Rockcliffe Relief Camp

10 July 1935

It was the Dirty Thirties. Across the country, factory after factory were falling idle as demand dropped precipitously as the Great Depression deepened. In the countryside, low agricultural prices combined with persistent drought in the Prairies spelt ruin for thousands of farmers. The rate of unemployment rose to levels never before experienced.

To make matters worse, there was not much of a government safety net for those affected. There was no unemployment insurance, little in the way of welfare, and no government-provided health care. The situation for young, single men was especially dire. They were not part of the “deserving poor,” but were expected to fend for themselves. But how could they when there were no jobs to be had anywhere? At risk of being thrown into jail for vagrancy if found loitering on street corners, thousands took to the roads or rails, going from town to town in search of casual labour, a bowl of soup and a place to doss down for the night. These were hard times.

 In 1930, the Conservatives under R.B. Bennett were elected to do something about the growing unemployment problem. But conditions only deteriorated. Authorities feared that young, idle men would become radicalized by communist propaganda. The Communist Party of Canada was banned in 1931, its leaders arrested. But this did little to stop left-wing agitation for change.

Worried about the growing ranks of unemployed, young men, many of whom had never held a steady job, General Andrew McNaughton, Chief of the Canadian General Staff, came up with the idea of establishing temporary, relief camps across the country for the estimated 70,000 single, unemployed, homeless, and malnourished men that were tramping the roads. In such camps, such men would receive food, shelter, clothing, medical care, a 20-cent per day gratuity and, most importantly, would regain their self-esteem. In exchange, they would work on worthwhile government infrastructure projects.

The federal government seized the idea and launched a relief camp program via an Order-in-Council on 8 October 1932. By the following month, thousands of men had signed up. In total, 144 relief camps were established across Canada, of which 57 were in British Columbia and 37 in Ontario. Most of the camps were located in relatively remote locations with the men working to improve a cross-Canada system of aerodromes and landing strips in support of the nascent Trans-Canada Airlines, the forerunner of Air Canada. Other projects included road-building and tree-planting. The government also hoped that if the camps were located far from urban centres, the young men inside them would be less exposed to radical views.

While most projects were located far away from urban areas, there were exceptions. Relief camps were established in Trenton and, most importantly for this story, in Rockcliffe, just outside of Ottawa, to improve aerodrome facilities and runways.

The Rockcliffe relief camp took in its first residents at the end of October 1932 when thirty men at the Employment Service Bureau in Ottawa signed on. They were immediately taken to Rockcliffe where they were fed, and provided with serviceable clothes. Work began the next morning with the residents constructing huts to accommodate the expected influx of men to follow in the coming months.

Road Works, Rockcliffe Relief Camp, March 1933, People’s History

Initially, the general sentiment towards the relief camp program was favourable. Newspaper editorials were positive. In November 1932, the head foreman at the Ottawa Relief Unit, Rockcliffe wrote a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen saying that on behalf of the unit he expressed his appreciation for the comfort and entertainment provided in their off-hours as well as the thoughtfulness of Wing Commander Godfrey, the commanding officer of the air base and relief camp, for providing entertainment, including games and cards. He also thanked Mrs. Godfrey who had supplied 150 books and magazines. He added that members of the Ottawa Air Station had been co-operative and courteous, and that the base chef had provided culinary tips to the camp’s cook so that he could serve the best possible meals with their food rations.

From time to time, musical entertainment and vaudeville shows were put on for camp residents by RCAF personnel stationed at the camp and outside groups such as the Salvation Army. Athletic contests were also held to keep men occupied during their off hours.

Many believed that that Rockcliffe camp was among the best. This was likely true due to its proximity to Ottawa and hence the destination of VIPs wishing to see what a relief camp was like. In January 1933, the Governor General, the Earl of Bessborough, toured the camp. He was accompanied by the Minister of Labour and General McNaughton himself. The distinguished visitors were received by Wing Commander Godfrey. A week later, another official visit occurred. On this occasion, one of the guests was future Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton. At the time, Whitton was a well-known child and family advocate as well as a staunch supporter of relief camps as a means of dealing with high unemployment.

Frontier College, which had been established in 1899 to provide education in northern lumber camps, eventually provided education to residents in the Rockcliffe relief camp. But resources were very limited. An instructor sent out an appeal for well-liked magazines such as Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Popular Aviation, National Geographic, and Weekly News Illustrated. He also requested donations of popular fiction by such modern authors as Zane Grey, D.H. Lawrence and J.B. Priestly.

By 1935, there was more than 500 men residing in the Rockcliffe relief camp. In addition to building a number of frame accommodation buildings, they cleared and levelled the aerodrome’s landing field, erected a three-storey building to house the RCAF photographic section, and constructed sewers and water mains.

Despite broad public support at the launch of the relief camp program, signs of discontent quickly emerged. In August 1933, the Workers’ Ex-Servicemen’s League held a meeting in Ottawa protesting the “military slave camps” at Rockcliffe and elsewhere. The following year, a Rockcliffe camp resident praised the self-discipline and courtesy of the men but had little good to say about the accommodations or the food. He said that there were 50 men in a house intended for a single family. However, despite the close quarters, the house was kept orderly and clean. Nights were quiet from lights out at 10:00pm until wake up at 6:30am. While the “No talking signs” in the dining room were generally ignored, table manners were good, and were “far above the quality of the repasts.”  

Camp administrators kept close tabs on the men. When a camp resident left without permission in 1934, he was tracked down and arrested by the RCMP, and charged with theft of government property—the clothes on his back. Marked with a “broad arrow with the letter ‘C’”, the second-hand clothes were said to have had an unlikely value of $12.65. The poor man was jailed.

In June 1935, things became tense at the Rockcliffe camp. Workers in relief camps in British Columbia, organized in part by communist party members, had begun their famous trek to Ottawa to present their demands to the Bennett government. The most important of their demands was fair pay for the work they did. They wanted 50 cents per hour for unskilled labour, and union rates for skilled workers. The RCMP reported that a bulletin had been circulated amongst trekkers that camp workers from Rockcliffe were preparing to meet them when they reached Ottawa. At the Rockcliffe camp, captains and lieutenants were secretly elected in each hut to represent the men.

The BC strikers’ trek to Ottawa was suppressed in Regina on Dominion Day, 1935 by RCMP and railway police on the orders of the federal government with the loss of two lives and many injured. However, the Rockcliffe men were not deterred. On 8 July, 1935 they went on strike for better pay and living conditions. Their demands were more modest than those of the BC strikers. The Rockcliffe men demanded $1 per day for an eight-hour work day. Other demands included: a better variety of food; sleeping quarters in accordance with provincial health requirements; the replacement of the military administration of the camp by the Department of Labour; and an immediate and impartial investigation of the conditions in the camp by the Department of Labour.

