89 Canadian rebellions
The original list from which our four underrated rebellions were chosen
COMPILED BY Jesse McLean
1. Fall of Huronia, 1649: The Iroquois’s Dutch allies provided them with guns, which was unheard of in French-allied Huron camps. In the spring of 1649, more than 1,000 Iroquois warriors descended on Huronia. Their success was enormous. Only three of the 400 Hurons of Teanaosaiae escaped with their lives, while the Iroquois lost only 10 warriors. In response, the French abandoned all their missions and positions west of Montreal. In just a few weeks, all the major routes of Montreal belonged to the Iroquois.
2. The Great Peace, 1701: Upon French settlement in 1608, the natives were flung into a fur war: everyone wanted to be the Europeans’ trade partners. The next century saw great casualties as the English-backed Iroquois fought the Huron and Algonquin, who were allied with the French. But in the summer of 1701, more than 1,000 natives and scores of British and French officials met for treaty negotiations in Montreal. The natives sought to secure peace and land rights, and retain political and economic autonomy in their relations with their European and native neighbours. Ironically, through peace came the goals so many had died for. The rebellion of all sides was won with words.
3. Royal shipyard walkout, 1741: In October 1741, carpenters from the royal shipyard in Quebec walked off the job, the first recorded workers’ strike in Canada. The shipyard’s administration imprisoned the protesters, revealing the hostility of the government to insubordination and workers’ rights.
4. Mutiny at Isle Royale, 1744: The French garrison at what we know as Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, ill fed, badly treated, subject to cruel discipline and far from home, mutinied. The men managed to hold the town for five months, and in the end just three were executed for their part in the affair. Their superiors learned little from the uprising: a similar, though less prolonged, mutiny occurred at nearby the Port Toulouse site in 1750.
5. Bloody Creek, Nova Scotia, 1757: In early December, mid-way through the Seven Years’ War, a guerrilla force of French soldiers and Mi’kmaq attacked British soldiers from the Annapolis Royal fort as they crossed René Forêt River. There were 24 casualities on the British side, 12 on the other; the brook has henceforth been called Bloody Creek.
6. Pontiac’s uprising, 1763: After conquering New France (the southern rim of modern Ontario and Quebec) in Seven Years’ War, the British stirred the resentment of the western native tribes when they began to build forts and white settlements on native-owned lands. The uprising, named after the Ottawa leader Chief Pontiac, was the first extensive multi-tribal resistance to European colonization in North America: Pontiac, supported by Wyandots, Ojibwa, Potawatomis and Seneca allies, stormed a fort in Detroit in an attempt to dismantle the British’s control of the area. When the British launched a counter-offensive in 1864, which ultimately produced a treaty between both sides, Pontiac’s uprising became the first war between Europeans and American Indians that did not end in complete defeat for the natives.
7. Mutiny at the end of Seven Years’ War, 1764: Historian Peter Way describes this event as a “mutiny that erupted in the [British] army from Newfoundland to Florida after the war.” The primary issue was a new order to dock soldiers’ daily pay of six shillings by two-thirds to pay for provisions that were previously supplied free, but there were other, unwelcome changes that fuelled the sense of moral outrage. The response of the soldiers presaged the worker revolts of the coming century.
8. Canadians and the American Revolution, 1776: American revolutionaries, while seeking independence, turned to the north in search of allies. And they found some. The rebels’ anti-British rhetoric seduced a respectively large portion of Quebec, particularly in the Beauce region, where the rebels raised several military units. In Nova Scotia, Canadians-turned-rebels stormed Fort Cumberland, but lacking numbers, the attack failed.
9. Pro-Jacobins, 1790s: As Robespierre and his Jacobins unleashed their Reign of Terror in France, support for the radical revolutionary group surfaced in Canada. Although there was never a physical rebellion, colony leaders showed great fear of the possibility of Canada joining the most important revolution in modern history.
10. Rebellion of Patricians, 1805-1819: In the early 1800s, the Family Compact ruled Upper Canada. The compact was a small group who dominated legislative and executive councils, and was linked by patronage and shared political beliefs to the upper class. It sought to replicate Britain’s political aristocracy, and do so exclusively. But this exclusiveness provoked critiques of the entrenched oligarchy, predominantly by men such as Robert Thorpe and Robert Gourlay. Their dissidence was pivotal in the loss of compact’s influence, and the eventual rebellions of 1837.
11. Battle of Seven Oaks, 1816: When the Hudson’s Bay Company established the Red River Settlement, competing fur traders, the North West Company, saw it as an undermining of their authority. And the Metis were upset, as well: the settlement threatened their jobs and their buffalo herd.
In 1816, the governor of the settlement and his soldiers confronted an armed band of Metis. The colony-men didn’t have a chance, and lost 22, including the governor; only one Metis died. A Royal Commission investigating the incident exonerated the Metis, but the shootout changed the climate of future fur trading: fighting was no longer for trade rights, but for hate and power.
12. Escheat struggle, P.E.I., 1830s and 1860s: Prior to settlement in PEI, the British government allocated virtually all of the island’s land to proprietors who would become semi-feudal residents, funding the cost of colonizing. But after taking the land, few proprietors followed through with the agreement. Escheating, the process by which unimproved lands revert back to the Crown and become subject to reallocation, was the island’s rallying cry throughout the 19th century.
