THE DIRTY THIR­TIES

DES­PER­ATE TIMES CALL FOR DES­PER­ATE MEA­SURES

Canada's History - - FRONT PAGE - by Bill Waiser

It was early April 1935 — smack in the mid­dle of the Great De­pres­sion — and the worst fears of Cana­dian au­thor­i­ties had be­gun to un­fold. Hun­dreds of un­em­ployed, dis­il­lu­sioned, young, sin­gle men were walk­ing out of iso­lated Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence (DND) re­lief camps in Bri­tish Columbia and were mak­ing their way to Van­cou­ver. Sick and tired of work­ing at hard labour for twenty cents a day, eight hours a day, un­der de­plorable con­di­tions — and with no end in sight — the men were de­ter­mined to re­v­erse their dead-end lives.

Their de­mands in­cluded a work-and-wages pro­gram, a fifty­cent-an-hour min­i­mum wage, work­ers com­pen­sa­tion, the right to vote for all camp work­ers, and an end to DND’s con­trol of the work camps.

The walk­out, co­or­di­nated by the Com­mu­nist Party-af­fil­i­ated Re­lief Camp Work­ers’ Union, was a di­rect chal­lenge to the federal Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment of R.B. Ben­nett and its han­dling of the sin­gle, home­less, and un­em­ployed dur­ing the De­pres­sion. Ben­nett’s gov­ern­ment, and the RCMP, looked upon dis­sent, no mat­ter how peace­ful or jus­ti­fied, as a pos­si­ble com­mu­nist threat to the coun­try and its tra­di­tions.

Since his elec­tion in 1930, Ben­nett had tried to ad­dress the un­prece­dented eco­nomic col­lapse through tra­di­tional mea­sures, such as pro­tec­tive tar­iffs. He op­posed what he per­ceived as hand­outs. “Never will I or any gov­ern­ment of which I am a part put a pre­mium on idle­ness or put our peo­ple on the dole,” he told a labour del­e­ga­tion ask­ing for un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance in 1930.

A few years later, it was clear that his reme­dies weren’t work­ing. In Oc­to­ber 1932, he re­luc­tantly adopted a re­lief camp scheme to put un­em­ployed men to work. Run by the mil­i­tary, the pro­gram be­gan mod­estly but grew to in­clude camps across the coun­try.

In con­trast to the Amer­i­can Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps, a pop­u­lar federal work-for-re­lief pro­gram across the border, the make-work projects and iso­lat­ing con­di­tions of the Cana­dian re­lief camps ag­gra­vated the gloom of the men who were in them.

In Van­cou­ver, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties ner­vously looked on as about fif­teen hun­dred un­em­ployed men — dubbed strik­ers — ar­rived in the city in April 1935. They held huge pub­lic ral­lies, pa­raded in the streets, raised $5,500 in do­na­tions from cit­i­zens — an as­tound­ing amount for the time — in a sin­gle day, and even oc­cu­pied a library to ex­tract re­lief funds from the city. The most re­mark­able event was a Mother’s Day gath­er­ing in Stanley Park, where about three hun­dred women en­cir­cled more than one thou­sand strik­ers, form­ing the shape of a heart. Mean­while, the federal and provin­cial gov­ern­ments wran­gled over who was re­spon­si­ble for the strik­ers.

As the stale­mate dragged on and strik­ers be­gan slip­ping away, with some go­ing back to the camps, it was sug­gested at a meet­ing that the men take their griev­ances to Ot­tawa and di­rectly con­front the Ben­nett gov­ern­ment. This bold idea gal­va­nized the strik­ers’ flag­ging spir­its.

But the trek was a big­ger gam­ble than the walk­out. Ot­tawa was more than five thou­sand kilo­me­tres away, and the strik­ers would have to travel there atop box­cars. An es­ti­mated one thou­sand trekkers left Van­cou­ver by freight train in early June 1935 in three sep­a­rate con­tin­gents. No at­tempt was made to stop them. Au­thor­i­ties con­fi­dently as­sumed that the re­solve of the men would melt away like the snow in the in­te­rior moun­tains. Even Prime Min­is­ter Ben­nett, con­vinced that the strik­ers had mis­played their hand, an­nounced that his Con­ser­va­tive ad­min­is­tra­tion would sim­ply watch from the side­lines.

