The Origins of Labour Day

The Origins of Labour Day in Canada


              With Labour Day having just passed this weekend and with the children back in school, we thought we would take a look into why Labour Day is celebrated in Canada. As well as some of our national pastimes that surround this day.


              Labour Day has been celebrated in Canada on the first Monday in September since the 1880’s. It originated in Canada and can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Unions’ strike. This parade was the first of its kind being almost a full decade before a similar event in New York City. This demonstration in New York City caused the U.S. labour federation to launch a movement towards the American Labour Day holiday.

              The Toronto Trade Assembly (TTA) called its union members to demonstrate in support of the Typographical Union which had been on strike since March 25th. George Brown, Canadian Politician and editor of the Toronto Globe decided he had had enough and hit back at his striking employees, pressing the police to charge the Typographical Union with ‘conspiracy’. This brought to light the fact that Canadian laws basically criminalized unions, with these laws having already been abolished in Great Britain. This led to the arrest of 24 leaders of the Typographical Union.

              This injustice caused Labour leaders to call for a demonstration on September 3 to protest what they deemed as unlawful arrests. Seven Unions marched in Ottawa, the response from the government being a promise from then Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald to repeal the “barbarous” anti-union laws. Parliament passed the Trade Union Act on June 14 the following year and soon all Unions were seeking an amended work week.

              This led to the Toronto Trades and labour council holding celebrations every spring, as much of the world still does. The co-founder of the American Federation of labour was asked to speak at the event on July 22nd and upon return to the United States he and the Knights of Labour organized a similar parade on September 5th 1882. On the 23rd of July 1894, Prime Minister John Thompson and his government made Labour Day, to be held in September, an official holiday. The United States also adopted Labour Day as a holiday to compete with international workers day or May Day.


              While Labour Day is often characterized by parades and picnics organized by unions, many of us regard it as the final hurrah of the summer break. Non-union celebrations include things like, picnics, fireworks displays, water activities, and other public events. Also school generally starts right after Labour Day so people with school – age children tend to use it as a last chance to travel before the end of the summer break.

              An old fashioned Labour Day tradition in Canada and the United States frowns upon the wearing of white after Labour Day. Explanations for this tradition vary with the most common being that white is a summer colour and Labour Day unofficially marks the end of summer. This rule may have been intended as a status symbol for new members of the upper and middle classes in the late 19th and early 20th century.

              Labour Day in Canada comes with many traditions that are both geographically and culturally influenced. A Labour Day tradition in Atlantic Canada is the Wharf Rat Rally in Digby, Nova Scotia. A large part of the Country also watches the Labour Day Classic a CFL (Canadian Football league) event where traditional rivals play on Labour Day weekend. As well Ontario University Athletics (OUA) has a long standing tradition to play university football on Labour Day. The Labour Day parade in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland started in 1921 and still continues to this day, 90 years later. The celebrations in this community go on for three days with a parade on Labour Day Monday.


              Well we at HRC insurance hope that this little blog gave you some more insight into the history of Labour Day in Canada! With the summer winding down we hope you still get to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Muskoka and our beautiful country as well. As always stay safe and we hope you stop by again!

Since the 1900's...

Born under the name George Hutcheson, Hutcheson, Reynolds & Caswell Ltd. began providing insurance policies in Muskoka since the early 1900s. Bernard Reynolds joined the firm in the 1940s and purchased the firm from George Hutcheson in 1967. Finally, in 1980, David Caswell joined the company's ranks to complete Hutcheson, Reynolds and Caswell. We have grown along with our name and provide the same dedication to superior customer service and top-notch insurance coverage that George Hutcheson was famous for over 100 years ago.