The popular Escheat Party emerged in 1830, calling for the redistribution of the land to those in actual occupation. But the Crown ignored the people’s will, forcing the island to start buying out the land. In 1860, the P.E.I. government created a land commission, and requested an imperial loan to complete the repurchase process. The loan never materialized. Resentment built steadily from then on, both against the Crown, which had ignored the people’s requests, and against the colony that undermined Britain.
13. Rebellions of Upper and Lower Canada, 1837: Collectively known as the Rebellions of 1837, the militia uprisings in Upper and Lower Canada were quite possibly the most important event in pre-Confederation Canadian history. With the passing of the Legislation Act, 1791, an elected House of Assembly and appointed Legislative Council governed both provinces. But the economic and social incompatibility of the two governing groups sparked reform factions to growth in both Canadas. It was time for change, they said.
By late 1837, the reformers turned into revolutionaries: those in Upper Canada denounced the council’s control of colonial revenues and land-granting policies; to the east, economic recession and a massive crop failure sparked farmers to become ragtag rebels, ready to begin the insurrection.
The most notorious event was the confrontation at the Montgomery’s Tavern in modern-day Toronto, a gathering point for rebel militants. When a Loyalist colonel discovered the rebel hub, rebel soldiers at a close-by checkpoint engaged the commander and his men in a small battle, unleashing the first shots of the rebellion and a major victory for the rebels. But victory was short-lived. In the end, the army easily suppressed the unarmed and outnumbered rebels.
Had the Rebellions of 1837 succeeded, however, Canada’s landscape would be a stark contrast of its current state. Upper Canada’s William Lyon Mackenzie would have proclaimed a republic, which might have led to integration with the United States. As well, Quebec sovereignty would surely have been achieved much earlier.
14. Guerre des Eteignoirs, 1940s: Although the suggestion of “war” is a bit misleading, the effects of the Guerre des Eteignoirs have nonetheless stayed with Quebec. In the 1840s, the rural poor, frustrated over school taxes, staged a revolt. Targeting school officials and property, the rebels swept through the province. The government frequently ordered troops to restore order, and the revolt eventually burned itself out. But along with extinguishing itself, the Guerre des Eteignoirs stunted the development of Quebec education for decades.
15. Welland Canal strikes, 1843: Drawn to Canada by an advertised wage of $12 a month to work on the creation of the canal, thousands of Irish families immigrated to Canada in the mid-1930s. However, upon arrival in the promised land, the workers realized they had been duped: the digging companies offered pennies. In 1843, more than 500 workers went on strike, demanding a 50-cent-a-day raise. The rebellion lost steam when starvation forced the desperate workers to concede.
17. P.E.I.’s Tenant League uprisings, 1860s: Farmers formed the Tenant League in 1863, an outgrowth of the escheat movement, in an attempt to force a resolution to the absentee landlord question. By summer 1864, most of the island’s farmers had joined.
The league adopted a constitution at its convention in Charlottetown, which urged its members to withhold rent payments until the absentee landowners sold their land. For the governor, it had gone too far. He banned the Tenant League, and met all farmers who refused to disband or pay rent with violence. The unrest became so severe that a contingent of British troops came to restore order. They stayed for more than a year.
18. Philo Parsons raid, 1864: In 1864, Confederate agents used Canada as a base for the Philo Parsons raid to free southern prisoners of war from Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie. Although the assault was ultimately abandoned, the incident fuelled British suspicion of Yankee bravado and imperialism, strengthening the cause of Canadian confederation.
19. Chilcotin War, 1864: The blood of the 14 men that stained the freshly built roads through British Columbia was just the beginning—in one month, 19 road builders were dead, and more than 100 British soldiers hunted the Chilcotin natives who had killed them. Some scholars believe the aboriginals were defending their land and livelihood—practicing war rather than murder. But in the end, six Chilcotins were hanged for the deaths.
20. Red River Rebellion: When the Hudson’s Bay Company transferred what is now southern Manitoba to the Canadian government in 1869, the Metis feared they would lose their traditional rights to their settlements near the Red River. Led by Louis Riel, the Metis seized Fort Garry and set up a provisional government. British soldiers easily suppressed them.
The events influenced the expansion of Confederation. In 1870, the federal government established Manitoba and the disputed land as part of Canada, and along with it, guaranteed many of the rights Riel demanded (such as separate French schools for Metis).
21. Strikes in St. John, 1870s: In 1870s, the employees of the shipbuilders in St. John, predominantly unskilled workers and recent Irish immigrants, caught on to the nine-hour work day movement in England: they demanded regulated work hours. But fate tamed the strikers’ burning desire for change. In 1877, a fire ripped through St. John, destroying the heart of the city. During the proceeding years of repair, the city decided that inland transportation was a safer and cheaper industry. The shipbuilding era ended, as did many jobs on the dock.
22. Catholic and Protestant Riots, 1870s: The Procession Rioting (also known as the pilgrimage riots) was as a seminal event in Toronto’s police history, particularly for its restraint from using mass force. An influx of Irish Catholics had segregated Toronto: the Catholics were singled out as a threat within the city by virtue of their home history, poverty and unskilled labour status, while, the predominantly Protestant Toronto constables were often accused of treating the Catholics with severe hostility.
But in 1875, the city’s stereotypes were defied. During a peaceful Catholic procession through the streets, Protestant residents lobbed stones at those marching. To the surprise of everyone, the police defended the Catholics. Wielding their batons, the constables cleared the crowds of Orange rioters and let the pilgrimage continue, marking a turning point in the relationship between Irish Protestants and Catholics.