The trek seemed likely to ful­fill the gloomy pre­dic­tions. Al­though the train en­gi­neers tried to be as ac­com­mo­dat­ing as pos­si­ble — for in­stance, mak­ing fre­quent un­sched­uled stops to al­low the men to uri­nate from atop the box­cars or to have a smoke — the same could not be said of the re­cep­tion await­ing the men at their first stop, in Kam­loops. Noth­ing had been done to pre­pare for their ar­rival; the mayor and chief of police had flatly re­fused re­quests for help.

“It was here that the break­ing point was just about reached,” trekker Ron Li­versedge later re­mem­bered, “and the first time since our strike started that ... our self-dis­ci­pline [was] thrown to the winds.” The men scram­bled to can­vas the town for food and cash do­na­tions be­fore set­tling down for the night in a lo­cal park. It was there, while the men were sit­ting around camp­fires, that one of them be­gan play­ing the pop­u­lar union song “Hold the Fort” on his con­certina. One by one the men joined in to sing the words, un­til hun­dreds of voices were united in the stir­ring lyrics: “Hold the fort/ For we are com­ing/

Union men be strong./ Side by side keep press­ing on­ward,/ Vic­tory will come.” It be­came their an­them for the rest of the trek.

Af­ter the near break­down in Kam­loops — and a sit­u­a­tion that was lit­tle bet­ter in Revel­stoke — the trek lead­er­ship re­dou­bled their ef­forts to en­sure that ar­range­ments were in place to feed and house the men at a series of pre­de­ter­mined stops along the way. Their work paid off: When the men, shiv­er­ing from the cold, de­trained in Golden at four o’clock in the morn­ing of Thurs­day, June 6, they were wel­comed by a clutch of el­derly women stir­ring wash­tubs of sim­mer­ing stew in a nearby park. “I’ll never for­get that,” trekker Red Walsh con­fessed years later. “I was so cold when I come [sic] off the roof of that box­car I thought I was goin’ to fall down.” The hot meal was ex­actly what the trekkers needed to shake off their dol­drums.

Al­though the trek had de­fied the odds and trav­elled seven hun­dred kilo­me­tres to make it as far as Golden, it had come at a cost — more than a hun­dred men had de­fected since Van­cou­ver. If the trek was go­ing to build some mo­men­tum, or­ga­ni­za­tion and dis­ci­pline were para­mount. Trek lead­ers con­se­quently used the day in Golden to strike var­i­ous com­mit­tees to en­sure that the trek ran as smoothly as pos­si­ble. They also drilled into the men that they would never reach their goal, never get to Ot­tawa, un­less they came to­gether as a unit. They were no longer an aim­less group of in­di­vid­u­als, hitch­ing a ride on a train, headed for nowhere; they were men with a cause — and a mis­sion. But the up­beat mood of the men on leav­ing Golden was short­lived: Ahead of them were the dreaded spi­ral tun­nels of the Kick­ing Horse Pass. For the first time, there were gen­uine fears for the safety of the men. The two tun­nels, each about a kilo­me­tre long, cut through the moun­tains and spi­ralled around and un­der­neath them­selves like a gi­ant corkscrew. In­side the tun­nels, there was the threat of as­phyx­i­a­tion from a lack of oxy­gen and the poi­sonous smoke from the steam en­gine.

The train was de­lib­er­ately stopped out­side Field while the men were cau­tioned about the dan­ger ahead. Some placed wet hand­ker­chiefs over their faces; a lucky few had gog­gles. All clung tightly to the cat­walk that ran along the top of the box­cars as the freight train groaned around the curves in the pitch dark. “It was hot in the tun­nels,” trekker Ir­ven Schwartz re­called. “First there was a blast of cold, and then a real blast of heat, and fi­nally the smoke came back. You think you’re not go­ing to live.” In the late af­ter­noon of Fri­day, June 7, the Cana­dian Pa­cific Railway train, with its hu­man cargo, rum­bled out of Bri­tish Columbia and down into

the foothills into Cal­gary.

The trekkers, or “tourists,” as they were jok­ingly called in the lo­cal news­pa­pers, were sched­uled to spend the weekend in the prime min­is­ter’s home rid­ing. But all that an ad­vance party was able to se­cure at a spe­cial city coun­cil meet­ing was the use of the ex­hi­bi­tion grand- stand to house the men. The Cal­gary mayor of­fered no bed­ding, no soap or tow­els, and no food. The trekkers re­sponded by wash­ing off their soot and grime in the El­bow River and then hold­ing an il­le­gal tag day — so­lic­it­ing do­na­tions in the street — on Satur­day morn­ing.

