Vancouver Was Awesome: High School Student Walkout, 1935

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A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.

With the high school student walkout planned for this Friday, I thought it would be a good time to look at the one staged on May Day in 1935 in support of striking relief camp workers fighting for “work and wages.” The authorities were prepared for something along the lines of the Winnipeg General Strike or the Bolshevik Revolution, but instead it was a peaceful one-day walkout of workers and students.

As many as 30,000 demonstrators paraded from the Cambie Street Grounds to a rally in Stanley Park. In their secret intelligence report to Ottawa, the RCMP said it was “one of the largest labour demonstrations in the history of that city,” and noted that it included “approximately 900 public school and high school students who had come out on strike in sympathy with the relief camp strikers,” even though some were threatened with disciplinary measures if they took part. Other estimates put the size of the youth contingent as high as 3000.

The relief camp strike evolved into the On-to-Ottawa Trek, which helped bring down the Conservative government of RB Bennett in the next election and set the stage for the establishment of Canada’s post-WWII social safety net.

Source: Vancouver Public Library photos #8796 & 8788, via Lorne Brown, When Freedom was Lost (Black Rose Books, 1987)

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