Labour Day

I originally posted this last Labour Day and have edited it just a little!

The first Monday in September is Labour Day. In Canada it’s the last big day to barbeque before the kids go back to school, or maybe in pre-pandemic times, go to a local fall fair. Labour Day is a statutory holiday here, where almost all stores, except for the essentials are closed – because it’s a holiday for labour of course. I’ve noticed though, that even though we haven’t beaten the pandemic yet, our local factory outlet mall will be open for back to school shopping.

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Most people forget that Canada’s first Labour Day parade occurred on April 15 1872, when the Toronto Trades Assembly organized a protest for workers rights. 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union had been imprisoned for striking to campaign for a 9 hour workday. My ancestors were from the printing trade in this time period, so I am curious as to their involvement in these events – I will likely never know. In reading the 1871 census, my great great grandfather was a printer at a newspaper east of the now Greater Toronto area. In 1881, I saw that he was employed at the Toronto Globe. I don’t know where he was working in between these dates, but I do know that the Typographical Union was striking against the Toronto Globe and protesting working a 12 hour workday. George Brown, the editor of the Globe called on the police and the strikers were jailed. It was illegal to belong to a union and the workers were charged with “criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade.” Demonstrations in support took place on September 3, 1872, and the following year the anti-union law was repealed. Other unions began demanding a 54 hour work week. Labour Day became an official national holiday in Canada in 1894.


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In the United States, the first Labor Day parade took place in 1882 in New York, and in 1894 Labor Day became and official national holiday, although many states had already adopted the holiday.

Each year, Labour Day occurs at a time of change of season – back to work, back to school, – even during this pandemic. I remember however, the purpose of Labour Day and this time period when striking and unions were illegal and considered criminal conspiracies in Canada.

It’s interesting then that this holiday has turned in to a time for barbeques, back to school shopping, closing the vacation cottage, and other end of summer events. While most stores a closed for the day, (grocery, Walmart, malls, Home Depots, etc.) in Ontario I found open (in addition to the factory outlet mall), a beer store and a garden centre. Just the essentials.

There’s no Labour Day Parade this year, no fall fairs, and I have no need to back to school shop, but the neighbours are having a BBQ and pool party – but I’m trying not to notice.

Oh, and I know that I’m not supposed to wear white after Labour day, but I just found the white pants I bought in the spring – so that’s not a rule for me.

Happy Labour Day.

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