23. Dumont/Metis republic, 1870s: In the early 1870s, the Metis, who had settled in southern Saskatchewan, spontaneously formed their own government. On their behalf, Gabriel Dumont (Riel’s "Adjutant General" in 1885) stopped some non-Natives from hunting on the land. The small republic had established laws aimed at conserving the bison resource, which was shrinking at an alarming rate. When the Canadian government investigated the community, they discovered that the Metis had not intended an insurrection—rather, they sought autonomy. The Canadian authorities told Dumont that the Metis should dissolve their self-government. They did. The event is an illustration of the aboriginals’ practice of creating their own institutions of government that is often overlooked in Canadian history.
24. Printers’ Strike, 1872: In late 1871, the nine-hour workday movement in England inspired workers across Ontario and Quebec. The Toronto printers decided they would do something about it—they declared a strike in March 1872. The strike centred on George Brown’s Globe, but affected almost every Toronto newspaper.
The protesters held out into April, when the Toronto Trades Assembly organized a march. More than 2,000 workers paraded across Toronto; by the time they rallied at Queen’s Park, the procession had ballooned to 10,000 at a time when Toronto’s population was just over 100,000. The march forced the federal government to react. Just three days later, Prime Minister Macdonald introduced and passed the Trade Union Act. The nine-hour workday was not won, but the strike achieved a much larger victory: the legalization of unions.
25. The Great Upheaval, 1880s: Canada in the 1880s was in the midst of an economic boom. But not all Canadians achieved prosperity. The Knights of Labor, a major labour reform organization, ventured north of the border to fulfill its belief in organizing workers. Although eastern coal mining unions existed, the Knights of Labor offered the first national labour movement that took no regard of class, sex or skill.
By the early 1900s, the group had strongholds throughout Quebec and Ontario, and their lobbying resulted in the Factory Acts as well as the creation of Labour Day. The Knights also provoked the first and only Royal Commission to investigate the relations of labour and capital.
26. Northwest Rebellion 1885: Returning from exile in the United States, Louis Riel joined Gabriel Dumont and formed a provisional government and created an armed fort in Canada’s Northwest, asserting a list of Metis and Indian demands unrecognized by Ottawa. One week later, the government responded. Months of battles followed, with waves of Canadian soldiers finally overpowering the defiant Metis and Cree. The government hanged Riel, sparking widespread outrage in Quebec and fuelling a long-lasting Ontario-Quebec division.
27. Montreal vaccination riot, 1885: In January 1885, Montreal celebrated one of its biggest winter carnivals. A few weeks later a railway porter arrived from Chicago into the city carrying smallpox, and the “carnival of death” began. In less than four months, the epidemic killed more than 3,000 people. But it also turned a city against itself; everyone was looking for someone to blame. The epidemic turned French against the English, the Catholic against Protestants and the city’s rich against the poor. While hospitals pushed vaccinations, mobs rioted, believing the government was singling them out for a practice that many feared. In fact, soldiers had to work daylong shifts of guarding smallpox hospitals against anti-vaccination rioters.
The 1885 Montreal outbreak was the last smallpox epidemic to devastate a city in the Western world. Yet as historian Michael Bliss describes the crisis as a “relic of barbarism more primitive than any of the events on the Western frontier,” hindsight suggests that the riots left a far-more lasting damage than the disease.
28. Charcoal, 1896: In 1896, Charcoal, a Blood Indian from southern Alberta, killed a fellow tribesman for having an affair with his wife. The dead man had broken a fundamental rule of Blood society; for Charcoal, it was not a crime of passion or revenge, but one of dignity. But the NWMP understood it as murder. The police hunted Charcoal for weeks, and before being captured, the native shot the leading sergeant. Charcoal was hanged shortly after.
29. Almighty Voice, 1897: Almighty Voice, a Cree Indian from Saskatchewan, was arrested for slaughtering a cow without a licence in 1895. This minor misdemeanour ultimately exploded into a prison break, a long chase and a fierce shootout, in which the one native fought a North-West Mounted Police force of more than 100, killing three. The fight marked the last battle between natives and whites in North America.
30. Doukhobors, 1903: The origin of Verigin, Saskatchewan, could easily be lost in the province’s footnotes. But the southern town was raised with the sweat of revolutionaries exiled from Russia. In 1885, the Doukhobors, led by Peter Verigin, revolted against the Czar’s autocratic government. The rebellion fell short, and the exiled radicals moved to Siberia, from which they soon immigrated as early as 1899 to Canada. Here, the Doukhobors led a communistic life of public ownership with sporadic clashes with the state, such as the Sons of the Freedom, a radical Doukhobor sect that rejected materialism that claimed responsibility for more than 1,100 arsons and bombings in B.C. between 1923 and 1962.
31. Siege of Ottawa, 1910: For years, farmers across the country fought endlessly with their local and federal governments to control grain terminal fees, so as to keep the rates equal and reasonable. The small battles culminated in the December 1910 Siege of Ottawa. About 800 farmers marched to Ottawa and occupied the House of Commons. The resulting meetings lasted for three days. The result: the government consolidated all the existing grain acts into a new act, the Canada Grain Act. Although the farmers’ protest changed little, the siege was the first time in Canadian history when any delegation that size took over the chamber to plead their case.
