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B.C. workers protest in Ottawa, 1935

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1935. Six years into the Great Depression and workers in B.C. have had enough. After toiling in work camps for 20 cents a day and then two months of fruitless protest in Vancouver, over 1,500 frustrated workers choose a radical step: travelling over 3,000 kilometers to Ottawa to confront Prime Minister R.B. Bennett. The On to Ottawa Trek sets out on June 3, 1935. In this episode of Concern, two trek participants recall their experiences marching across the country for social change.
• By the time the On to Ottawa Trek ended in Regina, there were over 2,000 men participating. • Prime Minister R.B. Bennett didn't want more than 2,000 angry workers descending on Ottawa, so he invited eight trek leaders to talks there, provided the rest of the trekkers stopped in Regina. The talks turned into a shouting match, and nothing was accomplished. When the trek leaders returned to Regina on July 1, they called for a mass meeting to explain the situation, and the crowd was attacked by massed RCMP detachments. The resulting riot caused hundreds of injuries and devastated much of downtown Regina.

• While the trekkers never achieved their stated goal - to work for union wages - the effects of the trek and the Regina Riot were unmistakable. R.B. Bennett's Conservative party was decimated in the 1935 election, dropping from 143 seats to 40, losing to William Lyon Mackenzie King's Liberals. The government work camps were also closed less than a year later.

• Despite the widespread violence during the Regina Riot, there was only one death. Plainclothes police detective Charles Millar, a survivor of the First World War, was beaten to death by rioters.

• The song sung by guest Ron Liversedge is the union hymn adopted by the marchers. The words are, "Hold the fort, for we are coming. Union men be strong. Side by side we battle onward. Victory will come."

• Mrs. M.E. Sorley of Golden, B.C. was the recipient of trek organizer Arthur Evans' telegram asking to prepare food for 1,000 men when the group arrived in town. A Communist party organizer, Sorley canvassed farms for miles around to find sufficient food.

Medium: Radio
Program: Concern
Broadcast Date: Nov. 15, 1972
Guest(s): Ron Liversedge, Red Walsh
Host: Bruce Marsh
Duration: 25:14
Photo: Library and Archives Canada / C-029399

Last updated: June 5, 2013

Page consulted on November 21, 2014

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