Striker leaders said that all 500 camp residents had joined the strike which began at 8:00am after breakfast. Wing Commander Godfrey disagreed with this count, claiming that an official check at meal-time showed that not more than 150 had answered the strike call.

A dozen strike leaders, including their principal spokesman, J.S. Downham, were expelled from the camp on orders of the Department of National Defence. Two detachments of RCMP officers and the entire RCAF force of officers and men stationed at the Rockcliffe Air Station were there to enforce the order. The policemen were armed with their service revolvers and “riot” sticks. Some of the RCMP officers were on horseback. For a few minutes, it was a tense standoff. But the situation eased when the strike leaders agreed to go peacefully. As the leaders were led away, the surrounding strikers jeered and mocked the police. Men shouted out to their leaders: “We’re behind you all the way” and “We’re not through yet.” The twelve went back to their huts to pack their belongings. They were then given their evening meals, paid their allowances, and driven to Ottawa.

Reporters rushed out to the camp from Ottawa to interview the strikers who aired their grievances. The major complaint was pay. Men resented working alongside bricklayers and carpenters hired from Ottawa, who were earning $1.10 per hour and $0.70 per hour, respectively, far more than the camp workers. “We must eliminate slave camps,” said one striker. Another said that he “wanted to earn enough to get a stake to seek an outside job.”

Wing Commander Godfrey said he was acting upon orders from the Department of Defence. He also noted that the men had struck without putting in any official complaint to him and until that point they had been satisfied with camp conditions. He claimed that most men realized that the camps were just a means to keep them fed, housed and occupied until they could get jobs outside.

Despite the ejection of the leaders, the strike went on. After lunch the following day, a strike bulletin was posted on the door of the dining room telling strikers not to go to work until further notice. “Show your spirit in this fight,” it added.

The situation came to a head on 10 July 1935. At 7:30am, all 508 men in the camp were ordered onto the athletic field. Many remained in their huts. On the opposite side of the field were 36 mounted RCMP officers who put on an intimidating show of force.

Wing Commander Godfrey gave the men an ultimatum from headquarters: “Work or Get Out!”. While he said he was powerless to address the pay issue as this was government policy, he could tackle some of the other complaints. Regarding meals, he said there had been cases where the contractor had supplied meat unfit for human consumption. It had been returned. However, he would immediately look into the quality issue. He also promised that the huts would be re-organized to give each man “increased air space.”

He then asked all those willing to work to stay on the field and demanded that those who chose not to work to leave the camp immediately, or be forcibly ejected. As strike diehards walked off the field, they jeered at those who remained, calling them “scabs” or worse. Meanwhile, camp administrators and police conducted a hut-by-hut search of men who had not appeared at the parade. These men were given the same choice—work or get out.

In the end, 138 men were ejected from the Rockcliffe relief camp. They were taken by truck to downtown Ottawa where they were dropped off, most at the corner of Rideau and Charlotte Streets. They had little beyond the clothes on the backs and their meagre allowance. Some assembled at 11:00am in Cartier Square and then walked to Plouffe Park at the corner of Preston and Somerset Streets when they had heard that arrangements for foot and shelter would be found there.

The men dispersed peacefully. Some found temporary shelter and food at the Union Mission. Others went to stay with relatives, or dossed down in parks or in train boxcars. Mayor Nolan told the men to find work or leave town; the city would not support them.  He advised them to return to the camp as they were the federal government’s responsibility.

Some took the mayor’s advice and asked to be reinstated. Most did not. What happened to them was not recorded. For the more than 350 men who remained, life returned to what it had been. With so many men evicted, their accommodations became more comfortable.

In October 1935, the Bennett government was trounced in the general election over its handling of the Great Depression. The Liberals under Mackenzie King returned to power. Among their promises was a commitment to close the relief camps. As a first step, in April 1936 the men were given wages of $15 per month, instead of the daily 20-cent gratuity. By June, the camps were closed. Some 10,000 camp workers, including most of the Rockcliffe workers, found government-subsidized maintenance jobs with the railways. But for the rest, regular employment was not found until the outbreak of war in 1939.

Sources:

MacDowell, Laura Sefton, 1995. “Relief Camp Workers in Ontario during the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Canadian Historical Review, LXXVI, No. 2, University of Toronto Press.

Ottawa Citizen, 1932. “Thirty Men For Work On Local Landing Field,” 31 October.

——————, 1932. “Thanks Air Station Officials,” 17 November.

——————, 1933. “His Excellency Visits Airport,” 10 January.

——————, 1933. “At Rockcliffe Airport” 18 January.

——————, 1934. “Took Camp Clothes,” 15 March.

——————, 1934. “Relief Camp Life,” 29 March.

——————, 1935. “Remove 11 Alleged Strike Leaders From Rockcliffe Camp,” 9 July.

——————, 1935. “Some Strikers Now Anxious To Return To Camp,” 11 July.

——————, 1935. “Work Or Leave City Is Mayor’s Ultimatum To Strikers,” 12 July.

——————, 1935. “Tells of Start Of Camp Strike At Rockcliffe,” 15 July.

——————, 1936. “Books and Magazines Wanted,” 1 April.

Ottawa Journal, 1933. “Will Protest Against War Preparations,” 4 August.

——————-, 1935. “Relief Men go On Strike At Rockcliffe,” 8 July.

——————-, 1935. “138 Men Are Ejected From Rockcliffe Camp,’ 10 July.

——————-, 1936. “Rockcliffe Camp Will Be Closed,” 10 June.

RCMP, 1935. Report on Revolutionary Organizations and Agitators in Canada, Weekly Summary, Report No. 762, 3 July.

Windsor Star, 1935. “Expel 200 From Camp,” 10 July.

On-To-Ottawa Trek

22 June 1935

An important milestone in Canadian labour history is the 1935 trek to Ottawa by striking British Columbian relief camp workers which culminated in the Regina Riot on Dominion Day, 1935. Striking for better wages and working conditions, the men rode freight cars eastward, their objective, Ottawa, to put their demands for change in front of the Conservative government of R.B. Bennett.

The peaceful trek got as far as Regina when the RCMP arrested the trekkers’ leaders on orders of the federal government. This action precipitated a riot. Hundreds of rioters and police were injured and two were killed—Detective Charles Millar and Nicklas Schaack, an unemployed American living in Saskatchewan, who was critically injured and died some weeks later. There were also many thousands of dollars in property damage.

