Labour day is celebrated on the first Monday of September, it is called la fête du Travail in Québec. It is a public holiday and so many shops, banks, business and government buildings will be closed. The holiday was first celebrated in 1894 and falls on the same day as labor day in America.
The day is a celebration of workers rights in Canada and is a reminder to everyone of the progress that has been made over the last 150 years.
Labour Day has origins in the slow and gradual demand for change in worker's rights across the country in the last three decades of the 19th century. This demand for changes in worker's conditions appeared across the country in a few different ways:
The demand for nine hours
1872 was the year that the Nine Hour Movement captured the imaginations of workers in Canada. The aim of the movement was to reduce the working day from twelve hours to nine, and by doing so improving the lives of Canadian workers. One major contributor to the nine hour movement was the Toronto Typographical Union which led members in strike action in March that year, and then on a parade in April.They were supported by workers in factories all over the country and their action led to national awareness of their cause and new laws that make striking and joining unions legal.
The parade held as part of the nine hour movement started to become an annual event and the forerunner to today's Labour Day celebrations.
The expansion of unions
In 1871 the Toronto Trade Assembly was formed out of several small craft unions such as the Toronto Typographical Union. As they met and grew in number they became more influential and powerful. The Toronto Trade Assembly took a large role in the nine hour strike action and also in starting the Canadian Labour Union which was a pioneering organization that supported workers on strike, and represented the national demands of workers. There was also the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada which ran from 1883 to 1956. As the popularity of unions and Labour Day celebrations grew, so too did the pressure on government to officially recognize Labour Day as a national event.
John Thompson, the then Prime Minister, declared in 1894 that Labour Day would become an official public holiday. There were parades, parties and celebrations throughout the country.
In Winnipeg the event was announced in newspapers as "Canada's First Legal Labor Day", the newspaper also said that it would be "the grandest industrial parade ever seen in The West". The parade was in the morning, followed in the afternoon by amateur sports events such as lacrosse matches, running races, standing long jumps and bicycle races. In the evening bands played music while people danced and partied.
The growth of unions and the celebration of Labour Day is not unique to Canada. In the same year that John Thompson declared It an official public holiday for Canadians, President Grover Cleveland also did so in America, making it a federal holiday. Many states had already been celebrating Labour Day officially for some years, with Oregon being the first in 1887. It is thought that the parades in Toronto, beginning in 1872, inspired American workers to do the same, and encouraged Americans to celebrate their own Labor Day.
The United Kingdom experienced similar changes in workers rights during the late 1800s and in 1871 the British Government made union membership legal in their Trade Union Act. However, there are no similar labour day celebrations in September, instead the British celebrate International Workers Day on May 1st.
How we celebrate it
There are many ways to celebrate Labour Day. Firstly, a lot of people enjoy the long weekend and having extra time with the family, maybe even going away somewhere for a mini break. For many it is the last chance before the end of summer and the beginning of the school term. Typical celebrations over the weekend might include BBQs or a picnic outside.
There are still plenty of official activities taking place such as parades and picnics in Ottawa and Toronto. Some organizations host firework displays, and restaurants and clubs often have special offers or promotions to celebrate the weekend. Many union organizations host family fun days.
The Labour Day Classic
Every year on Labour Day, the football calendar includes some of the most exciting games of the seasion, the event is called The Labour Day Classic. The same matches have been played every year since 1949, which are:
Edmonton vs Calgary
Toronto vs Hamilton
Montreal vs Ottawa
Winnipeg vs Saskatchewan
However you choose to celebrate it, Labour Day is a great opportunity to spend time with the family, and to remember the rights that workers fought to win for all Canadians in 1872.