Dec. 20, 1932: Police swing billy clubs to break up hunger march on legislature
As the Depression deepened, thousands of unemployed farmers, farm labourers and other workers from across Alberta rallied in downtown Edmonton and tried to stage a “hunger march” to the legislature.
Dust storms, drought, grasshopper infestations and low grain prices combined to leave farmers in dire straits, many of them in debt and facing eviction. In Edmonton, hundreds of families relied on government relief, while single men who were not eligible for such compensation were forced to rely on charities to feed and house them.
Protesters had planned a peaceful walk from Market Square (now the Stanley A. Milner Library) to the legislature, where they hoped to persuade Premier John Brownlee’s United Farmers of Alberta government to create work at union wages for the unemployed, provide both farmers and the unemployed a reasonable income, and shelter both groups from creditors.
“This morning, we went down to the parliament buildings and were told we couldn’t see the premier because he was in conference,” said A. Irving, spokesman for the delegation. “We saw Reid (R.G. Reid, the provincial treasurer) and he told us there was no destitution or starvation and the farmers had to pay their taxes.
“This afternoon we saw Premier Brownlee. He told us we couldn’t parade and that he had issued an order forbidding it. We demanded the right to use the King’s highways, our own highways.”
Following Irving’s speech at the rally, organizers asked those gathered if they wished to march to the legislature. The crowd cheered and more than 2,000 people began to march.
Brownlee asked police to break up the demonstration, so officers on horseback and on foot began swinging billy clubs.
Blood began flowing and the will of the group was broken after the first charge. Within 45 minutes, the demonstrators were dispersed and police were breaking up the crowd of 10,000 citizens who’d gathered to watch.
The city was left to assess several claims from vendors whose businesses were damaged in the melee.
While no arrests were made that day, the following day police raided the Ukrainian Labour Temple and took 40 people into custody. A search for guns instead turned up sandwiches made to feed outof-town protesters, and in the end most of the charges were dropped. Only six people were convicted of minor charges.