March 1919 —In Calgary, union leaders from across Western Canada rallied around the idea to form One Big Union. The convention spurred conversations that ultimately influenced the Winnipeg general strikers about two months later.
May 1-2 —Members of the Winnipeg Building Trades Council and the Metal Trades Council went on strike. Employees at Vulcan Iron Works, who manufactured railway parts, and those from Manitoba Bridge and Dominion Bridge had previously struck in 1917 and 1918 as well, decrying long work hours, low wages and awful working conditions. They also wanted access to collective bargaining.
May 6 —The Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council called for a vote on whether all union members should hold a sympathetic strike to support the building and metal trades workers. Ultimately, 8,667 union members voted to strike and 645 opposed strike action. The union members formed a strike committee of about 300 people, with 15 people working in the inner circle.
May 15—Thousands of union members and non-organized workers launched a general strike, which would see an estimated 35,000 people join in, effectively shutting Winnipeg down for business. Female telephone operators, referred to as the "hello girls," left their switchboards first that morning. The strike officially began at 11 a.m. There was no phone service in Winnipeg for the first week of the strike and although some replacement workers stepped in to work the phones later, service was intermittent throughout the strike. Mail service was also stalled, cutting off communication from the outside world. Journalists from around the world arrived to cover the largest organized labour demonstration to that point.
May 16 — Well-off Winnipeggers, politicians and business leaders created the Citizens’ Committee of 1,000, which opposed the strike, leaving the city at a standstill.
The committee had the ears of municipal, provincial and federal governments, and more or less ran the city while streetcar drivers, porters and printing press operators (among others) demonstrated. The committee was largely backed by local newspapers, including the Manitoba Free Press and editor John Dafoe, who wrote supportive editorials. The strike committee was connected with the Western Labor News paper, which circulated daily strike bulletins.
May 19 — After meetings at city hall, members of the strike committee helped print signs labelled with "Permitted by the Authority of the Strike Committee," which they gave to certain businesses so operations such as milk and bread deliveries could continue without interruption.
May 22-23 — Members of the federal government — Arthur Meighen, the acting minister of justice and minister of the interior, and Gideon Robertson, minister of labour – came to Winnipeg and met with the citizens’ committee, but refused to meet with strikers, fearing the labour crisis could spread to other cities. Many soldiers just back from the First World War joined the strike in solidarity, arguing they didn’t fight overseas to see Canadians treated poorly back at home. Some soldiers supported the citizens’ committee as well and later worked as "special police" at that committee’s request, replacing constables who were fired by city hall in subsequent days.
May 25 — The federal, provincial and city governments ordered employees back to work and insisted they sign anti-union pledges or be fired. An estimated 7,000 people gathered at Victoria Park — where Waterfront Drive condominiums and the Mere Hotel are now located — for a Labour Church meeting and most reject their employers’ demands.
May 30 — Winnipeg police were pushed to sign "loyalty pledges" stating they would refuse to join unions. Those who didn’t would be fired. On the same day, Helen Armstrong was arrested during a confrontation supporting bakery workers. The leader of the Women’s Labour League, who was also a member of the strike committee’s inner circle, was allegedly arrested more times than anyone else during the strike.
May 31-June 2 — Veterans supporting the strike participated in public demonstrations, including a march to the Manitoba legislature, where they confronted Premier Tobias Norris. Unlike the workers, who were instructed by the strike committee to not cause a stir and often gathered peacefully in Victoria Park to visit and catch up on news, the soldiers got antsy. They wanted to take decisive action.
June 3 — The citizens’ committee accused immigrants (or "enemy aliens") of spurring the strike on and encouraged their deportation. They perpetuated false rumours the strikers had Bolshevik ties and were linked to the Russian Revolution. Newspapers, including the Free Press, published similar anti-immigrant screeds. Sympathy strikes popped up in a dozen places across the country, including Brandon, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and Amherst, N.S.
