On to Ottawa Trek

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On to Ottawa Trek

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The On-to-Ottawa Trek was a mass protest movement in Canada in 1935 sparked by unrest among unemployed single men in federal relief camps principally in Western Canada. Federal relief camps were brought in under Prime Minister R. B. Bennett’s government as a result of the Great Depression. The Great Depression crippled the Canadian economy and left one in nine citizens on relief. The relief, however, did not come free; the Bennett government ordered the Department of National Defense to organize work camps where single unemployed men were used to construct roads and other public works at a rate of twenty cents per day. The men in the relief camps were living in poor conditions with very low wages. The men decided to unite and in 1933, and led by Arthur "Slim" Evans the men created Workers' Unity League (WUL). The Workers' Unity League helped the men organize the Relief Camp Workers' Union.

A strike was held in December 1934 with the men leaving the various camps and protesting in Vancouver, British Columbia. After a two-month protest, they returned to the camps after a promise of a government commission to look into their complaints. When a commission was not appointed a second strike was approved by the members and a walkout was called on April 4, 1935.

About 1,000 strikers headed for Ottawa. The strikers' demands were: “(1) that work with wages be instituted at a minimum of 50cents per hour for unskilled workers and trade union rates for skilled labour on the basis of a six-hour day, a five-day week with a minimum of twenty work days per month; (2) that all workers in the camps be covered by the Workman's Compensation Act and that adequate first aid supplies be carried on the jobs at all times; (3) that the National Defense and all military control with the system of blacklisting be abolished; (4) that democratically elected committees be recognized in every camp; (5) that there be instituted a system of noncontributory unemployment insurance; (6) that all workers be given their democratic right to vote; (7) that Section 98 of the Criminal Code, Sections 41 and 42 of the Immigration Act and all vagrancy laws and anti-working class laws be repealed”.

Public support for the men was enormous, but the municipal, provincial and federal governments passed responsibility between themselves. They then decided to take their grievances to the federal government. On June 3, 1935, hundreds of men began boarding boxcars headed east in what became known as the "On-to-Ottawa Trek".


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  • Clipboard

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  • EAC

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