32. Springhill strikes, 1907-1911: Coal mining has deep roots in Nova Scotia. But the miners’ strikes from 1907 to 1911 reveal that mining does not just have a history, but that it shaped the history of the province. In 1879, the workers of Springhill mines formed Canada’s first labour union, the Provincial Workingmen’s Association. Just a few decades later, the frustration that turned into a union erupted: the miners declared a strike in protest of charges laid again a miner for violating provincial regulations. The charges were dropped, but the fury was far from finished.
In 1909, the United Mine Workers of America, a U.S.-born labour group that had recently crossed the border, went on strike and demanded recognition of their union instead of the PWA. The PWA members resisted for the sake of the union’s survival; the mining companies supported the PWA in fear of a U.S.-based union demanding U.S. wages. The strike died.
33. Angelina Napolitano clemency campaign, 1911: On Easter Sunday in 1911, Angelina Napolitano, a 28-year-old Italian immigrant and mother of four, killed her abusive husband with an axe (correct?) as he slept in their bedroom in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. After a three-hour trial, represented by lawyer who had only hours to prepare, Napolitano was sentenced to hang. But the world said “No.”
Her story, picked up by an America reporter, propelled an international petition movement for her release. Thousands of signatures demanded clemency, accusing the Canadian legal system of being anti-immigrant and racist. Although she still served 10 years at Kingston Prison for Women, Angelina Napolitano became the icon of the first wave of the feminist movement.
34. Eaton’s Strike, 1912: In 1912, Toronto’s Jewish garment workers went on strike to rid themselves of sweatshop conditions. The move threatened to paralyse the Eaton’s empire, but for then company president John C. Eaton, the strikers were messing with the wrong Eaton. He didn’t budge on any of their pleas, and his final offer was to simply reinstate the workers—as long as they apologized. The strike collapsed three months later.
35. Vancouver free speech fight, 1912: By 1911, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labour union claimed 10,000 members in Canada. However, the Criminal Law Amendment Act made union demonstrations illegal, along with public street meetings. Adopting tactics where members would flood public meetings, inviting police to arrest them and thus running up a huge tab for the city, the IWW conducted a fierce fight for free speech in 1912. The city quickly rescinded its ban.
36. Ghadr movement, 1900s: The Ghadr (commonly translated as “mutiny”) movement was born in contempt for British imperialism in India in the early 1900s. Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus immigrated to Canada through labour programs, only to sneak across to the United States, a nation free of colonial ties. Britain caught on quickly, and enforced stricter immigration policies in an attempt to ward off further dissenters. But the 5,000 Hindus and Sikhs who had already immigrated were enough: they created an international movement through American newspapers to rid the colonial control from India.
The Ghadr movement’s plans were leaked in 1915. British police arrested the revolutionists, and the movement died before it passed the rallying stage. Yet it was still the most serious attempt to subvert British rule in India, and it was rooted on Canada’s west coast.
37. St. John Street Railway Strike, 1914: Protesting the unjust firing of their union leaders, the St. John’s railway workers went on strike in the summer of 1914. Two days later, a mob of angry workers flipped two trams in the Market Square, and showered the vehicles with bricks and stones. The mayor, having just called in the military, read the crowd the Riot Act, threatening life imprisonment for any who participated. His words didn’t have time to register. The army’s cavalry charged the protesters, ceremonial swords a-swinging. The mob charged back.
The rioters set fire to the flipped trams, and threatened the powerhouse workers into turn off the electricity, throwing most of the city into darkness. The mayor realized he needed to compromise. He freed the union leaders, offering one a lifetime position as a public worker. Barely a week later, the streetcar strike was mostly forgotten.
38. Feminist struggle against the war, 1915-18: With Canada’s jingoistic reverence of the First World War, it is easy to forget the public’s opposition to the war—especially when it was vocalized by the much-maligned feminist movement. Several Canadian delegates were among the 1,136 who attended the Women’s International League Peace and Freedom (WILPF) congress in The Hague in 1915. The group issued 20 resolutions to end the war and negotiate all differences. WILPF is still around today.
39. Ford City riots, 1917: Bishop Fallon, the Episcopal authority of Ford City and neighbouring Windsor, openly brewed a passionate disdain for the French-Canadian nationalism of his community. In opposition to Fallon, eight priests rejected a puppet-pastor who was assigned to their parish by locking him out of the church and rectory — they deemed him to be “not French enough.” A combined force of Ford City, Walkerville and Windsor police soon intervened, and easily took control of the parish.
40. Plaster quarry workers, 1917: As gypsum is found in abundance in the shallow river valleys of Hants County, N.S., so was disdain for the mining companies. In 1917, the gypsum quarry workers, who were mostly Afro-Canadians, went on strike, preventing the soft rock from being shipped out to U.S. consumers. The series of strikes lasted for three years.
41. Anti-conscription riot, 1918: Those who enlisted to fight in the Great War were predominantly English-speaking. Upon the introduction of conscription, Quebec vocalized its deep opposition: the French province accused Canada of forcing troops to fight England’s war. This culminated in an Easter weekend riot in Quebec City in which four protestors were shot dead by soldiers.
42. Vancouver General Strike, 1917-18: After Albert “Ginger” Goodwin led the Trail, B.C., zinc smelter strike in 1917, the conscription board reversed its previous decision that he wasn’t fit for battle. But the radical coal miner still didn’t feel he was fit, and fled. Police hunted Goodwin down, and shot him in 1918. The killing sparked the Vancouver General Strike, and unified the movement of miners and smelter workers across the city for better workers’ rights. While the strike is generally lost in the endnotes of history textbooks, it can be tied directly to the Winnipeg General Strike just a year later.