On-to-Ottawa Trek, Canadian National Railways fonds, Library and Archives Canada

The Regina Riot had its roots in the Great Depression which followed the October 1929 stock market crash. The impact of the crash was magnified by poor economic policies in major countries. Monetary policy was initially used to maintain the gold standard rather than to support demand. Fiscal policies were tightened as governments reduced expenditures as their revenues declined. Industrial countries raised tariffs on imports of foreign goods in an effort to protect local industries and maintain employment. But with all countries doing likewise, international trade plummeted, hurting everybody. Drought ravaged farms through the US mid-west and the Canadian Prairies.  Farm incomes plummeted. Saskatchewan, the breadbasket of Canada, also had to contend with a plague of grasshoppers. One third of its farmers were destitute by 1933 with the rest not far behind. Urban centres were not spared either. The collapse of demand caused massive layoffs in the manufacturing sector and in service industries. The number of unemployed reach levels never before seen.  

To make matters worse, there was little in the way of welfare, unemployment insurance, or other government programs to assist the hundreds of thousands who lost their jobs. Instead, they were forced to rely on charitable institutions which were themselves stretched thin by reduced donations and increased demand. The plight of single, able-bodied men was particularly dire. They were supposed to be able to take care of themselves. But with no jobs to be had, they became desperate, reliant on soup kitchens to survive. As unemployed men loitering in the streets could be jailed as vagrants, thousands moved from city to city, hitching rides on freight trains.

Although R.B. Bennett’s Conservative government had been elected in 1930 to fix the unemployment problem, matters got worse. In response, the federal government opened relief camps across the country for single, unemployed men in October 1932. These camps were the brainchild of General Andrew McNaughton, a friend of the prime minster and chief of the Army’s General Staff. McNaughton was worried about a lost generation of young men, some of whom had never held a job. By giving them temporary employment doing meaningful work, the general hoped that these men would regain their self-esteem and be able to more easily rejoin the workforce when jobs became available. The government also recognized that unemployed, rootless, young men were most at risk of falling prey to communist propaganda. By taking them out of the city and giving them something to do, the hope was that such men would be less likely to become radicalized.

The men were put to work building aerodromes, airfields and roads across the country. Prior to the onset of the Depression, the government had begun a program to build Canada’s air infrastructure in support of the new Trans-Canada Airlines. But the program had been stopped owing to a lack of money. The relief camps were ideal way to resuscitate it. Most of the work camps were locate in remote areas. One exception was the camp located in Rockcliffe outside of Ottawa where men were put to work upgrading the facilities at Rockcliffe Airport.

Men in the relief camps were given food, shelter, clothes, cigarettes, and medical care, which had a value of roughly 80 cents per day, as well as 20 cents cash per day. This small amount of cash was not intended to be a wage but was viewed by the government as a gratuity. At the peak, roughly 30,000 men were in the camps which were run by the Ministry of Defence, the department with the most logistical experience. (In total, 170,248 men spent time in the camps over the four years they were in operation.) While run by the military, there was no military discipline. General McNaughton even insisted that the military personnel supervising the camps wore civilian clothes.

In the camps, men worked eight hours a day, Monday to Friday with Saturday afternoons and Sunday off. The work was hard and was unsuitable for many unused to the rigours of such labour. There were complaints about the quality of the food, shoddy accommodations, and very limited recreational materials. Often camps lacked radios, and what reading material was available was supplied by private donations. Residents griped that there were far too many women’s magazines. Books were also in short supply, especially during the long, cold winters. But the biggest complaint was the paltry 20 cents a day they were paid. While the government insisted that it was a gratuity and not a wage, the men saw differently. They argued that they were being treated like slaves.

For its part, the government said it could not afford anything more, and that men were in the camps voluntarily. While technically true, the alternative was jail for vagrancy. Moreover, given only 20 cents per day, the men could not easily get into towns to find employment or diversion. There was also a lack of female companionship. Instead of alleviating despair, the camps magnified it. Men risked expulsion from the camps should they form committees to present grievances. Additionally, they had difficulty voting in elections since the camps were not considered residences. Consequently, to exercise their franchise, they had to return to the riding where they were registered—something few could afford to do.

Amidst growing discontent came Communist organizers in the form of the Workers’ Unity League (WUL) and the Relief Camp Workers’ Union (RCWU) established in 1930 and 1934, respectively. The aim of the WUL was to establish revolutionary unions to fight against capitalism While the RCWU’s short-term goal was to improve the lot of camp residents, its longer-term aim was the overthrow of capitalism.

In early 1935, relief camp workers in British Columbia struck for better pay and working conditions. Strikers poured into Vancouver to seek relief and to demonstrate. Joined by local unemployed people and many civilian sympathizers, strikers occupied the Hudson Bay Company’s store. Strikers had also gone to other major department stores to demonstrate but had been thwarted by locked doors. Vancouver Mayor McGeer read the demonstrators the Riot Act, and police dispersed the crowds. The mayor blamed communist agitators and an ineffectual federal government which had washed its hands of any responsibility saying that once the strikers had left the relief camps, they had become a provincial responsibility. After strikers occupied the local museum, the city gave them $1,500 as a bribe to behave. With these funds as well as funds raised from sympathetic labour groups and individuals, the relief camp workers stayed in the city until early June 1935. At this point, with their funds almost exhausted, Arthur “Slim” Evans, organized more than 1,000 men to board freight trains to present their demands in person to R.B. Bennett. Evans was not a relief camp worker, but was self-acknowledged member of the Communist Party and a paid organizer of the Workers’ Unity League. The trek to Ottawa had begun.

The men had six demands. Most importantly, they demanded satisfactory wages—50 cents per hour for unskilled labour and union wages for skilled workers with a six-hour, five-day, work week, and a minimum of twenty working days per month. Other demands included: the separation of the camps from the Ministry of Defence; the recognition of democratically-elected camp officials; workmen’s compensation for workers injured on relief projects; a system of unemployment insurance on a non-contributory basis; and a guarantee to workers of their right to vote.

Arthur “Slim” Evans, Tales from the Chesterfield

The ride eastward was orderly and peaceful. The President of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada urged moderation saying “To defy constituted authority could not help but lead to greater suffering and misery and retard the introduction of measures which would improve their conditions.” He blamed the government’s unwillingness to pay “fair and reasonable wages” to relief camp workers for growing support for Communistic doctrines.

