Posted on 06 June 2010By David Murray. I was involved in the ‘On to Ottawa Trek’ 75th Anniversary Commemoration at Crab Park today in Vancouver from 1-3 pm. Approx 300 people turned up for the event. It was a great event that saw Musqueam First Nation leader Jeri Sparrow greet our group.
Followed by a Civic Proclamation by Deputy Vancouver Mayor Tim Stevenson. Libby Davies Vancouver East MP elaborated on the Heritage of the Trek. Jim Sinclair the BC Federation of Labour President touched on how the Trek pertains to life today. Am Johal talked about his 2010 Homelessness Trek of 8 people going to Ottawa to help lobby for a National Housing Strategy.
Five or Six Trek Families were recognized including my father Bud Murray, Larry Jackson’s father Bobby, NDP MLA’s Dawn Black’s father as well as honouring living Trek members Al Dugas and Ken Hoggarth (who was there to give his own account of the Trek)
There was an unveiling of a Historic Site Plaque which will be permanently installed near Crab Park ,very close to the original Trek start.
Tom Hawkens was on hand to sing Hold The Fort accompanied by David Yorke. And the event was Chaired by Joey Hartman-On to Ottawa Trek Historical Society.
Other music was provided by the Carnival Band and the Solidarity Notes. This was followed by a 1935 style -modern soup kitchen which served a very nice hot vegetable-chili soup.
Former NDP Premier Dave Barrett and his family were also in attendance.
What the On to Ottawa Trek was about happened during “The Great Depression”. Poverty, unemployment, riding the freights, soup lines, flop houses, and hopelessness grew from economic failure of capitalism in the 1930′s.
To avoid starvation or risk of jail for vagrancy, thousands of single unemployed men were forced into isolated “relief camps” which the governments established in an attempt to control, and hide, the shame of a whole generation of young Canadians without work. Under the military control of the camps, with few rights and no future, young men built roads by hand-for pay of 20 cents a day.
However the young men in the camps had not lost their spirit or their dreams. With the help of the Workers’ Unity League, the Relief Camp Workers’ Union was organized.
On April 4 1935, thousands left the camps and headed to Vancouver to demand real jobs, and an end to the camps. While the civic authorities responded to the strikers’ audacious marches and protests with arrests and the infamous reading of the Riot Act, the citizens of Vancouver gave “our boys” overwhelming support, and assistance was organized by church groups, unions, the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation (NDP) , and many community organizations.
After two months in Vancouver, the unemployed resolved to take their plea for “Work and Wages” to the source of the problem: the Conservative federal government led by R.B. “Iron Heel” Bennett. On June 3 1935, about 1,200 workers climbed atop CPR boxcars on the Vancouver waterfront, and headed to Ottawa.
After great welcomes in Kamloops and Golden, the Trek survived the hazardous journey through the Rockies, and reached Calgary. At every stop, hundreds more young unemployed joined the protest. As it rolled east across the prairies, the Trek swelled to over 2,000, and many more awaited in Winnipeg and centres in Ontario. Public support grew across Canada.
R.B.Bennett ordered police and the CPR to stop the unemployed protest in Regina. The Trek held there, while Arthur Evans and seven others met Bennett in Ottawa. The Prime Minister berated the jobless,and dismissed all their proposals out of hand. Then on July 1 1935, a peaceful meeting of trekkers and Regina citizens was attacked by armed and mounted police.
They arrested Trek leaders, unleashing a riot in which at least two persons were killed, dozens suffered police gunshot wounds, and hundreds more were injured.
The Trekkers were herded into and held in Regina’s stadium. A contingent of unemployed in Winnipeg then attempted to continue the march east, but they too were stopped by armed police in Ontario.
The Trek was broken on orders of the federal government, but the people of Canada swept Iron Heel Bennett from office short months later. His Liberal successor moved to abolish the relief camps, and gradually instituted unemployment insurance and other social reforms.
The story of the On to Ottawa Trek and the spirit of the trekkers remains an inspiration for today’s trade unionists and social activists who carry on the unfinished business of 1935: ending unemployment and poverty by providing work, wages, and decent social programs for all Canadians.
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My name is David Murray and I am currently on City Council in the City of Pitt Meadows British Columbia.
I ran Federally for the New Democratic Party in 2011 in Abbotsford and with the great team we had in place had the distinction of being the only riding in Western Canada that doubled our NDP vote!
I am the Editor of the Pitt Meadows Today Community Online Newspaper which together with its sister papers the Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Langley Today are receiving 250,000 hits a month!http://www.pittmeadowstoday.ca/
My family goes back to the CCF-NDP party circa October 1935 as my father "Bud" Murray worked on Tommy Douglas's first campaign!
I am a union activist for CUPE and sit as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Fraser Valley District Council and the Secretary-Treasurer of the Fraser Valley Labour Council (CLC)David Murray
David Murray is the Federal NDP candidate for Abbotsford. He is the political columnist for theAbbotsford/Chilliwack/Langley |Today. You can follow David Murray on Twitter : DavidMurray4NDP