When the Cal­gary police did noth­ing to stop the men from col­lect­ing money, they be­came even bolder and laid siege to the down­town of­fice of the Al­berta Re­lief Com­mis­sion — un­til provin­cial of­fi­cials agreed to pro­vide meals for the next few days.

Ini­tially wary of the trekkers and their mo­tives, Cal­gary cit­i­zens were struck by the in­no­cent youth­ful­ness of the men. “We had re­ports that these strik­ers were a rough bunch,” one by­stander told a re­porter, “but when we saw how or­derly and well-be­haved they were every­one warmed up to them.” About a thou­sand cit­i­zens at­tended a rally at the ex­hi­bi­tion grounds, cheer­ing and ap­plaud­ing as they lis­tened to speak­ers ex­plain the rea­sons for the trek.

By the time the men left Cal­gary on Mon­day evening, the trek had taken on the aura of a cru­sade. What be­gan as a strike against federal re­lief camps had been trans­formed into a pop­u­lar move­ment against the federal gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the De­pres­sion. This mes­sage was not lost on the com­mu­ni­ties that wel­comed the men like mod­ern-day folk heroes as they headed east on their mis­sion.

Police, mil­i­tary, and gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties, in the mean­time, de­cided that the trek had to be stopped. It was one thing for the trekkers to rail against federal re­lief poli­cies, but it was quite an­other mat­ter when their protest was at­tract­ing grow­ing pub­lic in­ter­est, if not sup­port. New re­cruits had climbed aboard in Al­berta, and more were ex­pected to join. Moved by a sense of ur­gency, the Ben­nett gov­ern­ment drew up plans to stop the trek.

Mean­while, the trekkers con­fronted more im­me­di­ate con­cerns. No sooner had the freight left for their next stop in Al­berta — Medicine Hat — than a stiff wind blew up and rain be­gan to fall in tor­rents. The men atop the box­cars hud­dled to­gether to try to stay warm, but their blan­kets and clothes were soon drenched. When­ever the train stopped dur­ing the night, a group quickly gath­ered around the huge pis­tons of the lo­co­mo­tive in an at­tempt to warm their chilled bod­ies.

The mayor of Medicine Hat tried to dis­cour­age the trek from stop­ping in his city by of­fer­ing two hun­dred dol­lars if it just kept go­ing. But the lead­er­ship turned down the bribe. Ever since the men had emerged from the moun­tains, there was a real sense that they were go­ing to make it to Ot­tawa — with grow­ing sup­port and more re­cruits as the trek made its way east­ward. “I thought we were makin’ his­tory,” bragged Red Walsh. “No doubt about that.” This be­lief that they were part of some­thing spe­cial forged a bond among the men, a steely en­thu­si­asm that not even a night of cold, driv­ing rain could dampen.

While the men were in Medicine Hat — near the Saskatchewan border but still in Al­berta — plans were tak­ing shape to halt the trek. On June 11, Saskatchewan Premier James Gardiner was per­son­ally ad­vised by Regina-based RCMP As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner S. T. Wood that the trek would be stopped in Regina. Later that day, the premier re­ceived a tele­gram from W.A. Mather of the CPR declar­ing the men to be tres­passers and asked for the “as­sis­tance and co-op­er­a­tion of your gov­ern­ment.”

An in­cred­u­lous Gardiner protested the federal decision. If the trekkers had been in vi­o­la­tion of the Rail­ways Act, why had they not been stopped ear­lier? The Lib­eral premier fired off a tele­gram to Ben­nett to say, “if there is any trou­ble while these out­siders are in Saskatchewan we will hold you re­spon­si­ble.” And a few days later, in a June 17 tele­gram to the federal min­is­ter of jus­tice, Gardiner warned, “in our opin­ion your ac­tion may re­sult in caus­ing a riot in this province en­dan­ger­ing life and prop­erty.”

It was not the first time dur­ing the De­pres­sion that the RCMP had been used in Saskatchewan to quell dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. In Septem­ber 1931, the Moun­ties sparked a riot by in­ter­cept­ing a peace­ful march by strik­ing coal min­ers and their fam­i­lies in Este­van. The police shot to death three men. In May 1933, the RCMP started an­other riot by forcibly try­ing to re­move “trou­ble­mak­ers” from the Saska­toon re­lief camp. In that in­ci­dent, one of­fi­cer died when he fell from his horse and struck his head.

