Nfld. & Labrador

Grand Falls-Windsor's 100th Labour Day parade stifled by pandemic

Grand Falls-Windsor's 100th annual Labour Day parade looks much different, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

'If you're from Grand Falls, that's a bit of a loss,' says Ron Smith

Ron Smith says this year's Labour Day parade in Grand Falls-Windsor is a disappointment, with the pandemic ruining the chance to fully celebrate the tradition's centennial. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Grand Falls-Windsor's 100th annual Labour Day parade is an event that celebrates the community's workforce and labour unions in a march that once resembled Christmas in September. 

But this year's parade looked much different as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of a parade route winding through the community, participants will take to the parking lot near the town's heritage society building for a private event.

"Labour Day this year is going to be a little disappointing, I guess," said Ron Smith, who has been a part of the parade for decades and became a union organizer after a career at the now closed pulp and paper mill. 

"COVID has pretty well put the reins on the idea of traditional parades and so on, and if you're from Grand Falls, that's a bit of a loss."

It's not only the global pandemic that's putting a damper on the tradition. 

Smith, who is also a volunteer with the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society, said the closure of the mill more than a decade ago saw the removal of five major unions from the area — and much of the driving force behind the parade.

"With less unions here, therefore there's less involvement here. We're going to face the challenge next year, I think," Smith said. 

"Somehow, we got to make up for not being able to have a parade on the 100th [anniversary]. So next year I'm hoping the community will get totally involved again and bring it back."

Ron Smith, a volunteer with the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society, holds a photo of a Labour Day parade in the community from decades ago. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

That's a sentiment echoed by Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour.

"There's already been plans made for the biggest and best ever Labour Day celebrations next year. So we will be back and in public for those celebrations," she said during Monday's event. 

Birth place of federation of labour

With two strikes currently ongoing in the province — one labour dispute between Dominion employees and Loblaw Companies and the other between the province's ferry captains and the provincial government —Shortall recognizes the importance of the parade, even if it looks different this year. 

"Workers make the economy work. That's the whole premise. Without workers there's no economy. So workers are essential to making sure that profits are made, that businesses succeed, that services are provided for the people who need it," she said.

"Sometimes I think we lose sight of how important that is when we're talking about things like economic recovery."

The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour announced details about their 'worker-centred economic recovery' plan on Monday in Grand Falls-Windsor. The town was marking its 100th annual Labour Day parade, albeit a much different way than in previous years. (Newfoundland Labrador Federation Labour LiveStream)

The NLFL wanted to be in the community for the celebration, said Shortall. 

"It's a really special place. It's the birthplace of the federation of labour 84 years ago, it's the 100th anniversary of celebrating labour, so where else would we be on Labour Day this year except for Grand Falls-Windsor?" she said.

"We have a great connection with the town. We're sorry it has to be a private event. That's tearing us apart because so many people enjoy coming out on Labour Day." 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Garrett Barry

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