June 4, 1919 — One Big Union (OBU), a syndicalist trade union, formed in Calgary. Its activism spread largely across Western Canada, with peak membership in 1920. The Great Depression of the late 1920s and '30s stalled some of OBU’s efforts until the 1940s when involvement started to rebound. By 1956, OBU’s impact had dwindled and so it merged with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). Today, the CLC represents about 3.3 million union members across the country through myriad provincial, territorial, national and international affiliates.
June 5-6 — Winnipeg mayor Charles Frederick Gray banned parades and other public demonstrations. Veterans ignored the ban and marched down Wellington Crescent in uniform. The next day, the federal government amended the Immigration Act to allow for deportation without trial of anyone accused of sedition, which is the act of inciting rebellion against authority. The strike leaders, many of whom were British, were also threatened with deportation. Women in the Weston-Brooklands area blocked delivery wagons driven by strike-breakers from accessing their neighbourhoods.
June 7-8 — Strike supporter James Woodsworth came to Winnipeg and spoke to approximately 10,000 workers gathered at Victoria Park. He went on to co-found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1932 which, after being accused of having communist leanings in the early stages of the Cold War, evolved first into the New Party in 1958 and, after joining forces with the Canadian Labour Congress, into the New Democratic Party in 1961.
June 9 — Police officers who didn’t sign the city’s "loyalty pledge" were fired. Only 16 officers remained with the force. The citizens’ committee hired more than 200 "special police" or "specials" as replacements, many of whom were former soldiers. They were untrained and armed with batons that looked similar to small baseball bats.
June 10-12 — "Specials" on horseback chased strikers at the intersection of Portage and Main, leading the mayor to issue a second decree against public demonstrations. On June 12, "Ladies Day" at Victoria Park was the last peaceful protest of the general strike. Women’s rights activist Edith Hancox was the only woman known for sure to have spoken at the park, where male speakers — such as Woodsworth, Fred Dixon and Roger Bray — dominated the platform.
June 16-17 — By cover of night, members of the Royal North West Mounted Police arrested 10 strike leaders accused of "seditious conspiracy" at their homes, which were mainly in the North End, around 2:00 a.m. They included journalist William Ivens, machinist R.B. Russell and returned soldier and Methodist preacher Roger Bray. Cops also invaded the James Street Labour Temple (which was the strike committee’s headquarters), the Ukrainian Labour Temple, the Liberty Temple and the offices of the Western Labour News. They broke printing presses and took books and files, which were used later as evidence at trials. The arrested strikers were held at Stony Mountain Penitentiary.
June 21 — Six of the incarcerated strike leaders (Bray, Ivens, Russell, John Queen, Abraam Albert (AA) Heaps and George Armstrong), who were all British, were released on bail on the condition they no longer participate in strike activities. European "aliens" remained incarcerated, waiting on deportation hearings.
To protest the strike leaders’ arrests, soldiers planned a "silent parade" down Main Street and crowds gathered outside city hall to watch. Spooked city officials urged the mayor to call in the military and "special police." What was supposed to be a peaceful protest became the infamous "Bloody Saturday." Mounties and "specials" on horseback charged at the crowds, circling three times up and down Main while wielding batons and pistols. Unarmed strikers tried to defend themselves, throwing bricks and bottles.
Two men were killed; Mike Sokolowiski was shot in the heart and died immediately and Steve (or Mike, depending on which document you read) Szczerbanowicz was also shot and died two days later of gangrene infection resulting from his wounds. At least 87 others were injured by the police, including more who suffered gunshot wounds. Others were beaten. Many immigrants likely never sought medical help for their injuries, fearing deportation. Eighty-four strike sympathizers were arrested. The most iconic image of the strike — a tipped-over streetcar set on fire — was taken during the mayhem after the streetcar operator reportedly crossed the picket line. The flames were extinguished in about 15 minutes, according to firefighters’ archival records. The armed military continued to patrol the streets, after crowds fled for safety. The mayor, federal cabinet ministers and representatives from the citizens’ and strike committees met in an effort to resolve the strike, but the talks were not successful.