Although the trekkers were illegally riding the freight trains, railway officials went out of their way to facilitate their movement, even changing timetables and making unscheduled stops to accommodate them. Cities along the route did what they could to get them out of their jurisdictions as quickly as possible, even if this meant giving them money.  The orderliness of the men encouraged public sympathy.  

The trek got as far as Regina. There, the federal government refused to allow the trekkers, now numbering about 2,000, to go any further east by rail, road or foot. The provincial and municipal authorities were not pleased. They just wanted to see the back of the trekkers. The city provided shelter and two meals per day to the strikers in order to help keep the peace. In mid-June, the federal government sent two Cabinet ministers, Robert Weir, Minister of Agriculture and R.J. Manion, Minister of Railways, to meet with the strikers. A truce was organized while eight representatives of the trekkers, led by Arthur Evans, travelled at government expense to Ottawa to meet with the prime minister. In the meantime, the federal government took over feeding the men, providing them three 20-cent meals per day. However, fearing an eventual showdown, the government sent RCMP officers from Ottawa and Montreal to reinforce the police presence in Regina.

Arthur Evans and seven colleagues arrived in the capital a day ahead of their meeting with R.B. Bennett. Wearing rough, workmen’s clothing with blue and white armbands with the words “On to Ottawa,” the strikers’ representatives were met at Union Station by officials of the National Unemployment Council of Canada and local unemployed men and women. Also there were representatives of the RCMP who escorted the trekkers to their rooms at the Keewatin Hotel on Sussex Street.

Prime Minister R.B. Bennett, Library and Archives Canada

On Saturday 22 June 1935 at 11:30am, Evans and company met with the prime minister and his cabinet. It was not a happy event. Evans was there to present demands not negotiate. Even if Evans was prepared to negotiate, Bennett was in no mood to compromise. Instead, the meeting quickly degenerated into a shouting match. The prime minister rejected all of the trekkers’ demands. He said that the camps were providing single men with better food, clothing and shelter than the average Canadian was enjoying. The 20 cents a day was a gratuity, not a wage, and the government could not afford more. There was no compulsion or military discipline, and the government would neither assist nor recognize “Soviet” committees. He added that the economic situation was improving, that the number of men in the camps was declining, with many getting jobs in government work projects. More ominously, he said that law and order would be maintained, saying to Evans: “You cannot take the government by the throat to work your sweet will and seek to overawe it: we will stamp out Communism with the help of the people.”  Bennett also pointed to Evans’s criminal record, including his jailing for embezzling union funds, and the fact that among the eight trekker representatives only Evans was Canadian-born.

For his part, Evans called Bennett a liar. He protested the blacklisting of members of workers’ committees so they were unable to obtain jobs elsewhere, and said the government was raising “a Red bogey.” He argued that he had been jailed for diverting funds to starving miners in Drumheller rather than sending the money to union fat cats in the United States. The delegation rejected Bennett’s classification of them as foreigners, noting that they weren’t considered foreigners in the last war. Saying that the government had breached the earlier truce by sending RCMP officers from Ottawa and Montreal to Regina, Evans concluded that there was nothing left to do other than return to Regina to inform the workers of Bennett’s attitude and continue their trek to Ottawa.

The Trekker Delegation, Ottawa Citizen, 22 June 1935

Following the B.C. delegation’s fruitless meeting, Bennett and his cabinet met a similar group of workers from Ontario and Quebec who made their own list of demands, one of which was the immediate granting of the B.C. workers demands. Additional demands included the complete cessation of immigration to Canada, and the elimination of forced labour and sweatshop labour. Reflecting the presence of Mrs. M. Richmond from Niagara Falls, the sole female delegate, they sought more aid to women and girls.

Bennett’s reaction was equally negative to these demands, which he either rejected outright, or said was outside of federal responsibility.

The next night, Evans and the other western delegates along with representatives of eastern groups addressed a mass meeting of unemployed at the Rialto Theatre on Bank Street. In front of a packed house, Evans admitted his membership in the Communist Party. He said that a national call for the “On-To-Ottawa Trek” would be issued by the Workers’ Unity League, the Relief Camp Workers’ Union, the National Unemployment Council and other labour organizations. He said the trek would continue, “irrespective of the RCMP and railway police in Regina.”

The eight-man BC delegation then returned to Regina, setting the stage for the inevitable confrontation that was to come on Dominion Day. At stops along the way, Evans challenged and frightened the government. At Sudbury, he said that “a bloodbath would follow any interference by the police with the marchers, and declared the streets of Regina would be red with blood should any clash occur. Even more frightening as far as the federal government was concerned, Evans said that soon 50,000 men would mass in Ottawa.

Even before the violent conclusion of the trek in Regina, public reaction was negative towards the Bennett government. Even Mayor McGeer of Vancouver, who had put down the Hudson Bay store invasion earlier that year and who had been called “the future Hitler of Canada” by Evans, was appalled. He said that Bennett’s “woefully tactless and undignified belligerent and intolerant attitude” would arouse labour strife and belligerent opposition to constitutional authority.

Three months after the suppression of the trek to Ottawa, R.B. Bennett’s Conservative government was crushed in a general election, ushering in the Liberals under William Lyon Mackenzie King. The Conservatives would not form a government for the next twenty-three years. Following a government inquiry into the Regina Riot, the relief camps were closed in June 1936.

Sources:

Atherton, Tony, 2017.“For We Are Coming”, Tales from the Chesterfield, 12 January.

BC Labour Heritage Centre, 2019. “So vividly I remember”, April 17.

Canada, 1935. In the Matter of the Commission on Relief Camps British Columbia,” (The MacDonald Report), Ottawa.

History Docs. 2001. “Who was to blame for the Regina riot?”

McConnell, William, 1971, “Some Comparisons of the Roosevelt and Bennett New Deals,” Osgoode Law School Journal, November, Volume 9. No. 2.

MacDowell, Laurel Sefton, 1995. “Relief Camp Workers in Ontario during the Great Depression in the 1930s,” Canadian Historical Review, LXXVI, 2.

Nanaimo Daily News, 1935. “Fifty Thousand To Mass In Ottawa Soon, Predict Evans, Communist Leader,” 25 June.

Ottawa Citizen, 1935. “On to Ottawa Trek,” 11 June.

——————, 1935. “1,000 Men May Leave Manitoba Capital on March to Ottawa,” 22 June.

——————, 1935. “Govt. Receiving Strikers Today; R.C.M.P. Depart,” 22 June.

——————, 1935. “Evans Paid Organizer of Workers’ League,” 24 June.

——————, 1935. “Striking Campers Urged To Refrain From Violent Acts,” 24 June.

