Water of Nations

Assinaboine River at the Forks.jpgOver the years I have been giving thought to the manner in which we have allowed our water systems to be exploited. So long as the leaders of our peoples regard our water systems as a resource to be directly and indirectly exploited, colonization of our lands will continue to persist. Diversions that are constructed impede upon the surrounding water systems and land. Wastewater systems introduce on mass, chemicals and pollutants that impact the delicate ecosystems around them. Entire communities continue to go without clean water to drink, while colonization practices allow corporations to cheaply remove millions of litres of potable water from our watershed for sale to those who suffer without and in doing so, have no contribution to the corrective actions required to solve the root of the problem. I intend to demonstrate that systems of oppression and colonization still exist within the attitudes of those who claim ownership over one of our most precious resources, water.

As a child, I would go camping in various areas of Manitoba with my parents and grandparents. Manual water pumps were used in many of these areas to access water for washing and drinking that we would pump into containers and carry back to our camp. My grandfather explained to me how underground rivers ran for miles beneath us carrying water to and from the many areas around us in order to make sure the land continued to thrive. He explained to me the importance of caring for the land so that it would not impact the water that runs through it much like the blood that runs through our veins.

Children at Beach.jpg

I was born in Winnipeg, Treaty #1 territory and home of the Metis, and while I am a decedent of those who have colonized these lands, through my life I have always maintained a strong connection to the land from which I came. I was raised to respect the natural world around us, and see the beauty and glory it possess, but also the dire consequences that will be and currently we are facing should we forego our responsibility as caregivers to the earth. More specifically for the purpose of this paper I will focus on the many ways we are damaging the systems that ensure the blood of our earth continue to provide life to us all.

Colonization brought with it a shift in the cultural landscape of Turtle Island. Foreigners would arrive from distant lands for a number of reasons, but mainly the attitude was to escape dire consequences in their homeland or to exploit the resources and strive for economic gain. The majority of those who arrived did so for the purposes of the latter as described by Mackintosh (2012):

“The first viable commercial railroads appeared in the early 1830’s, but they were mostly short –and medium-range carriers until large corporations, wielding impressive amounts of capital, began to consolidate the shorter lines.”

The attitudes capitalism brought with it are described well by Weeks (2016), “Americans, coveting this region, for some time had complained bitterly that there was far more land in the Indian Territory than the Indians could ever use productively. Increasingly, they demanded the following actions from Washington: concentrate the tribes, then convert the forfeited land into organized federal territory; permit white people to settle there; and finally allow those settlers to craft new states for the American Union.”

Increasingly the attitudes that threatened the custodianship of life giving resources on Turtle Island would permeate the land and spread like a disease. Similar to smallpox the spread would continue and blemishes on the land would continue their travel westward with attitudes from the highest levels of leadership adding strength to the epidemic as described by Hukill (2006):

“Tribes and nations were stripped of culture, religion, and language. Individuals were not only stripped on Indian names and given “Christian” names, but Native children were also punished in boarding schools for using Native language. Native parents were not notified of a child’s death in boarding school, and the view of the dominant government at the time was reflected in President Andrew Jackson’s statement, “What is one more dead Indian?””

While not as flagrantly dismissive of those who care for the conservation of the life giving ecosystems that we live within, the current government and corporate attitudes reflect the same message when it becomes clear that the interests of oil and beverage companies take priority over the ability for our nations to drink clean water, and eat food not born or cooked within countless contaminants that permeate the natural habitats from which they came. The water crisis in Attawapiskat as demonstrated through the story covered by D’Amore (2019) is a clear demonstration of this vile disregard for the health and safety of us all. This high profile case is among many that impact our water systems. In fact as reported by The Council of Canadians, in May of 2018, there were 174 water advisories in over 100 First Nation territories alone.  Furthermore it is clarified by Palmater (2019) that the numbers available to us don’t actually describe the entirety of this monstrous issue:

“The federal website counts advisories only for First Nations south of 60, and it doesn’t track First Nations in BC and parts of Saskatchewan. Ottawa also doesn’t track homes and community buildings that are not connected to a public water system: in other words, communities or homes that don’t have access to running water don’t get included in the advisory counts. So the water safety issues of a community that gets water shipped into contaminated cisterns and not through a so-called public system don’t get counted. We don’t get the full picture.”

