Origin of Labour Day in Canada
In Canada, the origin of Labour Day dates back to 1872, at a time when workplace safety and unemployment insurance did not exist. Working 10 plus hours a day was the norm at that time. Workers were launching campaigns and parades towards better working conditions. However, trade unions were still illegal and striking was seen as a criminal conspiracy to disrupt trade. But there was enormous public support for the campaigns and the authorities could no longer deny the important role that the trade unions had to play in the emerging Canadian society. Shortly after a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour workweek, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald introduced the Trade Unions Act, legalizing and protecting unions. Soon all unions were seeking a 58-hour workweek (or lower) and better working conditions.
Labour Day was officially made a public holiday on July 23, 1894, by Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson and his government. Labour Day was originally celebrated in the spring but it was moved to the fall after 1894.
Trade unions use the occasion to campaign for and celebrate workers’ rights during parades and picnics. Families use this day as an opportunity to take a late summer trip, perhaps to their country cottage, or enjoy the company of family or friends at picnics, fairs, festivals and fireworks displays.