——————, 1935. “Angry Exchanges As Demands Of Relief Strikers Rejected,” 24 June.

—————–, 1935. “Claims 30,000 Unemployed To Join In March,” 24 June.

—————–, 1935. “Says Situation On Unemployment Coming To Head,” 24 June.

—————–, 1935. “McGeer Assails Bennett Stand On Men’s Plea,” 24 June.

—————–, 1935. “Strikers Cry, ‘On to Ottawa’As Leaders Return,” 26 January.

Ottawa Journal, 1935. “Strikers Are Held In Camp By Mounties,” 2 July.

Snider, Michael, 2013. On to Ottawa Trek/Regina Riot, The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Stone, Gladys May, 1967. The Regina Riot: 1935, Thesis, University of Saskatchewan.

Waiser, Bill, 2016. “History Matters: Second Regina riot fatality covered up,” Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 5 July.

Riley’s Army

4 June 1922

The Great War ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Roughly 619,000 Canadians served in the Canadian armed forces during the war, of which more than 54,000 died. Still more perished as members of the British armed services. A further 172,000 Canadians were injured. Officially, another 9,000 men suffered “shell shock”—today called post traumatic stress disorder. Unofficial estimates are far larger. Some historians believe that as many as ten to twelve percent of Canadian solders who served in the trenches of France suffered some form of mental illness owing to their war experiences.

This booklet told returning soldiers what to expect upon demobilization, Wartime Canada.ca

Despite the end of hostilities, returning servicemen faced a new type of struggle, this time with their own government and fellow citizens for jobs, pensions and recognition. Government propaganda had characterized the soldiers as stalwart heroes, fighting for King, Country and Democracy. They had also been promised good jobs on their return to a grateful country. A government pamphlet prepared for demobilizing soldiers read: “When you come back, we want to stand with you as comrades to contribute our united best to the strength, prosperity, goodness and greatness of our beloved land.” Canada would be a country “fit for heroes to live in.”  The reality was far different. Jobs were in short supply. Veterans, many of whom had voluntarily given up promising careers to fight in horrific conditions for their country, faced unemployment and poverty.

This is not to say the federal and provincial governments didn’t try to help. Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into pensions and relief programs for returning veterans. In March 1918, the federal government established the Department for Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment (DSCR) with a mandate to provide veterans with medical care, vocational and commercial education, employment assistance, advice, and pensions. The government also undertook an extensive inventory of jobs throughout the country in an effort to match returning solders to vacant jobs. Programs were established under which returning veterans eager to farm could receive up to 160 acres of Crown land and access to loans. A host of private agencies and organizations also provided assistance, including the Red Cross and the YMCA. As well, veteran organizations, such as the Great War Veterans Association (GWVA), provided support.

Despite these funds and a lot of good intentions, many returning veterans suffered. It didn’t help that the wind-down of military orders contributed to a decline in economic activity and a major economic recession in Canada just as service personnel were arriving home. While official numbers are scant, according to the GWVA Canada’s unemployment rate was as high as 25 per cent at the beginning of 1920. There were simply not enough jobs for all. Instead of being greeted as returning heroes, veterans found that their old jobs filled, with few new ones on offer. Businesses were reluctant to hire ex-servicemen with disabilities. Those men who did find employment were the most junior and hence the most likely to be laid off as companies downsized.

With private businesses unable or unwilling to provide employment, veterans turned to the government for additional assistance. However, with heavy war debts, the federal government’s ability to assist was constrained. There was also discontent about how government programs were being managed. Owing to prevailing social views on mental illness, “shell-shocked” veterans had difficulty in obtaining the pensions they deserved. Land settlement programs were poorly conceived and administered. The Crown lands used to re-settle veterans often had to be cleared before they could be farmed. Many settlers lacked the necessary skills. When agricultural prices fell, settlers found it difficult to service the loans they had taken out to buy equipment. To make matters worse, some of the land used to re-settle veterans was taken from indigenous peoples without their consent while few First Nations’ veterans received land grants due to discrimination. The Canadian government also dithered for years over the distribution of its share of “Canteen Funds”—the profits of army canteens established co-operatively by Commonwealth forces. Owing to mismanagement, little went to the men who had patronized the canteens.

Unemployed veterans assembling at Queen’s Park, Toronto, Regina Leader-Post, 12 May 1922.

Despite more than two dozen veteran organizations lobbying the government for veteran assistance, some ex-servicemen felt that their voices were not being heard. In early May 1922, a crowd of unemployed veterans assembled in Queen’s Park in Toronto to hear E.C. Macdonald speak of his plans for a march to Ottawa to lobby the newly-elected federal government of Mackenzie King for more financial aid and improved rehabilitation methods for ex-servicemen. He was warmly applauded.

Less than two weeks later, close to 300 men under command of “General” Macdonald left from College Street in Toronto, heading for the Kingston Road on the trek to the capital. The rear of the parade was commanded by Frank Riley, about whom we’ll hear more later. The marchers had been mostly under the care of the DSCR during the previous winter owing to their unemployment. With their allowances cut off earlier in the month, they were now desperate.

Leadership of the march on Ottawa, E.C. Macdonald is second from right, missing is Frank Riley, Regina Leader-Post, 12 May 1922.

Prior to their departure, deputations of unemployed veterans had raised provisions and money from prominent Toronto stores. The provisions were placed in two trucks that went in advance of the army. As the army’s resources were insufficient to sustain the men for the expected two-week long trek to Ottawa, “General” Macdonald hoped that communities along their route would help house and feed the trekkers.

Right from the start of the trek, there was dissention. “General” Burgoyne, who led ex-soldiers from Hamilton, pulled out of the march and returned home, complaining about the treatment given him by Toronto hikers. “General” Macdonald also expelled all hikers with “red” tendencies.

Despite these problems, the men left downtown Toronto, heading for Dumbarton on the first leg of their journey. The veterans, wearing their service medals, were divided into several companies with “General” Macdonald and two Union Jacks leading the way.

For the most part, the “General” was not disappointed with the trekkers’ reception along the route. Town after town put up the foot-weary men in local armouries, provided entertainment, usually a local military band, and gave them a hot meal. The mayor of Brockville actually sent a fleet of trucks to pick up the men in Mallorytown so they didn’t have to spend the night in the open air. Instead, the men dossed down in the town’s armoury, and were given breakfast before they set out for Prescott.

At this point, something happened. “General” Macdonald, who had spent three days in a Kingston hospital with fatigue, was driven to Prescott to attend a secret army meeting. Suspicious of spies, reporters were not allowed in. At the end of the discussions, Macdonald had been ousted as the head of the army. While he was permitted to continue on the trek in the ranks, the bemused and shocked Macdonald left, complaining that the hike had been his idea. “They’re just a rabble now and are being led by a Siin Feiner [Irish radical] and a Toronto “Red,” he said.