43. Canadian Forces riot, 1918: Just six weeks after the Armistice was signed in 1918, a group of Canadian soldiers mobilized for battle in a brand-new arena of war: Siberia. But on the day of their departure, Quebecois conscripts in the Canadian-Siberian Expeditionary Force mutinied in Victoria, B.C. The soldiers’ resistance to fighting in Russia was reinforced by the radical elements of B.C.’s working class, which had a strong community of support for the Russian Revolution and its ideologies. It was decades before the Cold War, but already, Canada’s west was becoming the battleground for western democracy and communism.
44. Winnipeg General Strike, 1919: Discouraged by post-war inflation and unemployment, Winnipeg’s metal and building workers went on strike, demanding higher wages. By May 15, 1919, more than 30,000 union and non-union workers had walked off the job. The city was in shambles. Fearing a revolution similar to the one that had just happened in Russia, and positive that immigrants were behind the strike, Ottawa amended the Immigration Act so British-born immigrants could be deported. The threat went unnoticed. The strike continued.
After nearly a month, Winnipeg’s mayor called the special constables. Their presence just fuelled the strikers’ fire. On June 19, or Bloody Saturday, a riot claimed the lives of two protesters, and the police made 94 arrests. A few days later, the strikers, disenchanted, returned to work. After 40 days, the largest social revolt in Canadian history was over.
45. Cape Breton labour war, 1920s: In the 1920s, the Cape Breton coal-mining industry was losing its footing in the central Canada market. The British Empire Steel Corporation was determined to save costs by cutting wages; the workers were determined to resist. The labour wars lasted for four years, accounting for more than two million strike-days, and frequently featured appearances by provincial police. In the end, the workers won. The federal government chastised the company for its use of police, and introduced restrictions on which armed officers can be called out in labour disputes.
46. Kosher meat boycotts, 1924: In 1924, groups of Jewish women in Toronto formed picket lines outside butcher shops to protest the high price of kosher meat. Violence erupted between venders and protesters, but after two weeks, many butchers across the city agreed to lower their prices.
47. Communist Party repression, 1929-35: The Great Depression hit Canada hard as factory closures and unemployment swept the country. And the last thing the federal government needed was a unified force of angry workers. In 1931, police arrested and imprisoned eight leaders of the Communist Party of Canada under the infamous Section 98 of the Criminal Code—the banning of “unlawful association.” Under constant legal threat, the party was forced underground, where it played an active role in organizing the On to Ottawa Trek.
49. On to Ottawa Trek, 1935: On June 3, 1935, single men in B.C.’s Depression-era federal work camps, seeking union wages instead of the 20 cents a day they received, began their On to Ottawa Trek. Riding the rails, 2,000 men made it to Regina before police brutally disbanded the protest (see: Regina riot). Later that year, the hated federal government was also disbanded in an election, and movement toward the modern-day welfare safety net began.
50. Regina riot, 1935: As the police arrested the leaders of the On to Ottawa Trek, the Saskatchewan city erupted. The conflict raged back and forth on the streets, as the constables’ batons were met with rocks and clubs. By midnight, it was all over: one constable was dead, several dozen more injured and about 130 rioters were in jail.
51. Oshawa strike, 1937: For the more than 4,000 workers who walked out of Oshawa’s General Motors plant in April of 1937, the reasons for their strike were simple: an eight-hour day, better wages and working conditions, a seniority system and the company’s recognition of the workers’ union. For GM management and Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn, the last demand was troublesome: they wanted an unorganized and pliant labour force. To break the strike, Hepburn created his own police force, known irreverently as “Sons-of-Mitches.”
But the strikers stayed strong. And with the support of fellow unions and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor of the NDP, their two-week walkout succeeded. GM compromised, marking the first major victory for the Committee of Industrial Organization north of the U.S., and perhaps even the birth of industrial unionism in Canada.
52. Conscription riots in B.C., 1944: Prime Minister Mackenzie King remembered the public outrage over conscription in the First World War, and he’d was damned if he would repeat it. But in 1942, it became obvious the Allies needed help. A nation-wide referendum supported conscription, drafting all able men for home defence duties.
In 1944, King ordered that 16,000 conscripts, known as “zombies,” be sent to Europe; the soldiers replied “No.” At a base in Terrace, B.C., armed troops seized the camp, hanging placards declaring “Down with conscription.” And the country sided with the troops: half of the 16,000 went AWOL, and many of them were hidden by members of the community. In the end, King again reversed on his decision, saying soldiers would only be sent to fight in the Pacific if they agreed to go.
53. Industrial unionism and working class rebels, 1940s: Union membership exploded in 1943. The Canadian Congress of Labour’s (CCL) membership had tripled to 314,000. Yet despite the worker enthusiasm, employers continued to resist the unionization of their shops. The government needed to intervene, the unions said. And if it didn’t, the workers would make it.
Major and violent strikes shot up across Ontario (see: Kirkland Lake and Sault Ste. Marie), and public opinion shifted to support the pro-labour Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. By 1944, labour’s pressure in the workplace and in the political arena forced the ruling Liberals to pass an emergency order-in-council, which protected workers’ right to organize and required employers to recognize unions chosen by a majority of workers.
55. Valleyfield strike, 1946: In June 1946, union organizer Madeleine Parent led a 6,000-strong walkout of Montreal’s Dominion Textile schemata workers to protest working conditions. The action paved the way for unionization, an eight-hour day and, ultimately, the patriation of unions with U.S. ties.
