Curator hails new General Strike artifacts

A curator with the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa says she's collected lots of new materials from the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 including police pins and armbands.

A curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization is heading back to Ottawa with numerous newly uncovered treasures from the 1919 General Strike.

Rhonda Hinther visited Winnipeg in November to try to dig up memorabilia from the Winnipeg strike to add to the museum's Western Canadian history wing.

The response to her week-long search in November was so well-received that she felt she needed to return to meet with more Winnipeggers who had scoured their basements and attics for items related to the strike. She returned in December for another few weeks.

"Back at the museum, everyone was so excited that so many artifacts were available and so many people had stories to tell about family members and photos to share," said Hinther. "It's really been overwhelming."

This time around, Hinther visited the city's police museum and scored an armband and pins worn by several of the 2,000 "special" police constables that were hired to replace the striking police force.

She also found a few billy clubs used during the strike, and the gavel and robe bag belonging to Judge Thomas Llewellyn Metcalfe, who presided over strike-related trials.

Hinther says she's still searching for more information and artifacts related to the ways the strike affected children.

"I would really like to get a sense of how children experienced the strike, what they remembered," said Hinther. "What it was like in their homes? How did their parents get by day to day? Were they taken to the strike events?"

Hinther says the next step is to further research the loaned objects, and then to find a creative way to redesign the museum's strike display  — a recreation of strike headquarters in the James Street Labour Temple — to incorporate the new treasures

In the largest strike in Canadian history, 30,000 Winnipeg workers walked off the job in May 1919. Banks, streetcars, mail, telegrams, telephones, food delivery, water and power supply and police and fire services were all cut off.