Labor Day Parade

In many other parts of the world, today is just Monday. Across the United States, though, you’ll likely find that many towns are hosting special Labor Day parades like the one depicted above. It is on this day that we celebrate the labor force, particularly when it comes to unionized workers, but did you know that Labor Day didn’t actually start in the United States.

Along with hockey, poutine and maple syrup, Labour Day has its origins in Canada. In 1870s Toronto, labour disputes erupted onto the streets as workers felt they were being treated unfairly. While we consider 40 hours to be the standard work week today, a parade was held in 1872 to support the 58-hour work week. The “standard” was much higher than that.

While certain anti-union laws had already been repealed in the United Kingdom, they still stood in Canada and 24 leaders from the Toronto Typographical Union were arrested as a result. A similar parade was organized in Ottawa to further fight for worker’s rights and eventually Labour Day was formed. It was first celebrated in the spring — which is why International Worker’s Day or “May Day” is held on May 1 in over 80 countries around the world — before being moved to the first Monday of September starting in 1894.

In that sense, Labour Day “started” in 1872 with the parades and the public demonstration, but having Labour Day in early September didn’t really happen until 1894. Indeed, it was on that same year that the United States officially recognized Labor Day at the national level. Labour Day also marks the unofficial end of summer, particularly in Vancouver where it has always been the last day of the PNE.

For my part, labouring on Labour Day is hardly out of the ordinary. As a freelance writer who is not necessarily bound to the strictest of schedules, I work whenever I can and today is really just another day. And if you look to the Costco and Wal-Mart stores of the world, it is mostly just another day… because they’re too busy selling you Halloween and Christmas decorations already.