The trek took to the rails again on the morn­ing of Wed­nes­day, June 12, and reached Swift Cur­rent, Saskatchewan, shortly af­ter noon. Most of the town turned out to wit­ness the train’s ar­rival. So too did Charles Woodsworth, a news­pa­per re­porter dis­guised as a tran­sient. The Win­nipeg Tri­bune had sent Woodsworth — the son of J.S. Woodsworth, founder of the Co-op­er­a­tive Com­mon­wealth Fed­er­a­tion — to Swift Cur­rent to join the trek, and the or­ga­ni­za­tion of the men made quite a first im­pres­sion.

“I ex­pected them to swarm across the tracks and in­vade Swift Cur­rent like a mob,” he con­fessed. “In­stead, they formed fours im­me­di­ately on de­scend­ing from the cars, waited un­til all sec­tions of the hobo army were ready, and then marched town-wards in real army style.”

It was in Swift Cur­rent that the trek lead­ers first learned of the gov­ern­ment’s decision to stop the trek in Regina. It was un­doubt­edly on their minds as they boarded a wait­ing freight train. This time, though, they had com­pany. The box­cars were loaded with horses and cat­tle. As the hun­dreds of men took their po­si­tions above them, the fright­ened an­i­mals neighed, bel­lowed, and stomped.

“I ex­pected them to swarm across the tracks and in­vade Swift Cur­rent like a mob,” he con­fessed. “In­stead, they formed fours im­me­di­ately on de­scend­ing from the cars.”

The trekkers — now num­ber­ing about 1,350 — rode into Moose Jaw just be­fore sun­down on June 12. By this time, the pub­lic had cast aside its fear of the army of tran­sient rail rid­ers. Large crowds formed at railway cross­ings and over­passes, bois­ter­ously cheer­ing on the trekkers as they passed. The men shouted and waved back, their teeth gleam­ing from faces dark­ened by coal dust and smoke.

On one level, the trek had be­come a trav­el­ling road show. It is quite likely that many in the crowds in Moose Jaw that evening had come to catch a glimpse of the men be­fore the loom­ing show­down in Regina. But, on an­other level, the trek res­onated with De­pres­sion-weary Western Cana­di­ans in a way no other event had since their world had been turned up­side-down.

How­ever, the view from Par­lia­ment Hill, 2,700 kilo­me­tres away, was very dif­fer­ent. To the Ben­nett ad­min­is­tra­tion the trek was a revo­lu­tion on wheels — an army of sin­gle, home­less, un­em­ployed men with noth­ing to lose, un­der the con­trol of com­mu­nist masters. To make matters worse, the army was grow­ing. Labour or­ga­ni­za­tions were throw­ing their sup­port be­hind the rail rid­ers: about a thou­sand re­lief camp work­ers were gath­er­ing in Win­nipeg, pre­pared to join the trek if it came through.

Thurs­day, June 13, was a rainy day in Moose Jaw. Most of the trekkers spent their time at the ex­hi­bi­tion grounds, hud­dling in small groups in the stands or un­der­neath them, talk­ing and smok­ing, while wait­ing for a decision from the strike com­mit­tee about their next move.

That af­ter­noon, three thou­sand cit­i­zens and trekkers filled the grand­stand for a pub­lic rally that was held, os­ten­si­bly, to thank the city for its sup­port. But the real pur­pose was to tell the Ben­nett gov­ern­ment to keep its hands off the trek. Trek leader Paddy O’Neill an­nounced to the en­thu­si­as­tic roar of the trekkers: “We are go­ing through with the march, and we don’t care if we have to go in our stockinged feet.”

At a closed mass meet­ing that evening, the trek lead­ers talked in de­tail for the first time about the block­ade in Regina and what would be ex­pected of the men. They sternly cau­tioned them that any “mon­key busi­ness” or hooli­gan­ism on the trains or in the streets would lead to ex­pul­sion. At 12:30 a.m., af­ter wait­ing for what seemed to be an eter­nity in the mud-filled park, the trekkers were called into for­ma­tion and marched to the train sta­tion.

There, they pa­tiently waited two more hours in steady rain un­til their freight was fi­nally ready, and they strug­gled aboard for the seventy-kilo­me­tre trip to Regina. By now they num­bered about fif­teen hun­dred. The scene was eerily rem­i­nis­cent of their de­par­ture from Van­cou­ver ten days ear­lier — set­ting off in the night, with no one to see them off, and un­cer­tain as to how far they would get.