Another example that clearly demonstrates the unfairness of the circumstances surrounding clean water is within the community of Shoal Lake #40 reserve. The very lake that produces the drinking water for the city of Winnipeg houses a community that has been under a boil water advisory since 1997 according to The City of Winnipeg’s website. This demonstrates that leaders in our communities have been aware of such circumstances for over 20 years, with little to no investment in resolving the matter, even though hundreds of thousands of others reap the benefits from this situation every day.

To this end, the many areas where I recall drinking water from the water systems that my grandfather once told me about would not even be listed in the advisories made available to the public. It is uncertain if these wells and underground rivers have even been tested at all. This is a scary concept when we take into account the level of disfranchisement that is being perpetuated by our existing leadership in open forums that are more transparent to public scrutiny. It is clear to me that areas that go unobserved may be at greater risk and still the network of underground water systems would simply carry these contaminants much like cancer spreads through a human’s body until it dies. The proliferation of contaminants throughout the watershed is articulated well by Sprague (2018) with regards to the study that was conducted in Ontario, Canada:

“This study has provided new and important data from lakes in the Cobalt and Silver Center mining areas. Not surprisingly, this resulted in the identification of many lakes that, prior to this study, were thought to be in a pristine state but are now known to be contaminated from the nearby mining activity. This study has shown that arsenic contamination throughout the region in areas influenced by early mining activity is severe and widespread throughout the water network.”

photo of plastic bottles

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

To add further insult to injury, the modern day solution currently being used by many people is simply to buy bottled water. Again, the capitalistic colonial view of this being a suitable solution is deplorable. Not only have leaders of our people allowed industry to pollute our water, but now they allow industry to profit from the ongoing ailments that propagate through the once life giving water systems we all rely on. This profit is achieved by bottling the water from areas where contamination is void or re-mediated and then sold in such volume to others impacted by trauma or fear based tactical marketing. An example of such exploitation is Nestle, a diverse company that has a product line of bottled water. In an article through media giant The Globe and Mail (2018) we learn that Nestle has numerous permits to collect, bottle and sell nearly 20 million litres of water it removes from our water systems for a mere “$3.71 per million litres”.  Nestle is not alone however, there are others who also profit in a similar manner:

“Other bottled water companies with large water-taking permits in Ontario include Gold Mountain Springs at 6.1 million litres a day, Gott Enterprises at 5.8 million litres and St. Joseph Natural Spring Water at 5.5 million litres.”

Without providing viable alternatives and by allowing companies to profit through the exploitation of those who are suffering it becomes clear that the ethical standards applied by community leaders to these situations is lacking. It should also be viewed that consumers with alternatives available to them who choose to support the product distribution from the organizations that profit from these circumstances, lack the strength of character to dis-empower such practices.  If you consider the level of mark up on each bottle of water that is sold for anywhere between two and three dollars a bottle, you could also imagine the billions of dollars that are being made from the companies selling them. Clearly, the ratio of wholesale pricing provided by our leaders compared to the level of profit derived through the exploitation of resources should be viewed as inequitable, and further to this, there is additional environmental levies attached to products sold in plastic bottles. The plastic bottles themselves are additional environmental threats through their disposal and also as a product of the oil industry which in modern day is responsible for various levels of contamination throughout the land and water systems. The whole system is poised to damage our ecosystems, poison those within proximity, and profit from the contamination.


photo of plastics near trees

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra on Pexels.com

The solution I present to you is simple. Become an activist. Do not remain silent. Resign from being apathetic. If you have an alternative means of obtaining clean water, stop buying bottled water. If need be, install an additional filter in your home, but stop providing gross amounts of profit to organizations that are capitalizing on the detriment of others. Furthermore, take a moment to speak or write to our leaders in the community about our disappointment in the lack of response by them, and the lack of investment for communities in need made by corporations who profit from the extraction of the resource they need so badly. With the extraction of 20 million litres of day, an additional five cents per litre could contribute one million dollars a day or $365 million a year to a fund for building sustainable water systems for communities in need.  Let us band together to insist that every community has access to clean water as a human right, not a product or service.


