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Eighties a busy decade for labour disputes, says museum curator

Maple Ridge experienced at least six major strikes in the mid to late 1980s
Centennial Hatchery strike 1973. (Maple Ridge Museum/Special to the Maple Ridge News)

The first Monday of September marks a day off for many workers in Canada, and has been a designated statutory holiday since 1894.

Labour Day celebrates the achievement of the workers, stemming all the way back to 1872 when a parades through the streets of Toronto to secure shorter working days – often referred to as the Nine Hour Movement.

Shea Henry, curator of the Maple Ridge Museum, said the evidence of labour action from Maple Ridge comes from the recent history of unionized workers, the 1980’s being particularly rich in labour strikes.

“In 1985 there was a B.C. teacher’s strike that came to Maple Ridge, local students also led a strike in support of the negotiations resuming. In 1981 Maple Ridge’s 170 municipal employees went on strike,” Henry explained, additionally listing the Ruskin Cedar Mill strike of 1985, Meadow Gardens Golf Club strike of 1988, and Centennial Hatchery strike of 1973.

”The oldest strike we have evidence for is from the Hammond Cedar Mill when the Chinese workers at the mill went on strike,” Henry said, explaining wage gaps and being undervalued led to the 1923 protest. “Not being unionized, these workers were simply fired and replaced.”

Historically, workers celebrated the day with parades, speeches, games, competitions, and picnics to truly mark a day dedicated to the worker.

The holiday promoted working-class solidarity and belonging during a time of rapid industrialization, though physical celebrations and commemoration have significantly shrunk since the Second World War.

Labour Day around the world is generally linked with International Worker’s Day on May 1, and many iterations are marked at different times during the year.

Canada and the United States are the only two countries to share Labour Day during the first week of September.


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