In his place had stepped Frank Riley. Little known until this point, Riley was interviewed by the press. Reportedly, while he talked a lot, he said little. He did reveal that he was a “north of Ireland man” and that he had a deep-seated grudge against the GWVA and its leadership who Riley saw as overpaid bureaucrats who did little to help unemployed veterans.

An Ottawa Journal journalist reported that Riley “modestly laid claim to being familiar with eight professions, including medicine and news reporting.” The clash between Macdonald and Riley was attributed to vanity. Each man was envious of the publicity given the other. Riley refused to discuss what happened though Macdonald later attributed his ouster to being too strict and autocratic with the men. A few days later, before the trekkers had reached Ottawa, Riley, accompanied by the army’s treasurer, made a quick overnight trip to Ottawa to seek Macdonald’s arrest for criminal libel for calling him a “Sein Feiner” and a “Red” and for taking $80 from the army’s treasury.

From that point on Frank Riley was the undisputed leader of the trekkers who became known as “Riley’s Army.”

Riley’s Army of 269 unemployed veterans reached Ottawa shortly before noon on Sunday, 4 June 1922 after spending two nights in Manotick. Three miles short of the city at the Hartwell Locks, the army was met by 36 Ottawa veterans. At the head of his men, “General” Riley paraded through the streets of Ottawa, arriving at the end of Preston Street at 10:00am standard time. The army marched through near-empty streets. Riley was unaware that Ottawa observed daylight savings time. With it being an hour later than he had expected, most Ottawa residents were in church. With a police car preceding the parade and another pulling up the rear, the men marched to Howick Hall at the Exhibition Grounds at Lansdowne Park, where Ottawa’s mayor, Frank Plant, had organized billets.  The mayor had also authorized meals for the veterans; something he did without the approval of City Council.

At Howick Hall, Mayor Plant congratulated the men, noting that he had heard only the best reports of their conduct throughout the trek. While it was not his place to comment on their grievances, he said that he would organize meetings between army representatives and the federal government.

That night, the trekkers dined in Howick Hall on veal, beef, lamb, pork, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes and hot biscuits with pie, cake for dessert, accompanied by tea and coffee, courtesy of Mayor Plant.

The next morning, Riley’s Army marched from Lansdowne Park to Parliament Hill, where the men camped out on the west lawn. Riley and the rest of his twelve-member executive met with Prime Minister Mackenzie King and cabinet colleagues in the offices of James Murdock, the Minister of Labour. The meeting only lasted an hour. Riley presented the men’s demands, which included a medical re-examination of all returned soldiers, the elimination of the employment branch of the DSCR, an increased disability allowance, a $1.10 per day gratuity for every day a soldier had served in the army, the official recognition of his army as the veterans’ representative, and immediate action to relieve distress. He also denied rumours that he was a Bolshevik or a Sinn Feiner.

For his part, the Prime Minister said that the government was sympathetic to the plight of veterans but offered little in the way of additional assistance. He noted that the Minister of the Militia had lost a son in the war, and Dr. Béland, the minister in charge of the DSCR, had spent three years in a German prison. Riley was informed that the government had already spent $475 million so far on veterans in the form of pensions, medical treatment, education, land and relief.

After the meeting, Riley addressed his army and curious onlookers on the lawn of Parliament Hill. He told the men that the government had been evasive. For a while, things got tense with Riley saying that army should continue its siege of Parliament until the men got their way. However, after consultations with the army’s executive, Riley changed his mind. He ordered the veterans to return to Lansdowne Park from where they would hike back to Toronto to protest their treatment. J. S. Woodsworth, the outspoken MP of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, also addressed the army. He said that the army represented thousands of ex-soldiers throughout Canada. He warned that if the government didn’t listen to their grievances, there would be a reckoning. Woodsworth received a hearty cheer.

That evening, the Prime Minister, accompanied by James Murdock, the Minister of Labour, spoke briefly to Riley’s Army at Howick Hall. Again, no promises were made. However, Mackenzie King asked for the names and regimental numbers of all members of the army to ensure that the men received all the treatment they deserved.

Riley remained unsatisfied with the government’s response. He spurned the government’s offer of train transport back to Toronto, insisting that the men would trek back the way they came. However, after the men had assembled and had left the Hall at about 9:30pm, a downpour began. Wet and bedraggled, Riley reconsidered his stance. His army finally left by train in the following morning at a cost to the government of $1,883.25.

A few days later, Riley again addressed a crowd of unemployed veterans at Queen’s Park where he proposed a second trek to Ottawa. Even though only a couple hundred answered his call, far fewer than the 5,000 Riley had hoped for, off he went on a second trek just a week after the conclusion of the first. This time, the trekkers only got as far as West Hill, twelve miles from downtown Toronto, before stopping. A telegram from James Murdock promising jobs to the trekkers stopped them in their tracks. Men were told to make an application to the Toronto office of the DSCR. Whether they got the expected jobs is unknown.

News of Riley’s Army then disappeared from the nation’s newspapers. Relief for veterans was to bedevil the government for years to come. The Pension Act alone was modified sixteen times during the inter-war years. In 1930, Mackenzie King introduced the War Veterans’ Allowance Act. The issue of how the Canteen Funds would be disbursed was finally settled after years of wrangling. Interestingly, Riley’s suspicions regarding the GWVA and its management proved to be accurate. In 1925, it was revealed that an advance of Canteen Funds to the GWVA in 1921-1922 went to paying the salaries of the organization’s executives and to finance its newspaper. Nothing was spent on unemployment relief for veterans.

Sources:

Campbell, Lara, 2000. “‘We who have wallowed in the mud of Flanders,’: First World War Veterans, Unemployment and the Development of Social Welfare in Canada, 1929-1939,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, 2000, 11(1), 125-149.

Canada, Government of, 1919. Canada and Her Soldiers, St. Clement’s Press, London.

Canadian Museum of History, 2021. The Effects of Unemployment.

Canadian War Museum, 2021. The Cost of Canada’s War.

Gazette, 1922. “Riley’s Army Of Veterans Hiking Back To Toronto,” 6 June.

———, 1922. “Riley’s Men Are Promised Jobs,” 13 June.

Globe, 1922. “Unemployment on Increase In Canada,” 26 April.

——–, 1922. “Jobless Army Begins March Upon Ottawa,” 20 May.