Weeks, P  (2016) “Farewell, My Nation” : American Indians and the United States in the Nineteenth Century. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley and Sons Inc

Mackintosh, W (2012) . “Ticketed Through”: The Commodification of Travel in the Nineteenth Century. Journal of the Early Republic, 32, 61-89.

Hukill, S (2006) . Violence in Native America: A Historical Perspective. Journal of Transcultural Nursing. Vol. 17, 3, 246 – 250.

D’Amore, R. (2019, July 10). Water quality concerns spur state of emergency in Attawapiskat. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/5479392/water-quality-state-of-emergency-attawapiskat/

Safe Water for First Nations. (2019, June 26). Retrieved from https://canadians.org/fn-water

First Nations water problems a crisis of Canada’s own making. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/february-2019/first-nations-water-problems-crisis-canadas-making/

Sprague, D. D., & Vermaire, J. C. (2018). Legacy Arsenic Pollution of Lakes Near Cobalt, Ontario, Canada: Arsenic in Lake Water and Sediment Remains Elevated Nearly a Century After Mining Activity Has Ceased. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, 229(3).

Nestlé continues to extract water from Ontario town despite drought: Activists. (2018, May 17). Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/nestle-continues-to-extract-water-from-ontario-town-despite-severe-drought-activists/article31480345/

Winnipeg, C. O. (n.d.). Related Links. Retrieved from https://winnipeg.ca/waterandwaste/water/shoalLake.stm

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Should employers pay wage premiums for religious holidays?

Finlay Kids 2018 Christmas - Picture with SantaHaving recently read an article published by CBC Canada and written by Stuart Rudner: Time to give all employees the right to honour their own religious holidays, says employment lawyer I would suggest that it is also time to give all employers the right to provide their goods and services without penalizing them for doing so.

Mr. Rudner asks the question, “Why do most workers get two Christian holidays off without question (whether they observe them or not), but if someone wants to observe a different religious holiday they have to ask permission, and often have to make up the time?” To this question, he provides a valid argument with regards to the nature in which holidays are currently being observed in law. He goes on to point out the inequitable manner in which a variety of religious beliefs find themselves disadvantaged because those who enjoy the Christian based holidays of Christmas and Easter are able to do so without losing vacation days, while others are forced to utilize some form of income protection to ensure they are paid for the days recognized as holy days in their own religion. There is some validity to this line of thinking.

He also points out within his article that a business owner was fined $10,000 for making the decision to remain open on Good Friday; however his article does not contemplate the inequitable nature of the laws that allow these penalties to occur to business owners. Currently in most jurisdictions, business owners are forced to close their doors, pay wages for no work received, or pay a premium in wages should they wish to remain open. So I ask, should a business owner be penalized for trying to offer the public economic choices in the market? Is there a reason why a business must pay premiums to its staff in recognition of the individual religious affiliations of its employees?  Do we create an inequitable society when the financial rewards to employees based on these religious days also penalize those businesses who simply wish to provide choice for people to decide how and when they wish to spend their money and time?

I agree with Mr. Rudner, that perhaps it is time to consider the evolution of our society and contemplate the vary nature of why these systems exist. I would agree with Mr. Rudner that consideration of how these systems continue to perpetuate the inequities that our diverse population is facing. The precedents set in our legal framework provide reason for business owners to be weary of the personal beliefs held by its employees to ensure the business is not in violation of human rights. This same notion has unintended consequences of forcing businesses to wages for days employees are not in the workplace and no productivity is present. So I turn to Mr. Rudner’s statement that concludes this article, “Everyone should have equal access to time off for religious observance”, and I ask, is the goal to ensure people are able to observe those days that are important to them, or to be paid a premium for those days?