At least one thing had been set­tled: There would be no turn­ing back. The trekkers reached Regina early on Fri­day, June 14. There, the mood was tense. “Hur­ried con­fer­ences were held all day yes­ter­day be­tween Premier Gardiner, cab­i­net min­is­ters, police of­fi­cials, and civil heads,” re­ported the Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen, which also noted, “Or­ders from Ot­tawa to Royal Cana­dian Mounted Police of­fi­cials here to halt the trek brought a de­mand from J.G. Gardiner of Saskatchewan that Prime Min­is­ter R.B. Ben­nett ‘keep his hands

off the polic­ing of this province.’”

The train was met by mem­bers of the RCMP, who es­corted the men to their new tem­po­rary home at the Regina ex­hi­bi­tion grounds. A coali­tion of sym­pa­thetic Regina groups ac­com­mo­dated the needs of the men, in­clud­ing food, fundrais­ing, and a va­ri­ety of pub­lic events. Mean­while, a del­e­ga­tion of trek lead­ers trav­elled by train to Ot­tawa in an at­tempt to ne­go­ti­ate with the gov­ern­ment. The fruit­less re­sult was summed up in a two-line memo that the CPR flashed to its of­fices across the coun­try on June 22: “Prime Min­is­ter told Regina Com­mit­tee noth­ing do­ing. Go back to your camps.”

For the next two weeks in the Saskatchewan cap­i­tal, the police and the trekkers played a tense game of brinkman­ship, dar­ing each other to make the first move. Near the end of June, the num­ber of trekkers had grown to about two thou­sand. How­ever, the men grudg­ingly con­ceded that there was no way out of Regina. An at­tempt to move some of the strik­ers out by truck was quickly stopped by the RCMP. At the same time, the RCMP warned civil­ians that they would be pros­e­cuted if they pro­vided as­sis­tance to the trekkers.

There seemed to be no way to end the im­passe peace­fully. The trekkers were agree­able to leav­ing Regina and go­ing back to their re­spec­tive camps or their homes — but only un­der the di­rec­tion of their own or­ga­ni­za­tion. The Ben­nett gov­ern­ment, how­ever, in­sisted that the trek be dis­banded on its terms — through a spe­cial hold­ing fa­cil­ity on the out­skirts of the city. The men balked at the pro­posal, see­ing it as a trap.

On the evening of July 1 — Do­min­ion Day — the strik­ers held a mass meet­ing at Mar­ket Square in the city’s cen­tre. Es­ti­mates of how many were there range from twelve hun­dred to three thou­sand. More than half were lo­cal cit­i­zens. None re­al­ized that the Moun­ties and the city police had cho­sen this rally to ar­rest the trek ring­leaders while clear­ing the square by force, if nec­es­sary. Even Premier Gardiner, who had met with strike lead­ers ear­lier in the day, was un­aware of the plan.

At 8:17 p.m., just as one of the speak­ers fin­ished ad­dress­ing the or­derly crowd, the shrill sound of a police whis­tle pierced the air. Thir­ty­one club-wield­ing city police of­fi­cers sprang from their hid­ing places to charge the speak­ers’ plat­form and ar­rest the trek or­ga­niz­ers. “The po­lice­men went slam bang into the crowd,” wit­ness Allen Miller told a provin­cial in­quiry held later that year. “I saw peo­ple be­ing knocked over.” One older woman fell and broke her leg. An­other woman was clubbed on the back as she tried to help an el­derly woman who had fallen. Even a baby car­riage was bumped in the melee.

As the Regina police rushed through the crowd, two Moun­tie units also sprang into ac­tion and charged into the square. The raid quickly de­gen­er­ated into a pitched bat­tle be­tween the police and trekkers and cit­i­zens. An un­for­tu­nate num­ber of police of­fi­cers be­came sep­a­rated from their troops and were sur­rounded by an­gry mobs. One Moun­tie was pinned to the ground as two trekkers vi­ciously punched him about the head and torso. The police were equally bru­tal, with many re­ports of groups of police of­fi­cers hold­ing trekkers down and beat­ing them with clubs.

Peo­ple fled the square, but trekkers and some civil­ians, in­clud­ing women, re­grouped on nearby streets and threw rocks and bricks at

police. Moun­ties on horse­back ap­peared, armed with long leather trun­cheons and pro­tected by metal hel­mets. They charged at pock­ets of re­sis­tance, yelling all the while as if they were push­ing cat­tle.