56. Seamen’s unions and Hal, 1949: In 1949, labour and shipping-company leaders turned to U.S. union leader Hal C. Banks to dismantle the powerful, communist-led Canadian Seamen’s Union. Within a few months, Banks’ corruption-filled past followed him north of the border: he rigged union elections and replaced the CSU with the American Seafarers International Union. Members of rival unions and opponents of the SIU often complained of being threatened, shot at and beaten, prompting the Canadian Labour Congress to expel the union and extradite Banks to the United States. Ironically, the SIU remains Canada’s dominant seamen’s union.
57. Asbestos strike, 1949: As Pierre Trudeau later referred to it, the 1949 asbestos strike in Quebec was a “violent announcement that a new era [had] begun.” It started when negotiation plans for a new contract between asbestos miners and the province went sour. Instead of adhering to pro-business arbitration, the workers declared strike. Premier Maurice Duplessis declared the strike illegal, and dispatched provincial police.
The strike quickly turned vicious. Police attacked picket lines with tear gas and batons; strikers dragged police from their cars and beat them unconscious. The violence brought the strike international coverage, as well as a collective call for an end. After six months, both sides came to an agreement. But the strike lives on in Canadian history, and contributed to the eventual rise of the Quiet Revolution.
58. Rise of the New Left, 1960s: The mid-to-late 1960s introduced something unprecedented to the Canadian political and social arena: the rise of the “new left” on university campuses. The new left encompased a variety of groups that held a wide range of radical views, united only their refusal to support existing political parties and their rejection of Marxism. The new left was to break Canadians free of the chains of mainstream political and social values. But the phenomenon was short-lived: by the end of 1970, most new left groups were self-combusting.
59. Doctors against Medicare, 1962: On July 1, 1962, the day that the provincial Co-operative Commonwealth Federation’s long-promised medicare plan began, most of Saskatchewan’s doctors went on strike, declaring, “Political medicine is bad medicine.” After three weeks, they were back at work. After four years, most provinces in Canada had adopted the plan.
60. Yorkville sit-in, 1967: In 1967, Toronto’s Yorkville was Greenwich Village north, bristling with hippie culture and cafes. In the August, about 300 flower children held a sit-in on Yorkville Avenue to demand the street be closed to traffic. The Man disagreed. The result was a punch- and kick-in by police officers, and a subsequent jail-in of about 50 protesters — all which made the cover page of every daily newspaper.
61. Universite de Moncton campaign, 1968-1969: The 1960s was the decade of student movements. But the campaign of the Université de Moncton students was a movement that ultimately cut across all political or generational lines. In 1968-69, students protested in support of greater recognition of French and the Acadian culture in New Brunswick. Through street-marches, petitions and sit-ins, the students and their supporters set out to abolish discrimination and establish language rights, leading to new forms of Acadian nationalism in the 1970s. The movement is illustrated in the 1971 NFB film L’Acadie, L’Acadie.
62. Sir George Williams student protest, 1969: In the spring of 1968, six black West Indian students accused a biology lecturer of racism. They complained to the administration, but saw little reaction. By fall, the students made it a public issue.
Looking for a quick solution, the school established a hearing committee. But the students didn’t agree with the choice of representatives. The issue exploded. In late January 1969, more than 200 students occupied the computer centre on the ninth floor of the Hall building, and soon expanded to occupy the seventh floor. The school and the protesters negotiated a deal, but there was a misunderstanding: after more than half the protesters left the building, the university reneged on the decision and called the police. Feeling cheated, the students rioted through the building, doing more than $2 million in damages. Police arrested 97 people, 69 of whom were Sir George Williams University students and 55 of whom were white.
The event forced universities to reevaluate how they dealt with internal issues and complaints.
63. October Crisis, 1970: On October 5, 1970, the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), a guerrilla Quebec sovereignty group, kidnapped British trade minister James Cross in Montreal. The FLQ demands included the release of several detained FLQ members and the broadcasting of the FLQ manifesto. Five days later, a second FLQ cell kidnapped the Quebec minister of labour and immigration, Pierre Laporte. Enough, said Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. On October 15, the the War Measures Act was imposed, banning the FLQ, suspending normal liberties and authorizing detention without charge. Pierre Laporte’s body was discovered two days later.
In the following months, the police arrested the FLQ members involved with Laporte’s murder. The FLQ’s revolution was over. But the incident still raises the question, was the taming of terrorism worth revoking the rights of all citizens?
65. Blue Quills Residential School, 1970: In 1970, the Blue Quills residential school in Saddle Lake, Alberta, became the first such institution to come under the control of the First Nations. In the wake of the 1969 “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy,” which sought complete assimilation of aboriginals into Canadian culture, natives demanded they be able to exert control over their children’s education—and the government conceded. Two years later, the National Indian Brotherhood released the “Indian Control of Indian Education” policy, a necessary step on the the path to self-governance.
66. Quebec General Strike, 1971-72: Founded in late 1971 and cemented by the shared experience during the La Press worker lockout months before, the three largest unions in Quebec formed a common front to negotiate the upcoming public service workers’ contract renewal with the provincial government. When their demands for higher pay were rejected, more than 210,000 workers went on strike. The action lasted three days. Making an example of the disenchanted strikers, police arrested the leaders of the amalgamated unions, who were known as the “big three.” The province erupted.
Within a few days, more than 300,000 rank-and-file workers self-organized the largest general strike in North American history. The big three were released in return for the workers returning to their jobs. But the workers’ war was won — they had beaten the government.
