I remember when I was a kid, how Labour Day marked the last true day of freedom before returning to another year of school. It was the last day of the CNE (the Canadian National Exhibition) in Toronto: a squealing dose of fun and amusements at the biggest fair ever (at least to a young Toronto girl)!
The big annual airshow was always on the Labour Day long weekend. No matter how many times you’d already visited “The Ex” (short for Exhibition), you’d have to go that one last time during the Labour Day Weekend just to see the air show. The Canadian Forces’ Snowbirds Demonstration Team always put on a spectacular aerobatics display.
When I got older, my dad explained another view. He worked at the post office, which had a strong union. He told me that groups of people fought for rights in their jobs, and demonstrated this by marching in a parade on Labour Day. Something like this picture, below.
There’s a Labour Day parade in Toronto this year starting at Queen Street and University Avenue at 9:30am. It proceeds along Queen Street to Dufferin Street, then south to Dufferin Gate at the CNE (shown below). It takes about an hour and a half.
History of Labour Day in Canada
The paragraphs below are quoted from:
“Earliest records show that the Toronto Trades Assembly, perhaps the original central labour body in Canada, organized the first North American ‘workingman’s demonstration’ of any significance for April 15,1872. The beribboned parade marched smartly in martial tread accompanied by four bands. About 10,000 Torontonians turned out to see the parade and listen to the speeches calling for abolition of the law which decreed that trade unions were criminal conspiracies in restraint of trade.
“… It was still a crime to be a member of a union in Canada although the law of criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade had been repealed by the United Kingdom parliament in 1871.
“Toronto was not the only city to witness a labour parade in 1872. On September 3, members of seven unions in Ottawa organized a parade more than a mile long, headed by the Garrison Artillery band and flanked by city fireman carrying torches.
“The Ottawa parade wound its way to the home of Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald where the marchers hoisted him into a carriage and drew him to Ottawa City Hall by torchlight. ‘The Old Chieftain’, aware of the discontent of workers with the laws which made unions illegal, in a ringing declaration from the steps of the City Hall, promised the marchers that his party would “sweep away all such barbarous laws from the statute books”.
“The offending conspiracy laws were repealed by the Canadian government in 1872. The tradition established by the Toronto Trades Assembly was continued through the seventies and into the early 1880s.
“Soon pressure for legislation to declare a national holiday for Labour Day was exerted in both Canada and the United States. In 1894 the government of Sir John Thompson enacted such legislation on July 23, with the Prime Minister piloting the bill through Parliament against the opposition of some of his Conservative followers.
“Canadian trade unionists have celebrated this day set aside to honor those who labour from the 1870’s on. The first Labour Day parade in Winnipeg, in 1894, was two miles long.“
So. How will you be spending this Labour Day 2011?