Printers Strike 1872

Labour Day

Labour Day, observed on the first Monday of September, signifies more than just the end of summer in Canada. It’s a rich tapestry of history, family traditions, and seasonal changes. For our family, it was often the last big day to barbeque before the kids went back to school, or attend a local fall fair (last year even a rodeo!).

Labour day barbeque
Photo by Skitterphoto on

This is an annual re-post (and slightly edited) story about Labour Day. Thanks for reading.

In Canada, Labour Day is a statutory holiday. Labour Day is not just another holiday; it’s an acknowledgment of the workers. Almost every store closes its doors, except those offering essential services. In our northern cottage country, the streets are quiet, (but the lakes are full) but if you travel south, you’d find our local factory outlet bustling with back-to-school shoppers – and a traffic jam on the highway in front of it. AND yes, many of our Beer Stores remain open. (Just the essentials?I can’t buy groceries but I can buy beer and name brand fashion!)


I can remember many years when the kids were small, struggling to find one last thing for school lunches – or that thing they really needed for their pencil cases.

Even though my kids are now all adults and are finishing up or are finished University – this is the second year that I haven’t packed them up fresh school supplies. Apparently nobody uses pencils and pens and notebooks anymore…………

Significance of Labour Day

While we may think of Labour Day as marking a change of seasons and back to school, it has much more important significance in history. Being a tad on the stodgy side politically, I am not always so sympathetic to current labour unions. A raise, dental benefits, banking of sick days and quiet quitting – may all come to mind when we think about Labour Day. Labour Day should help us remember that it wasn’t so long ago that it wasn’t OK to strike or protest, and a 12 hour workday 7 days a week in unsafe conditions was the expectation.

The First Labour Day

The first Labour Day occurred just five years after Canada’s confederation in 1872, when the first large scale labour demonstration was organized. In late March of 1872, the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike. The first Labour Day parade – of 10,000 people descended upon Toronto 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.

A Personal Labour Day History Story

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, or whether he was involved in the 1872 strikes.

Canadian Labour Demonstration 1872

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.

Labour day Canada
Labour Demonstration

First American Labor Day parade – 1882

In the United States, the first Labor Day parade took place in 1882 in New York, (10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square) and in 1894 Labor Day became an official national holiday, although many states had already adopted the holiday.

Labour Day Today

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

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 and Happy Back To School!

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One thought on “Labour Day

  1. Despite not being Canadian or American, I feel ashamed that I didn’t know this history of labour day. I think the unions over here are about to get more vocal as the government introduces new legislation to curb their powers

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