67. Gay protest on Parliament Hill, 1971: It was the summer of 1971, and about 100 men and women marched on Parliament Hill as they chanted “Two-four-six-eight! Gay is just as good as straight.” The pouring rain almost drowned out their voices, but their message was heard. It was the first large-scale public protest for gay rights in Canada, and paved the way for future gay-rights demonstrations and celebrations.
68. Spadina Expressway, 1971: In September 1969, Metro Toronto had already spent most of the $73 million it had estimated it would cost to build an expressway from Highway 401 to the centre of the city, riping through neighbourhoods, but the road was still far from finished. Using the Metro’s application for more funding as leverage, the Stop Spadina and Save Our City group (SSOCC) held protests across the city. The group maintained expressways were the root of U.S. cities’ degradation, and that the super-route threatened several vibrant Toronto neighbourhoods. The province stepped in and stopped the expressway, stating, “Sities were built for people and not cars.”
69. Greenpeace versus the U.S., 1971: In September 1971, members of the nascent Greenpeace sailed from Vancouver for Amchitka Island, Alaska, to protest the U.S. nuclear tests being conducted there. The voyage ended somewhat anticlimactically, when the American Coast Guard accosted the group; on the other hand, the authorities didn’t sink their ship.
70. Insurance agents against Autopac: On November 1, 1971, Manitoba’s NDP government took control of the auto insurance business, providing province-wide car coverage under the Autopac program. The news was ominous for Manitoba’s automobile insurers – their monopoly was in danger. Dozens of insurance agents staged a march on the legislature, and at a public hearing, Portage Mutual chief E.M. Brown challenged and insulted the premier. But it was all in vain. The province drove through the program, and the province’s insurance companies lost an estimated $1.4 million.
71. Anishinabe Park, 1974: Those who remember the Ojibway Warriors Society’s 1974 occupation of Anishinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario, remember it as a local problem. It was just another Canadian land claim conflict that soon died away. But like all issues of aboriginal land claims, the resonation goes much further than the province’s borders.
In the early summer of 1974, members of the American Indian Movement jumped the American-Canadian border and seized the park, claiming it was rightfully theirs under Treaty 3 of 1873. The self-acclaimed Ojibway warriors armed themselves with guns and Molotov cocktails. They were ready for a showdown. But the government met the rebels’ weapons with negotiations. The country ceded beneath the aboriginals’ pressure. Even the Indians’ reactionary caravan to Ottawa and riot on the steps of Parliament was mediated with compromise. In the summer of 1974, indigenous resistance groups across North America saw that the government could bleed, too.
72. Bath raids protest, 1981: On February 5, 1981, Toronto police stormed four gay bath houses and arrested close to 300 men in the bawdyhouse laws. The next day, more than 3,000 protesters marched down Yonge Street, demonstrating a very real resistance to police harassment and the treatment of homosexuality as an aberration.
73. Nunavut plebiscite, 1982: It was the largest claims settlement in Canadian history, both in financial compensation and land: $1.1 billion and 1.9 million kilometres of land and water, with mineral rights—all to be given to the newly recognized territory of Nunavut. In April 1982, a territory-wide plebiscite on dividing the Northwest Territories yielded a resounding “yes,” and the Canadian government announced its endorsement of the creation the territory. It was finalized a decade later.
74. Manitoba French-language battles, 1983: Manitoba has a reputation for being the trump card in in cases concerning language issues. In 1890, its legislature abolished funding for Catholic schools and declared French was no longer an official language in the province. Almost a century later, in 1983, Manitobans hadn’t resolved the issue. Brian Corrin, an NDP MLA turned Winnipeg mayoral candidate, challenged the incumbent on a pro-Charter platform: he planned to retrench French services in provincial law. But the English-speaking citizens wanted none of it.
The city was tense, as if a chalk line had split its people in two. But come voting day, it was obvious which side had more supporters. Corrin lost, and Manitoba would later settle its language disputes outside of election time.
75. Operation Solidarity, 1983: Following the defeat of the NDP government in 1975, B.C.’s Social Credit Party proposed bills that would have cut social programs, dismantled the Human Rights Commission and cut the size of the provincial public service by a quarter. In July 1983, the labour movement announced “Operation Solidarity”: a culmination of labour, environmental and radical militants’ attempts at general strike to force the hand of the provincial government. In October, 3,500 government employees went on strike, and more actions were planned.
Operation Solidarity later earned the title “Operation Sold Out” as protest leaders bought into a deal with the government on unfavourable terms, ending the mass labour dispute.
76. Haida logging blockades, 1985: After years of watching the impact of commercial logging on their Northwest B.C. community, the Haida First Nation people had enough. In 1985, the natives – supported by environmentalists – staged blockades, preventing any outside logging companies from accessing their land. Eight years later, the southern half of the land was established as a protected heritage site, and the Canadian government and council of the Haida Nation co-manage the territory.
77. Free Trade protests, 1987-88: When Prime Minister Brian Mulroney finally inked the Free Trade Agreement on January 2, 1988, the culmination of three years of celebration and protest erupted. Thousands marched on Parliament’s doorstep, waving signs and novelty price tags for Canada’s sovereignty; in Windsor, hundreds of union workers defied a court injunction and blocked the bridge leading to Detroit. Despite the fact that more Canadians had voted against the FTA than for it, the electoral system installed a Tory government after an autumn 1987 vote, and Mulroney was free to pursue his pro-FTA agenda.
