas concerned, the difference was the result of a whole project of political socialization: Canada’s Labour Day showed the...

  8. chapter four THE UNIVERSAL PLAYDAY
    (pp. 115-141)

    The struggle for Labour Day in the 1880s had also been a struggle for a day of rest. It was part of the larger demand for time away from paid work that focused primarily on the eight-hour day. With a public holiday in their honour, workers were expected to gather for collective fun and frivolity that would reinforce their solidarity. As the president of the Winnipeg Trades and Labor Council explained at the city’s first celebrations in 1894, ‘we may set aside our tools of industry and meet together for the purpose of enjoying ourselves. We will also have an...

    (pp. 143-191)

    The ‘golden age’ of the craftsmen’s spectacle dawned at the end of the 1890s as the Canadian economy lifted itself out of the doldrums and craft unions began sweeping up thousands of new members. In this turn-of-the-century period, Labour Day parades were staged in far more industrial centres across the country, drew in many more workers, and blossomed into impressive street performances. The public loved Labour Day parades, even if the processions never dominated holiday activity. Local newspaper reports suggest that, at the turn of the century, such parades were among the most popular street events on the holiday calendar.¹...

    (pp. 193-269)

    Labour Day approached its fiftieth official anniversary as a diffuse holiday, an aggregate of various local and regional events, celebrations, pleasures and pastimes, with little coherent focus to endow it with overarching meaning. The original craftsmen’s spectacle was barely more than a dim memory. Few labour councils across Canada were bothering to organize a parade by the 1930s (fewer still in the early years of the war), and, even where the parades survived, they were usually spiritless exercises in commercial display and civic boosterism. As a day off, the craft leaders’ goal of earnest, respectable leisure had been pushed and...

    (pp. 271-280)

    A festival has always been a special moment in the rhythms of a community. Normal life comes to a halt. People are released from daily routines and pressures and encouraged to join with others in their community in common celebration. What happens at that point can vary a lot. If the festive events are controlled by social forces that normally dominate that community, they can be an occasion for reaffirming relationships between the governors and the governed, the rich and the poor, the men and the women, and so on. Ruling figures, social hierarchies, and all the institutions that sustain...

    (pp. 281-282)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 283-328)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 329-340)