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2006 09 04
September’s Parade
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One of the earliest curiosities of Toronto for me was the Labour Day Parade. I don't ever remember my home town parading on Labour Day Monday? Did Torontonians worship "Work" so much that they paraded in honour of it? Who celebrated working? See how innocent I was? I'm surprised I wasn't immediately recruited by Junior Achievers and indoctrinated into their anti-labour cult of suspicion (or some dark and mysterious hazing ritual that happened deep in the bank vaults of the world). I had known of labour strife marches and campaigns of the Depression Era, but had little knowledge of the worldwide worker's movement of the late 19th century (perhaps I was sick from school that week - or more likely, it was completely ignored in my history classes).

Needless to say, I hadn't the slightest clue that Labour Day (at least on this side of the pond) started right here in Toronto. If I hadn't happened to meet a neighbour in the street who knew of the history, I might still not know. Parades held in support of an 1872 printer's strike led to John A. Macdonald's repeal of anti-union legislation, which led to the annual celebration in Canada and eventually in the United States as well.

How is it that printers played such a decisive role in labour politics? The Haymarket riots of the same period were said to have printer-activists (and anarchists) amongst its primary organizers, even going so far as to make bomb casings from melted down lead type. Who says words can't kill? It certainly makes any contemporary graphic design activism seem tame (Question: What would Tibor do? Answer: Probably not engage in making bombs.)

Given our desperate proclivity for reciting any slight mention of anything Canadian in the American or British press, it's surprising this slice of history is so little known. Or am I the only one? I guess 19th century labour history just isn't sexy enough to register a blip on our collective radar. That's okay, I suppose I need more time to ponder Hilary Duff's equine dental veneers anyway.

P.S. As a good Canadian, I should've known better and procured my alcoholic beverages on Saturday. Despite weather reports to the contrary, it will be a dry Labour Day in our house.
[email this story] Posted by P. Rogers on 09/04 at 04:07 PM

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