C-029399 | Strikers from unemployment relief camps en route to Eastern Canada during « March on Ottawa »

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Strikers from unemployment relief camps en route to Eastern Canada during « March on Ottawa »
June 1935, 20th century
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
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Keys to History

The work camps for single men established by Ottawa in 1932 were roundly disliked by inmates. "The man in camp considers his time wasted and will be susceptible to any kind of propaganda advocating change," an observer wrote. (quoted in Horn)

The Communist-led Relief Camp Workers' Union urged men to strike for "work with wages." In early 1935, relief camp strikers gathered in Vancouver. Unable to secure their demands, they launched the On-to-Ottawa Trek, using Canadian Pacific Railway boxcars for transportation.

Fed by supporters along the way, the Trekkers numbered roughly a thousand by the time they reached Regina. There the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) halted them, while eight men were allowed to meet the cabinet in Ottawa. This accomplished nothing.

On July 1, the RCMP and Regina police moved to arrest the strike leaders. This caused a riot in which a police detective died. In the riot's aftermath, the Trek collapsed.

  • What

    The nickname adopted by relief-camp inmates was "The Royal Twenty Centers," a derisive reference to their daily allowance of 20 cents a day and to the military administration of the camps.

  • Where

    The camps were set up mostly in remote locations such as the interior of British Columbia, northern Ontario and northern Quebec. The purpose of this was to isolate the inmates.

  • When

    In the 1935 federal election, the Liberals promised to close the camps, and the last of them did close in 1936. This did not solve the problem of finding work for unemployed men.

  • Who

    The leader of the Trek was Arthur "Slim" Evans (1888-1944), a veteran labour organizer and Communist party member from British Columbia.