IF the goal is to ensure an equitable way people are to have time to observe days that are important to them, then should a business be penalized through premiums in wages to support these only some individual’s decisions in which the business has no say? Would people be content to simply be able to observe the same number of days as anyone else in a year without pay? My last question as a result of Mr. Rudner’s article is; is it constitutional for laws to penalize business owners for providing economic choices for people who wish to work and/or purchase goods on a day that has religious significance only to some?

Contemplate for a moment under the assumption that the goal is to ensure an equitable solution for all in order to participate in customs related to days that are important to the individual regardless of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, residency, marital status or citizenship” as stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Let us also consider from the perspective of business owners who wish to offer the means for customers to engage with their businesses and schedule staff based on the availability of labour. In doing so we can view this dilemma in a truly equitable fashion. Business owners could decide what their hours of operation would be based on economic conditions, rather than ideology or dogmatic practices embedded in our legal constructs. Choice is provided to those of us who have chosen to live, work and play in a democratic society such as Canada.

Our governments should not denounce the holidays that have been established as part of our heritage, but instead consider the colonial nature in which these holidays are being enforced through law. What if, the law simply stated that a specified number of days were to be made available to employees for the purpose of observing events important to them without pay? There would be no advantage or disadvantage to any group of people. It would be equal and equitable from all perspectives. Imagine, if as a society we were able to choose days as individuals for which we inform our employers we will be observing or utilizing in a manner expressed through non-conformity away from the workplace with the condition that these days must be used by all. We can celebrate holidays that are important to Canada or whatever jurisdiction we reside in and still have the choice to choose which of these holidays we will observe based on our individual right to do so and without penalty to our employer. With such a concept everyone could rejoice in the notion that they are able to celebrate these important moments with like minded individuals without fear of reprisal from their employer. Their employment is not jeopardized and our multi-cultural heritage and identities are preserved.

From a business owner perspective, let us contemplate this possibility. With the option of opening your business on any day and at any time without being penalized through wage premiums the business would be subject to the economic factors of supply and demand. Through the demand from customers and the supply of labour a business could determine if it was feasible to remain open. This coincides with Mr. Rudner’s comment, “there is no “one size fits all” approach. If a factory employs 500 workers and 495 want Christmas Day off, it is not feasible to remain open on that holiday, just so that a handful of employees can come to work and take a different day off.” A business could examine its available labour force and make the choice to close for that day or not, thus this becoming a regular day off for the entire workforce or perhaps only for some. In the same example provided by Mr. Rudner, it is possible that depending on the industry in which and the position that those 5 employees hold in the organization, perhaps coming to work would be feasible were it not for the penalization of the employer by allowing it. It could be an opportunity for maintenance workers to tend to a matter without the remaining staff in the building as a barrier, or perhaps an opportunity for an office worker to catch up on paperwork without distraction. In Manitoba, where a significant number of employees are working within the retail industry, perhaps it is an opportunity for business owners to fill a need on a day that has no significant value to others whether it be by offering their products or paying wages. Contemplate the values set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and consider some thoughts expressed by the Supreme Court of Canada via R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] 1 SCR 295, 1985.

“In an earlier time, when people believed in the collective responsibility of the community toward some deity, the enforcement of religious conformity may have been a legitimate object of government, but since the Charter, it is no longer legitimate. With the Charter, it has become the right of every Canadian to work out for himself or herself what his or her religious obligations, if any, should be and it is not for the state to dictate otherwise.”

There is also further commentary regarding such issues cited in other legal cases such as R. v. Edwards Books and Art Ltd., [1986] 2 SCR 713, 1986 CanLII 12 (SCC)

“It is beyond doubt that days such as Sundays, Christmas and Easter were celebrated as holidays in Canada historically for religious reasons. The celebration of these holidays has continued to the present partly because of continuing, though diminished, religious observances of the largest denominations of the Christian faith, partly because of statutory enforcement under, inter alia, the now unconstitutional Lord’s Day Act, and partly because of the combined effect of social inertia and the perceived need for people to have days away from work or school in common with family, friends and other members of the community. These, in my view, are the social facts which explain the selection by individuals, businesses, school boards, and others of particular days as holidays”

Furthermore the writer goes on to state:

“A truly free society is one which can accommodate a wide variety of beliefs, diversity of tastes and pursuits, customs and codes of conduct. A free society is one which aims at equality with respect to the employment of fundamental freedoms and I say this without any reliance upon s. 15 of the Charter. Freedom must surely be founded in respect for the inherent dignity and the inviolable rights of the human person. The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination. But the concept means more than that.