June-July 1919 — Immigration board hearings occurred for some Eastern European activists who took part in the strike movement and were arrested, such as Solomon Almazoff, Max Charitonoff, Oscar Schoppelrei and Sam Blumenberg. Almazoff was a Jewish man from Ukraine who fled Russia for Canada years before the strike. He denied having any involvement with the Bolshevist revolution in Russia, which the anti-strike Citizens’ Committee falsely claimed was a contributing factor for the strike. In the Winnipeg Tribune at the time, Almazoff was quoted as saying: "Why should I desire here what I escaped from there?" Schoppelrei was the only one who wound up deported, and only then for having illegally crossed the border three years earlier.
June 23 — The citizens’ committee tried to ban printing of the strike bulletin in the Western Labour News. Police put out arrest warrants for editors Dixon and Woodsworth, accusing them of "seditious libel." The paper initially stopped publishing, but resumed printing within days.
June 25, 11 a.m. — About six weeks after the general strike action began, the demonstration officially ends. Members of the strike committee agreed to send employees back to work after a meeting with the premier, who agreed to their demand to have a royal commission investigate labour conditions.
Sources: The Canadian Encyclopedia, 100 Years Winnipeg General Strike Official Program, 1919 Winnipeg General Strike Driving & Walking Tour: 100th Anniversary Edition, Magnificent Fight: The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, Brookside Cemetery Tour.
November 1919 — A provincial inquiry led by H.A. Robson investigated the reasons why the general strike occurred and found it had nothing to do with foreign sympathies. Robson said Winnipeg workers had legitimate labour complaints. "If capital does not provide enough to assure labour a contented existence… then the government might find it necessary to step in and let the state do these things at the expense of capital," he concluded in his report.aJ
n. 20-Feb. 16, 1920 – Frederick Dixon was tried for his participation in the strike. Along with J.S. Woodsworth, he was charged with seditious libel for his involvement in the making of a pro-strike newspaper, the Western Labor News. Dixon represented himself in court over two days and delivered passionate testimony, which was later published in full for the public to read – 96 pages for 25 cents. The jury cleared him and minutes later, Dixon crossed the street from the law courts to go back to work at the Manitoba legislative building, where he would be re-elected twice more.
January 20, 1920-April 6, 1920 – The other seven strike leaders charged with sedition also had trials concurrently. All of their prison sentences ranged from six months (Roger Bray) to two years (Russell). Most received one-year sentences and the fates of the largely British immigrants were decided by mostly rural juries.
March 1920 – Two charges laid against Protestant minister J.S. (James Shaver) Woodsworth were stayed after Dixon walked free under similar circumstances. In 1921, Woodsworth was elected an Independent Labour party MP for Winnipeg North Centre, a position he held for 20 years until he died. By 1932, Woodsworth helped found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the forerunner of the NDP.
June 29, 1920 – Members of the labour movement who held drastically different opinions on politics felt emboldened by the outcome of the General Strike, and so decided to run a full slate of labour candidates/former strike leaders in the 1920 provincial election. Some of the candidates were still in prison at the time. George Armstrong, William Ivens and John Queen were elected to serve while incarcerated. Frederick Dixon won more votes (7,000) than any of his rivals.
Oct. 29, 1925 – Strike leader A.A. (Abraham Albert) Heaps is elected to the House of Commons, serving as the MP for Winnipeg North until 1940. He and Woodsworth were the only Labour Party candidates in Parliament at the time. They worked across party lines, managing to negotiate with the Liberal Party to create an old-age pension plan in 1927.
June 25, 1969 – Fifty years to the day after the Winnipeg General strike ended, Manitoba elected its first labour-affiliated political party to government. The NDP, under premier Edward Schreyer, would win two consecutive elections before being toppled by Sterling Lyon's Progressive Conservatives in 1977