Knights of Labor, the major labour reform organization of the late 19th century, organized December 1869 by Philadelphia garment cutters. Growing slowly in the 1870s, the secret organization emphasized co-operation and education. The Knights believed in organizing all workers, without regard to skill, sex or race. Their major organizational breakthrough was the mixed assembly of various types of workers, which allowed the order to expand into small towns and villages. Entering Ontario, perhaps in 1875, and certainly in 1881 in Hamilton, the order organized some 450 local assemblies across Canada. Strongest in Ontario, Québec and BC, the Knights also enjoyed success in Nova Scotia and Manitoba and established locals in New Brunswick and present-day Alberta.
In Ontario and Québec, leading Knights played key roles in organizing the TRADES AND LABOR CONGRESS OF CANADA, and were prominent in independent labour political campaigns in the 1880s and 1890s and in considerable parliamentary lobbying. The Knights peaked in Ontario and the West in 1886, but were most successful in Ottawa and Québec in the 1890s. Their expulsion for dual unionism from the TLC in 1902 at Berlin [Kitchener] abetted the development of distinctive Québec unions.
Key Knights' strongholds were Toronto, Hamilton, Montréal, Québec, Ottawa, St Catharines, St Thomas, London, Kingston, Winnipeg and Victoria. Canadian Knights such as A.W. WRIGHT, Thomas Phillips THOMPSON and D.J. O'DONOGHUE made important contributions in the US as well. The Knights' major contributions to the Canadian working class lay in the notion of the organization of all workers and in their efforts to formulate social alternatives to the growth of monopolistic capitalist society.
Knights of Labor
Hamilton's Knights of Labor parading down King Street during the 1880s (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-103086).
During the 1880s, Thompson promoted radical challenges to the industrial capitalist society and became a spokesman for the Knights of Labor (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-38581).