——–, 1922. “Recruits Join Jobless Army,” 22 May.

——–, 1922. “Veteran Army At Prescott,” 31 May.

——–, 1922. “Hikers Hiking Home, Voicing Displeasure With Visit To ‘Hill,’” 6 June.

——–, 1922. “Left Ottawa in Rain,” 7 June.

——–, 1922. “Hikers Return to Toronto Ready to Make ‘Hike’ Again If Ultimatum Not Granted,” 7 June.

——–, 1922. “Jobless Army Halts On Its Second March At Words Of Premier,” 13 June.

Leader, 1922. “Men Who Would Lead The March To Ottawa,” 12 May.

———, 1922. “Riley And Army Accept Offer Of Train Ride,” 7 June.

Ottawa Citizen, 1922. “Expected to Reach Brockville Tonight,” 30 May.

——————, 1922. “Veterans Pushing On To Prescott,” 31 May.

——————, 1922. “Makes Charges Against Former Leader of Army,” 3 June.

——————, 1922. “‘General’ Riley And His Army Enter Capital,” 5 June.

——————, 1922. “Macdonald in Toronto,” 5 June.

——————, 1922. “Army of Unemployed Veterans Is Not Satisfied With Answer Given: Tense Scenes on Parliament Hill,” 5 June.

——————, 1922. “Riley and Men Spend Hours At Mercy Of Weather,” 6 June.

——————, 1922. “Asks 5,000 More To Hike To Ottawa,” 9 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1922. “Hamilton ‘General’ Quits,” 22 May.

—————–, 1922. “Hikers’ Army Now On Way To Spencerville,” 1 June.

Province, 1922. “Unemployed Veterans To March To Ottawa, Led by E.C. Macdonald,” 8 May.

Scotland, Jonathan, 2016. And the Men Returned: Canadian Veterans and the Aftermath of the Great War, University of Western Ontario.

Wartime Canada, 2021. Veterans Programs.

Work or Bread!

5 April 1877

When we think of an economic depression, we usually think of the Great Depression that started in late October 1929 with the New York stock market crash and lasted through the “Dirty Thirties.” But there was another global economic downturn, sometimes called the Long Depression, that started with the Panic of 1873 and lasted until 1896 according to some historians. Like the Great Depression, it resulted from a combination of real, financial and monetary factors. It began in central Europe with a stock market crash in Vienna, then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The bursting of a speculative bubble revealed overextended financial institutions and stock market manipulation, leading to bank failures and corporate insolvencies. The financial impact rippled across international borders and even the Atlantic. (Sound familiar?) In North America, there had been a huge overinvestment in railways—the “dotcom-like” speculative investment of the nineteenth century. Many of the railway companies had raised large sums of money based on unrealistic expectations of future profitability. In September 1873, Jay Cooke & Company, a large U.S. bank and a major investor in railway bonds, failed. This sparked a financial panic in New York. Share prices collapsed. The stock exchange closed for ten days. In the months that followed, dozens of railway companies failed, bringing down financial institutions in their wake.

Panic of 1873
Closing the doors of the New York Stock Exchange, 20 September 1873, Picryl

These developments happened against the backdrop of a global economy undergoing major structural changes. The industrial revolution was in full swing. Germany and the United States were challenging Britain’s economic supremacy. New industries and new production processes were rapidly overturning the old economic order. Productivity was rising and prices for industrial and agricultural goods were falling. While many took advantage of the opportunities being created and prospered, those who were unable to adapt to the rapid changes suffered.

Added to these shocks in North America was the impact of the epizootic of 1872-3—an equine flu that started outside of Toronto and spread across Canada and the United States. While the mortality rate was typically low, few horses outside of certain isolated regions were spared. It took weeks for stricken equines to recover, with crippling consequences for an essentially horse-drawn economy. Even the railways were affected as coal was shipped to rail terminals using horse-drawn wagons.

Governments did little to ease the pain of the downturn in economic activity. The idea of government assistance for the poor was still in the future. With all major countries, including Canada, wed to the gold standard, there was also little scope for monetary action to support economic activity, even if central banks (if countries had them) wanted to do something. Meanwhile, the United States joined gold standard countries in 1873, after having had an unbacked fiat currency since the start of their civil war. It ended the unlimited coinage of silver (the Crime of ’73 according to silver supporters) which might otherwise have led to lower interest rates. Protectionist sentiments rose everywhere. The major countries, with the exception of Britain, adopted high tariffs in an effort to protect domestic industries and jobs. International trade suffered.

Canada was in the thick of all these trends. As is the case today, it was a small economy closely linked to its southern, much larger, neighbour. When the United States entered the Long Depression, so did Canada. To make matters worse, the United States had abrogated its trade reciprocity deal with Canada a few years earlier. Although the reciprocity agreement only covered natural resources, this mattered importantly for Canada.

Panic Hon. Sir Richard Cartwright, 1881 Topley Studio Fonds LAC PA-025546
Hon. Sir Richard Cartwright, 1881 Topley Studio Fonds Library and Archives Canada, PA-025546

In February 1876, Richard Cartwright, the Liberal Minister of Finance, attributed the ongoing depression in Canada to: poor U.S. economic conditions, which were “visibly affecting Canadian interests;” overlarge imports; excessive inventories which were depreciating in value; greedy banks who extended loans “to men of straw, possessing neither brains nor money;” and a depression in the lumber trade owing to “inexperienced operators unable to compete when U.S. prices fall.”

To help ameliorate matters, he said that the government was taking advantage of cheap labour and materials to bring forward public works projects. Cartwright, a proponent of free trade, resisted calls for tariffs on manufactured goods beyond those necessary for revenue purposes on the grounds that manufacturing employment accounted for only 40,000 jobs. The government needed to look after the interests of the other 95 per cent of the working population.

In Ottawa, matters came to a head in early 1877. Unemployment, which was always high in winter owing to the seasonality of many jobs, was worse than usual. Each morning, hundreds of unemployed, able-bodied men congregated in the Byward Market looking for an hour or two of work. Times were tough even for those who had jobs. Pay had been reduced from $1.25 per day to a meagre 90 cents per day.

On 5 April 1877, 200-300 unemployed men assembled as usual early in the morning in the Byward Market looking for work. When little was forthcoming, they decided they would do something about their situation. Perhaps the Mayor of Ottawa, William Waller, would be able to able to provide work or bread. The men marched on City Hall on Elgin Street. Unfortunately, the mayor was absent. A messenger was dispatched to find him. Meanwhile a Citizen reporter interviewed some of the men while they waited. Their stories were dire. Many had large families to feed but had been out of work for months. Starvation stared many in the face. Peter Boulez had a family of twelve, but had had no employment since the previous November. With his limited savings exhausted, he needed to find work to put bread on the table. Hans Shourdis had been living off of soup for the past four months, “his stomach a stranger to meat.” Christmas had been his last satisfying meal. A kindly lady had given him charity but that all went to his five children.

