On to Ottawa Trek
In early April 1935, 1500 residents of federal UNEMPLOYMENT RELIEF CAMPS in BC went on strike and moved by train and truck to Vancouver.
In early April 1935, 1500 residents of federal UNEMPLOYMENT RELIEF CAMPS in BC went on strike and moved by train and truck to Vancouver. Organized by the radical Workers' Unity League and led by WUL officer Arthur "Slim" EVANS, the subsequent Vancouver sit-in grew out of an angry concern for improved conditions and benefits in the camps and the apparent reluctance of the federal government to provide work and wages programs. In Vancouver the strikers organized themselves into divisions, undertook alliances with civic, labour, ethnic and political elements, held demonstrations, and conducted interviews with government officers, among them Prem T. Dufferin PATTULLO and Mayor Gerald MCGEER. Highlights of the 2-month sojourn included occupation of the Hudson's Bay store and the city museum and library, and a May Day parade to Stanley Park of some 20 000 strikers and supporters.
When local governments refused responsibility for the strikers' welfare, and when the men themselves began to grow restless at the apparent failure of their movement, Evans and his associates decided to take the strike to Ottawa. On June 3, over 1000 strikers began the "On to Ottawa Trek," determined to inform the nation of their cause and to lay complaints before Parliament and Prime Minister R.B. BENNETT. The strikers commandeered freight trains and made stops in Calgary, Medicine Hat, Swift Current and Moose Jaw before arriving in Regina. There the railways, supported by an edict from the prime minister, refused further access to their trains. Negotiations with the federal government resulted in the dispatch of 8 Trekkers to Ottawa to meet with Bennett, while the 2000 remaining marchers waited in the Regina Exhibition Grounds, food and shelter being supplied by townspeople and the Saskatchewan government.
The talks in Ottawa quickly broke down and the delegation returned, having decided to disband the Trek. A rally was called for July 1 to secure last-minute assistance from the townspeople. Although the Trek was dispersing, Bennett had decided to arrest its leaders. That day Regina constables and RCMP squads moved into the crowd of some 300 to arrest Evans and other speakers, thus provoking the Regina Riot. The conflict raged back and forth on Regina streets, as Trekkers assaulted police with rocks and clubs. The fracas ended by midnight, after the rioters had returned to the Exhibition Grounds. One city constable had been killed, several dozen rioters, constables and citizens had been injured, and 130 rioters had been arrested. Four days later, the provincial government assisted the marchers on their way, most returning on passenger trains to Vancouver. The repression of the Trek and Bennett's antagonism towards Evans contributed to the PM's political decline. See also GREAT DEPRESSION.