Freedom can primarily be characterized by the absence of coercion or constraint. If a person is compelled by the state or the will of another to a course of action or inaction which he would not otherwise have chosen, he is not acting of his own volition and he cannot be said to be truly free. One of the major purposes of the Charter is to protect, within reason, from compulsion or restraint. Coercion includes not only such blatant forms of compulsion as direct commands to act or refrain from acting on pain of sanction, coercion includes indirect forms of control which determine or limit alternative courses of conduct available to others. Freedom in a broad sense embraces both the absence of coercion and constraint, and the right to manifest beliefs and practices. Freedom means that, subject to such limitations as are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, no one is to be forced to act in any way contrary to his beliefs or his conscience.”

By upholding the Charter that is embedded in our Constitution, are we not still ensuring our Canadian values  and heritage are being celebrated? Even if legislation prescribed specific days of pause that provided for families to spend time together which were not tied to religious observance, would the goal still be reached without the requirement to pay premiums in labour costs? Mr. Rudner, perhaps the reason this matter remains one that is contentious in nature because society has lost perspective on the original reason these prescribed days of rest exist. With modern day diversity within our communities, perhaps it is time we allow the economic freedom governed through the supply and demand of labour to coincide with fewer obstructions so society is able to celebrate our Canadian values in our own individual manner. In doing so, we maintain the values that preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians without the imposition of colonial style sanctions.


Time to give all employees the right to honour their own religious holidays, says employment lawyer: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/opinion-manitoba-religious-holidays-store-closings-1.5158840

The Constitution Act, 1982: https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/laws/stat/schedule-b-to-the-canada-act-1982-uk-1982-c-11/latest/schedule-b-to-the-canada-act-1982-uk-1982-c-11.html#sec27_smooth

Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/how-rights-protected/guide-canadian-charter-rights-freedoms.html

R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] 1 SCR 295, 1985 CanLII 69 (SCC): https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/1985/1985canlii69/1985canlii69.html

R. v. Edwards Books and Art Ltd., [1986] 2 SCR 713, 1986 CanLII 12 (SCC): https://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/1986/1986canlii12/1986canlii12.html?searchUrlHash=AAAAAQAxcmVsaWdpb3VzIGhvbGlkYXlzIGNoYXJ0ZXIgb2YgcmlnaHRzIGFuZCBmcmVlZG9tcwAAAAAB&resultIndex=4


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A Moment of Reflection

When I awoke this day, it was to the sound of sirens and doors opening and closing. This is not normal activity to hear on an early Saturday morning in our neighborhood. Flashing lights penetrated the blinds and drew me out of bed to see what was happening. Out the window and across the street I saw a firetruck. My first instinct was someone must have burnt some toast and failed to disarm their fire alarm before the firefighters showed up.  That was, until I noticed the ambulance in the driveway of a house nearby, and it wasn’t leaving.

Suddenly I was filled with concern for those with whom I had many pleasant conversations. I wondered for a moment if I should help or stay out of the way. I chose to stay out of the way. I sat at my bedroom window watching a flurry of activity below concerned about the family whose home was being filled with strangers.  Two more paramedic vehicles showed up followed by three police cars. I knew instantly that something terrible had happened and looked on, I was wondering who would be removed from the home and under what circumstances. My initial suspicion was that some sort of incident may have happened between the normally happy couple. At least that is how I always perceived them, but experience has taught me that you cannot always truly trust your initial perceptions.