78. Elijah Harper versus Meech Lake, 1990: On June 20, 1990, Premier Gary Filmon introduced the Meech Lake Accord into the Manitoba legislature. He needed unanimous consent for the country to ratify the agreement by its looming deadline. He didn’t expect one man to kill what was supposed to be inevitable.
As a protest against the accord’s lack of attention to aboriginal issues, Elijah Harper, a Cree member of the legislature, said a soft but resounding “No.” Manitoba’s stalemate ended any chance of a vote in Newfoundland. In a matter of days, politicians and media pundits country-wide pronounced Meech Lake dead.
79. Montreal Massacre, 1989: While many Canadians mourned the murders of 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, feminists used the massacre to galvanize a movement to put an end to male violence against women. The House of Commons Subcommittee on the Status of Women was formed in 1991, and released “The War Against Women”, a report with 24 recommendations, including a national violence prevention campaign and a royal commission on violence against women, later that year.
81. Charlottetown Referendum, 1992: Before the October referendum, the PC federal government thought the Charlottetown Accord was the package of amendments that would win over those opposed to Meech Lake. But the party again felt the sting of Pierre Trudeau: on October 1, in a Montreal Chinese food restaurant, the former PM pronounced that the accord would effectively lead to the disintegration of the federal government. His “no” echoed across the country. Alberta Reform Party members adopted the same stance, arguing that the accord gave Quebec too much power; in Quebec, Bouchard and the Bloc said it didn’t give enough. No matter their cause, the country killed the accord. But it wasn’t the only casualty — in the next year’s federal election, Kim Campbell’s PC government fell to a mere two seats.
82. Clayoquot Sound, 1993: In the summer of 1993, about 10,000 protestors occupied the Clayoquot Sound area of western Vancouver Island after the provincial government announced that two-thirds of the old-growth timber in the area could be logged. Police arrested hundreds of protesters, not including Robert Kennedy Jr., who was one of the celeb supporters. The area is now a Unesco biosphere reserve.
83. Ipperwash crisis, 1995: In September 1995, about 35 Ojibwa occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park to draw attention to decades-old land claims. In just three days, the Ontario Provincial Police’s resolution to peacefully deal with the protest to officers opening fire on a bus and car driven by natives to assist the occupiers. Two protesters were injured; Dudley George was killed. In 2007, long-awaited inquiry found Mike Harris’s government and the OPP ‘s errors led to the death, and proposed that the disputed land be returned to the aboriginals immediately, with compensation.
84. Gustafson Lake, 1995: During the late summer Sundance ceremony in 1995, members of the Shuswap nation found their sacred, and allegedly unceded land, overrun by a Montana ranchers’ cattle. The natives built fences—they were taking back what they saw as theirs. After a minor skirmish, the ranchers called the RCMP. With the tact reminiscent of a cowboy movie, the police stormed the encampment: the natives held their ground, and the RCMP retreated. In late September, the camp members left the land peacefully. Police arrested at least two shortly after.
85. Ontario Teachers’ Strike, 1997: When Premier Mike Harris introduced Bill 160, he saw it as a product of the efficiency and cost-cutting vision of his Progressive Conservatives’ election platform, the so-called Common Sense Revolution. The teachers’ unions saw it as outrageous. In October, 126,000 Ontario public school teachers went on strike, the largest-ever work stoppage in Ontario and the largest teachers’ strike in North American history. Nobody was going to budge.
Having failed to obtain a court injunction against the teachers, Harris’s government looked vulnerable. But when the unions offered concessions to the government’s demands for job cuts and increased class size, Harris rejected them. After two weeks, teachers returned to the classroom, many even angrier than when the strike had began.
86. Anti-APEC protests, 1998: When Prime Minister Jean Chrétien chose the University of British Columbia’s campus for the 1998 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation countries, he did it for the school’s beautiful landscape. He didn’t think that universities are a breeding ground for political activism. The RCMP pepper-sprayed the hundreds of UBC students and others who massed to protest the meeting because of human rights abuses in several of the APEC countries, shooting the protesters’ cause to national attention.
87. OCAP Parliament Hill protest, 1999: Fancying themselves action-over-dialogue protesters, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty members organized a homeless-housing march on Parliament Hill in November 1999. More than 500 protesters showed up, chanting and swearing at the police barricade. The police responded to the chants with pepper spray.
88. Caledonia, 2005 to present: After Henco Industries ignored Six Nations’ warnings that the company was building a subdivision on a sacred burial ground, a small group of native protesters built a makeshift fort on the construction site, preventing any further work. Police raided the camp, arresting 16 protesters; the natives retaliated by building blockades on the area’s major highway and train tracks. Caledonia was in a deadlock.
Non-native residents, tired with the inconvenience caused by the blockades, started clashing with protesters and even set up their own blockade barring access to and from the local reserve. The issue was no longer just Caledonia: it was a war of two nations. The Ontario government tried to tame the situation by buying the controversial land. But even with the blockades gone, Caledonia is a place of resentment for all its residents.
89. Deseronto, 2007: At the beginning of 2007, about 20 Mohawk protesters erected a barricade at a quarry in Deseronto, Ontario. With the bitter taste of Caledonia still in many mouths, the federal government appointed a chief negotiator to settle the land dispute, indefinitely suspending any further construction by the quarry. It was a temporary win for the aboriginals, but in the end, it is simply another in the growing cases of Ontario land claims — a trend that won’t extinguish itself any time soon.