Peo­ple gasped as clouds of tear gas filled the down­town. Store win­dows dec­o­rated with Do­min­ion Day bunting and flags were shat­tered by brick-wield­ing ri­ot­ers. Thou­sands of cu­ri­ous cit­i­zens emerged from cafés, the­atres, and homes to watch what was go­ing on. “I must say,” Colonel Wood re­ported later, “that spec­ta­tors were the great­est hin­drance to us in the course of our op­er­a­tions.” Two hours af­ter the riot be­gan, shots echoed through the streets as city police of­fi­cers emp­tied their re­volvers di­rectly into a crowd of stone-throw­ing ri­ot­ers. Am­bu­lances rushed the wounded to hospi­tal. Or­der was not re­stored un­til af­ter mid­night. Dawn broke on a des­o­late scene of streets lit­tered with shards of glass, bro­ken bricks, twisted metal, and pools of blood.

Two peo­ple died. One of them was city police de­tec­tive Charles Mil­lar, who was clubbed on the head. The other was Nick Schaack, a farm­hand, who, at fifty-two, was one of the older trekkers. Schaack died three and a half months later, due to com­pli­ca­tions from a head in­jury sus­tained dur­ing the melee. In ad­di­tion, hun­dreds of peo­ple were in­jured, and the city sus­tained tens of thou­sands of dol­lars worth of dam­age. Of the 118 men ar­rested, 38 were charged, and nine were con­victed and sen­tenced.

Sadly, Premier Gardiner’s ear­lier warn­ing — that stop­ping the trek would re­sult in a riot — had come true. Seething with anger, he told federal au­thor­i­ties his gov­ern­ment would feed and house the strik­ers and then move them west and back to their re­lief camps or their homes.

The day af­ter the riot, Ben­nett spoke at length in the House of Com­mons, de­fend­ing his gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions: “This move­ment is … not a mere up­ris­ing against law and or­der but a rev­o­lu­tion­ary ef­fort.” Three months later, in the thick of an elec­tion cam­paign, he was promis­ing rad­i­cal re­forms, such as health and un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance as well as a min­i­mum wage. But it was to no avail. In

Oc­to­ber 1935, Lib­eral leader Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie King over­whelm­ingly de­feated Ben­nett.

Less than a year later, the re­lief camps were closed. But for many of the hope­less men who lived in them and took part in the protest, the trek had pro­vided a pur­pose. Far from be­ing a sin­is­ter com­mu­nist plot, the march east­ward cap­tured a pro­found sense of the cri­sis that gripped the coun­try dur­ing the 1930s. The sto­ries of the trekkers — and their feel­ings of fail­ure and de­spair — could have been the sto­ries of many other or­di­nary Cana­di­ans. They just wanted to live or­di­nary lives.

Jean McWil­liam of Cal­gary clearly un­der­stood this. In a let­ter to Alice Mil­lar, Ben­nett’s pri­vate sec­re­tary, dated two days af­ter the Regina Riot, McWil­liams wrote: “These boys who went thro Cal­gary seemed to be a very fine type of boys.... And I am heartily sorry for them. To me it is ... a lost gen­er­a­tion.”

Learn more at CanadasHis­tory.ca/OnToOt­tawaTrek

Un­em­ployed men climb on board a train dur­ing the De­pres­sion. CITY OF TORONTO ARCHIVES

Un­em­ployed, home­less men in a field some­where in Western Canada in the early 1930s — a com­mon sight dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion.

Above right: Re­lief camp work­ers con­struct a new sleep­ing hut at a camp in Kitch­ener, Bri­tish Columbia, in Novem­ber 1935. Be­low right: Meal­time at a Cana­dian re­lief camp in Fe­bru­ary 1934, lo­ca­tion un­known.

Above: Un­em­ployed men march in Toronto dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion. Be­low: A dust storm ap­proaches the town of Lomond, Al­berta, in the 1930s.

Un­em­ployed men on the On to Ot­tawa Trek dis­play a sign with one of their de­mands. The Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence re­lief camps were called “slave camps” by those who worked in them for twenty cents a day.

Left: Women in Van­cou­ver hold a Mother’s Day pic­nic in sup­port of the On to Ot­tawa trekkers.

Right: Trekkers stand in for­ma­tion as they wait to board their train. Discli­pline was one of the hall­marks of the trek.

Ri­ot­ers car­ry­ing sticks and throw­ing rocks run to­wards a police of­fi­cer who is bend­ing over a per­son on the ground dur­ing the Do­min­ion Day riot in Regina in 1935. The vi­o­lence be­gan when police stormed a rally to ar­rest lead­ers of the On to Ot­tawa Trek.

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