This state of uncertainty drove my curiosity to continue gazing out my window. I watched as the firefighters debriefed at the bottom of the driveway before driving away in the firetruck. Shortly afterward one of the paramedic vehicles packed up its gear and left. I anticipated that some clue would be forthcoming to assist me in understanding what was happening. I continued to monitor the situation from within my home. My mother-in-law asked me around this time if I could move my car from the driveway. She had been waiting respectfully and patiently until most of the vehicles had already left. At the same time some police officers were coming down the driveway making their way to the car that was preventing her from attending her appointment.

Still not sure what type of situation unfolded I sauntered down my driveway and approached the police car with the officers inside. I asked them if there was anything I could do to help provide support to the people who lived inside, to which the office calmly looked me in the eye and answered, “not today”. I asked if it was possible to move my car, so my mother-in-law could attend to an appointment and offered them a space to park on the other side of our driveway. The officer politely indicated they were just about to leave but the gesture was appreciated just before they pulled away.

The occasional back and forth of a paramedic from the house to the ambulance transpired, and then the forensics team arrived. My stomach turned, and my heart sank knowing the arrival of this specialized unit meant grim circumstances within the walls of this neighborhood home. My mind raced in a dozen directions once again wondering what could have possibly taken place. I watched on, unable to tear myself away from the curiosity that lingered inside. I contemplated which member of the household would emerge and the different circumstances that might reveal themselves. I watched on as the daughter of the people within this home and her husband were escorted out of the house by two officials. Two more people I did not recognize carried away the youngest child of the daughter and her husband. My bewildered mind reminded of the years I watched this young lady come of age and move on in life was not sure how to interpret what I was seeing. A dark grey and black van arrived, from it emerged two men in black carrying blankets into the home.  Clearly a fatality had occurred, and I wondered which of one of the two who own the home remained, if any remained at all. Again, sadness took hold of me thinking of the many conversations I had shared with these delightful people. I began to contemplate how I might assist or support whoever may still be alive.

It was when the men dressed in black returned from the home that my heart broke completely, and tears began to run down my face. I saw one of these men carrying the lifeless body of a child from the home, delicately wrapped and placed in the van. At that moment I recalled a joyous conversation with one of the people who live there regarding the birth of their grandchildren. The pride and happiness they shared with me was the same as my own for my children. Realizing the child carried from the home was approximately the same age as one of my own children only drew forth the tears that much more. I imagined the heart wrenching pain being felt in our neighborhood that day. I turned away from the window, staring blankly at the floor until my daughter came to me and asked, “are you ok daddy?” To which I was thankfully able to respond to her, “yes I am, but it is a sad day for someone else, and I just want you to know how much I love you.” She smiled at me and gave me a hug, one that in my mind could not be long enough.

Pondering the event and the impact that it brought to our neighborhood these tragic circumstances bring to mind the following:

  • Intuitively contemplating a variety of potential circumstances or possibilities without having a complete understanding of the situation reminds me of some advice I provide often to others. “Pay attention to your intuition, it reminds us of what we have already learned; but make sure you double check your perceptions to ensure your decisions are not clouded with bias formed from your past experiences.”
  • Approach situations from a point of curiosity not predefined judgement. “If you practice patience then the truth will reveal itself so long as you remain open to receiving it.”
  • Appreciate the time you are given with what you have in front of you, because you can never be sure how long such moments will last.


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Was the Winnipeg General Strike a Revolutionary Conspiracy?

WinnipegPhoto1The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was not an attempt to overthrow the government. If one were to ask however if a group of people were conspiring with each other in order to push for a fundamentally new way to organize labour? Was the labour movement determined to form one big union that would tear down the protective walls of capitalism and force business owners to improve relations with those who worked for them? Was the intent of the movement to cause such a disruption to the economy that the government would be forced to listen or perhaps even concede to the demands of the movement? It certainly was, but it failed, initially. The failures however provided the lessons required and the motivation among the population to find other ways of achieving their goals.

