The Hungry
Relief Camp
Workers' Union
On to Ottawa!
Police Riot
Keeping the Trek Alive

On to Ottawa Trek


A Model of Discipline and Tactical Brilliance

The union's leaders included Earnest (Smokey) Cumber, Matt Shaw, Malcolm MacLeod, Ronald Liversedge, James "Red" Walsh, Perry Hilton, Lionel Edwards, Steve Brody, Bob "Doc" Savage, Mike McCauley, Bill Davis, Gerry Winters, Jack Cosgrove and Steward "Paddy" O'Neil.

The union established an 80 member Central Strike Committee that met every morning at 9.00 a.m. Sub committees were set up to deal with their many needs, such as publicity, membership, and of course finances to provide food. A key sub-committee was the Strategy Committee composed of Evans, Walsh, Savage, McCauley, O'Neil, Winters, Cosgrove and Davis.

The strikers divided their ranks into four divisions, each of about 400 men. Each division had a captain and was assigned a hall in which his division could bed down for the night. The divisions held meetings every day. The divisions in turn were divided into groups of twelve, each with a leader. Among other things this was a method of exposing and expelling undercover agents sent in by the police to disrupt the strike.

Their activities were many and varied:

A delegation sent to the mayor succeeded in winning an $1800 grant for meals.

A conference to support the strike was held on April 7 with delegates from 42 organizations that included trade unions, ethnic organizations, women's groups, the Communist Party and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), Canada's social democratic party.

A meeting at Cambie Street grounds on April 8 drew thousands of people.

A street corner collection on April 13 described as "the greatest tag day in the history of Vancouver" netted $5,000 from supportive citizens. Police arrested some taggers but they were replaced as fast as arrested. Not without a sense of humour, Evans asked for and received police escort to take the collection to the bank.

On April 14, another meeting at Cambie Street Grounds attracted 3,000.

A demonstration by strikers held in the Hudson's Bay store on April 23, was attacked by police, resulting in nine arrests.

Following this attack, the men assembled in nearby Victory Square where Mayor Germy McGeer read the "Riot Act" which required immediate dispersal. The men marched off in orderly fashion. A delegation sent to interview the mayor was also arrested.

That evening the police raided the headquarters of the union and seized banners, placards and papers.

On April 28 a huge meeting at the Arena in support of the strikers drew a record-breaking audience of over 16,000 people.

On April 29 the Longshoremen and Street Railwaymen staged one and two hour strikes in support of the relief camp workers.

The May Day (May First) parade that year attracted over 35,000 people including 3,000 students who left school to show their support for the cause of labour and the relief camp strikers.

Indicative of police mentality at the time was a report by Colonel Foster, Chief of Police, to mayor McGeer stating that the parade consisted of " ...notorious criminals, foreigners of a low type, communistic organizations intent upon destruction.." A straw poll of citizens early in May by the strikers posing the question "Do you wish to abolish the relief camps and are you in favour of granting immediate relief to the strikers?" resulted in 26.972 voting yes to both questions, 512 voted for the abolition of relief camps but no for immediate relief, and there was 162 spoiled ballots.

On May 12 a Mother's Day parade to Stanley Park drew thousands. "Bring a hamper and adopt a boy for a day or two" was the slogan. The mothers responded generously to the appeal.

There were between 7,000-8,000 people attended a meeting on Cambia Street Grounds on May 16.

On May 18, in a dramatic move that caught the authorities completely by surprise, 250 strikers occupied the City Public Library and Museum at the corner of Main and Hastings (now known as the Carnegie Centre) for eight hours. Special care was taken that nothing would be damaged. By this time the strikers had exhausted all their funds and were without food. They left when the police and mayor gave an undertaking that the strikers would be given food for the weekend. In the meantime thousands of people gathered around the museum and library to bring food and demonstrate their support.

On May 25 the strikers sent another delegation to the mayor seeking immediate relief. The mayor said he would grant relief to the men at the rate of $1.05 a day if they gave an undertaking to go back to the camps ad send a delegation to Ottawa. The strike delegation agreed to put these proposals to the strikers if relief was granted at once. The mayor agreed. Two days later, on May 27, a delegation of strikers again met McGeer and informed him that a mass meeting of strikers had unanimously rejected his proposals. A furious mayor threatened they would get their heads knocked off and land in jail.

It was in Vancouver that the strikers developed their famous snake parade where they marched and weaved from one side of the street to the other like the fabled Chinese dragon.

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This page updated 15/02/2013