Photo of the protesting students with their signs during the 1939 strike of high school students demanding a better school building. (Contributed)

Looking Back: Student and youth protests go way back

Nothing new when it comes to carrying signs

Looking Back

Maple Ridge Museum and Community Archives

Throughout the past year, there has been a wave of youth and student protests demanding governments act on the climate change crisis.

Despite the wide range of participants, they are, for the most part, organized and run by youth, mostly students.

Recently, in the Vancouver area, there have been two school strike days for students to participate in protests.

With the size and scope of these protests, it seems irresistible for news outlets to refer to this movement as “unprecedented” but we know better.

In some ways, they are right. The scope of these protests is huge, but generation Z is far from the first generation to demand change by taking to the streets. The earliest and best example of student strikes from Maple Ridge’s past is the secondary school student strikes in 1939. MacLean High School was built in 1922 and was the first building meant to house specifically high school students.

The school however soon overflowed into the neighbouring old Haney School which was falling apart. The district attempted to raise funds for a new and larger high school but taxpayers turned down the referendum in 1937.

By 1939, high school students were trying to learn in buildings falling apart. They had had enough. They took to the streets with homemade placards demanding that a new school be built. In the proper 1930s, this was an activity that was just not done. The march ended up making headlines in Maple Ridge, Vancouver and even the East Coast. As a result, by 1941, Maple Ridge Secondary was built.

Our accompanying picture for this article was one taken during the 1939 student strike outside of the old Haney Elementary school that they were occupying. After this photo was taken, the protest took to the streets of downtown.

For the baby boomers, there were any number of protests throughout the 1960s and 70s calling for social and governmental reform.

Generation X took to the streets several times in our city’s history. In 1985, the students of the local high schools protested the ongoing teachers strike. They demanded that the union negotiate so that they could go back to school. They had been out for 35 days by then. Just a few years later, in 1991, there was a student strike protesting Canada’s increased involvement in the Gulf War.

The Millennials, while heavily participating in the ongoing climate strikes, held their own protests and walkout at Garibaldi Secondary over changes to student timetables.

The students demanding action over climate change today add their names to a distinguished history of community members seeking a better future for everyone.

Shea Henry, Maple Ridge Museum and Community Archives.

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