Many factors led to the outburst of dissent that crippled the workplaces of Winnipeg. The proceeding era was one through which abysmal working conditions caused illness and at times even death. Wages were not regulated and due to high levels of unemployment the employers were able to take advantage of the market conditions by providing jobs to those who were willing to work for less. Monetary policy had not evolved yet to the point where inflation was controlled which caused a massive influx in the cost of goods throughout the economy. It was a perfect storm of unfavourable conditions that fed the contempt felt by those who started to wonder why it was they were not accumulating wealth like those who were in power. Then, with the success of the Russian Revolution some groups of socialists or left leaning working-class people found themselves inspired by the level of change that Vladimir Lenin had accomplished. For the first time in a very long time, people believed that change was possible. The labour movement organized in to what was known as “One Big Union” and when employers refused to negotiate with the metal and building trades it became the catalyst that launched the crusade for the recognition of the union and worker’s rights to collectively bargain through which higher wages were being insisted upon.

As Winnipeg’s economic mosaic of workers began assembling on mass and in support of each other it soon caught the attention of those in power. Rather than motivating the Government to negotiate, it instead came to the aid of business owners, in order to ensure an already fragile economy was not damaged further through a prolonged demonstration of this magnitude. The level of support throughout the city for the working-class people is portrayed well through the Canadian Museum of History:

“On May 13, the WTLC announced the results: over 11,000 in favour of striking and fewer than 600 opposed. The overwhelming vote for strike action surprised even the most optimistic labour leaders. They expected solid support from railway, foundry, and factory workers, but were greatly surprised by the equally strong support coming from other unions. For example, city police voted 149 to 11 for strike action, fire-fighters 149 to 6, water works employees 44 to 9, postal workers 250 to 19, cooks and waiters 278 to 0, and tailors 155 to 13. With this overwhelming endorsement in hand, the WTLC declared a general strike to begin on May 15, at 11:00 a.m.”

The response from business owners and the government was profound due to concerns that this may be construed as an uprising. In fact, the federal government thought it wise to send some cabinet ministers to assist in controlling the situation and some measures were taken in parliament to broaden the definition of sedition within the Criminal Code and modify legislation that could result in the deportation of immigrants who involve themselves in such unruly behaviour. The climax of the conflict occurred on June 21, 1919 which came to be known as “Bloody Saturday”. The North West Mounted Police (NWMP) were called in to disband those who continued to march through the city in demonstrations. Business owners had also financed “special police” armed with baseball bats and wagon spokes to beat those who were protesting. The federal government, worried over the level of violence that was escalating in the streets of Winnipeg also sent in Canadian soldiers to patrol the streets and roam through the city in vehicles with machine guns mounted on them. Eventually the movement was beaten into submission, the leaders arrested and federal workers were forced back to work through the fear of losing their job. Some workers were provided with an option to return, others were not, and the moral within the labour movement dissipated along with its desire to attempt a forceful negotiation again.

Instead, a new tactic, a political tactic was devised through which change would transpire over time by way of the ballot box where considerable numbers seats and votes were won in favour of the various provincial labour parties. Over time these labour parties have evolved and have changed names. Today we would recognize one such evolution as the New Democratic Party or NDP. Through their persistence in the political arena society has seen the evolution of social services and protective laws that provide and protect the rights of the working class at the expense of others. It is some of these socialist ideas however that have come to define Canada and part of the culture that we have constructed within, as an example, universal healthcare. And while it did take nearly three decades to achieve the goal of union recognition and collective bargaining, eventually it too was done through political and legal means.

It has been debated for years if the Winnipeg General Strike was a revolutionary conspiracy and depending on how one choses to define these terms the debate will likely continue for years. It was however investigated by The Royal Commission which “concluded that the strike was not a criminal conspiracy” and so it will remain simply one of the greatest conflicts to erupt on the streets of Winnipeg to date.


Gonick, CY 2010 January 7, Radical Winnipeg, Canadian Dimension. Retrieved from https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/radical-winnipeg

Labour’s Revolt: Winnipeg General Strike. Canadian Museum of History. Retrieved from https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/labour/labh22e.shtml

Fighting the good fight: Winnipeg general strike of 1919. Canadian Public Health Association. Retrieved from https://www.cpha.ca/fighting-good-fight-winnipeg-general-strike-1919



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