When Mayor Waller appeared, he said that he deeply sympathized with the workmen. However, he reminded them that the depression was being felt across the country, and opined that the Dominion government was not responsible for the hard times. He announced that City Council would be meeting on the following Monday to discuss a drainage scheme worth $300,000, one third of which could be expended annually. This project would hire a lot of citizens in need. He expected work to proceed as soon as the frost was out of the ground. The Mayor also said that he had instructed the City Collector not to go after the unemployed for unpaid taxes until they had work.

The men next marched on the Parliament Buildings to seek an immediate interview with Premier Alexander Mackenzie, whose Liberal Party had come to power in November 1873, virtually at the onset of the depression—a timing that had not gone unnoticed by the unemployed workers. At the main entrance of the Centre Block, the men sent a messenger to the Premier who was in the Railway Committee Room attending a meeting of the House Banking and Commerce Committee. When Mackenzie refused to see them, the unemployed workers entered the building and approached the Committee Room’s entrance. They sent another messenger to Mackenzie. When nothing happened, two of the workers’ leaders opened the door, insisting to see the Premier. When a committee member shouted “Shut the door,” the door was closed in their faces. Indignant, some of the workers suggested starving them out “like they did at Sebastopol” during the Crimea War. Others forced the door to great cheers, including cheers for Sir John A. Macdonald, Mackenzie’s arch rival.

Needless to say, committee members were shaken by this invasion. Some apparently thought the men were there “to wipe them out.” However, others regained their composure and said that the men were harmless. They simply wanted to speak to Mr. Mackenzie. One of the unemployed men stood on a table and addressed the crowd. He was angry that the Premier had eluded them, calling it “a hardship and an insult.” Peter Mitchell, the MP for Northumberland County, New Brunswick, and a Father of Confederation, calmed them by saying that the Premier would no doubt give an interview at some other time and place. After giving three more cheers for Sir John A. Macdonald, the unemployed men left though not before issuing a statement:

“That we the unemployed workingmen of Ottawa, strongly censure the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie for refusing to meet a delegation sent from among us to ask his opinion as to the chances of work during the coming season. And we condemn him for allowing a door to be slammed in our faces, and call upon the workingmen of the Dominion to join us in rebuking the treatment received by us.”

The men made an orderly departure from Parliament, committing themselves to meet again in the Market later that day to plot strategy. That evening, the men, along with political representatives from all levels of government, met outside in the Market Square despite a light rain. Plans to meet in the Market Hall had been foiled by locked doors and a missing key. There was a number of rousing speeches. Mr. Bullman, the self-appointed chairman of the men, spoke on “how the wealth of the world was unequally distributed” and how the poor were oppressed. He said that he had been splitting hardwood for 25 cents a cord and had to feed a family of small children. (His credibility was later damaged when it was revealed that he was not unemployed, and had left a job at the gas works to attend the meeting.) A Mr. Hans added that “it was natural for money to flow into the rich man’s pocket as it was for the water of the St Lawrence to flow into the ocean.” At the end, it was agreed to send a deputation to approach Mackenzie on behalf of the workers.

At 9 am the next morning, a crowd of more than 600 gathered in front of the City Hall and marched to the West Block on Parliament Hill, the location of Premier Mackenzie’s office. The deputation, which comprised the City of Ottawa’s two MPs, one Liberal the other Liberal-Conservative, the Liberal MPP for the City, Mayor Waller, and Mr. Bullman, met with the Premier. This time, Mackenzie agreed to address the men.

The Premier offered the unemployed little in the way of government relief. He claimed that government was “powerless” beyond commissioning public works, pointing to the Welland and Lachine Canals. He also argued that aid should come from the provincial legislature and local charities. Just because Parliament resided in Ottawa was not a reason for the Dominion government to support Ottawa employment. If a man needed a job, he should go to the North-West Territories (Alberta and Saskatchewan) where he could get 100 acres of good farmland for nothing. However, Mackenzie promised that members of Parliament would personally donate as much as they could afford to relief efforts. He was also sure that the Ottawa men’s suffering was only temporary.

The Premier’s response did not go over well. There were more meetings, marches and speeches during the days that followed. The unemployed men sent a “memorial” (an archaic term for a public letter) to the Senate demanding government action in Ottawa and the surrounding area for public works to provide jobs and alleviate distress. Mayor Waller distributed “bread tickets” to the most urgent cases, while City Council expedited expenditures on the drainage project. A large number of men were put to work clearing out the Rideau Canal’s Basin. A relief fund was organized into which the Ottawa area’s more wealthy citizens contributed, including Alonzo Wright and Erskin Bronson. The Ladies Benevolent Society of St John’s Church held a fund raiser in the Temperance Hall selling “fancy work,” refreshments, and flowers and fruits. The take of the last show of the Grand Shaughraun Company at the Opera House also went to poor relief. These relief funds were managed by a committee of aldermen and clergymen which assessed each request for aid “to ascertain who is deserving and who is not.” These funds helped. But it was the arrival of warmer weather that had the most impact, with hundreds of men returning to jobs in the Chaudière lumber mills.

The following year, Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservative Party thumped Premier Mackenzie’s Liberal Party in the 1878 federal election. This election ushered in the Conservative “National Policy” which sharply raised tariffs on American manufactured goods in order to boost the Canadian manufacturing sector, create jobs, and, just coincidently of course, to protect the interests of businessmen that supported the Conservative Party. Despite some tinkering around the edges, this high-tariff policy remained in effect until the Auto Pact of 1965.

Sources:

History Central, 2019. The Panic of 1873, https://www.historycentral.com/rec/EconomicPanic.html.

Poloz, Stephen, 2017. Canada at 150: It Takes a World to Raise a Nation, speech given at the 50th Anniversary of Durham College, Oshawa, Bank of Canada, 28 March, https://www.bankofcanada.ca/2017/03/canada-150-takes-world-raise-nation/.

Ottawa Daily Citizen (The), 1876. “The Commons,” 26 February.

—————————-, 1877 “Work or Bread,” 5 April.

—————————-, 1877. “Editorial,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1877. “The Unemployed,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1877. “Memorial To The Senate,” 9 April.

United States History, 2019. The Panic of 1873, https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h213.html.