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The History of Labour Day in Canada

Female labour worker sitting in a forklift smiling and looking off to the right

For many people, Labour Day marks the unofficial end of summer with many students returning to school and businesses getting back to their regular routine.

As a statutory holiday in Canada, Labour Day occurs on the first Monday in September. With a deep-rooted history in the Victorian era, it is a holiday with a unique industrial background.

The history of Labour Day began more than a century ago in 1874 when unions began holding parades and rallies in Toronto and Ottawa to celebrate the successful resolution of strike that earned changes for workers, which included the decriminalization of unions in Canada.

However, the true beginnings of the labour movement begin in 1882, when a labour convention held in New York paved the way for more labour organizations across the United States to hold labour celebrations throughout the country. This marked the start of a movement as the convention drew attention from workers all across the United States and Canada, and pressured labour governments to declare the first Monday in September a statutory holiday.

This call grew so strong that the Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital in Canada recommended that the federal government establish a labour day. By April of 1894, more than 50 labour organizations from Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Manitoba and British Columbia petitioned parliamentarians.

Thanks to increasing pressures to declare a national labour holiday, the Prime Minister of Canada at the time, John Sparrow David Thompson, yielded to the appeals of the nation. On July 23, 1894, a new law was passed recognizing the first official Labour Day in Canada.

A parade was held in Winnipeg that year and the Labour Day celebrations quickly spread across the country, marking the start of what we now know as Labour Day.

While Labour Day was traditionally recognized as a day to celebrate the labour of workers, today, it is a day for Canadians to relax, spend time with family and enjoy the last moments of summer.

This Labour Day, you can visit the PNE, go berry picking, bike the Vancouver Seawall or hike the Grouse Grind. For more ideas on what to do this Labour Day, visit our Instagram page at @university_canada_west.

 

Published on Sept. 3, 2021.