Monday, 13 June 2016

1919 General Strike Memorial
Reflecting today’s Complacency, not yesterday’s Courage

When I do the annual General Strike tour I like to end at Victoria Park, to show how the legacy of the Strike resonates with politicians and the public today. And no there isn’t a huge monument there to the most significant political event in the city’s history. And that is the point of my approach to the Strike and the tour – there is nothing to mark the significance of the place, only a condo development and a boutique hotel.

Somewhat ironically but consistent with how City officials have treated the Strike for 97 years, the design for a General Strike Interpretive Centre has maintained a cancerous official neglect. The City has decided to play down the political meaning and social importance of the Strike with a bland and pedantic design that reflects more of today’s attitude than what actually happened in 1919.

First the location for the memorial is innocuous and irrelevant to the Strike. A tiny sliver of land next to a building at Lilly and Market is virtually invisible unless you are facing it and standing within meters.

Second, the City has allocated only $250,000 for the design and construction of the memorial.

Third. The design is based on text and rusting steel to reflect “multiple conflicting meanings.” As Monteyne Architecture Works describes their design, “It is a monument made primarily of weathering steel and multiple, conflicting meanings. The archetypal struggle for a fair deal that gripped the city almost 100 years ago mirrored the clash between classes and values that was occurring in other places, and the various oppositions that existed then continue to dominate our political and social discourse to this day.”

And fourth, there was no public input or consultation on the design. I had hoped the Selection Committee handpicked for the competition would have the creativity and courage to treat the task with more respect. But an open public process would have been commensurate with the nature of the Strike.

A historical period that was imbued with honour, sacrifice, solidarity and courage is written off as a mere competition and extension of class conflict in this winning design. An event that sent ripples of change to labour laws, social services, economic relations, urban design and the cultural character of Winnipeg is given a miniscule reference in an ambiguous sterile structure. Instead of having a monument that helps Winnipeggers and visitors understand and appreciate the contribution of the Strike, we get an abstract architecture that only vaguely reflects a calendar event with a scattering of benign references.

In 2019 the centenary of the Strike will be celebrated and that will be an opportunity for the citizens of Winnipeg to reflect their appreciation for what happened in and for Winnipeg. We will be able to expose the sacrifices and significance of the Strike and I’m fairly confident the people who supressed the Strikers will not be celebrating or holding events that commemorate ‘conflicting meanings.’

Information on the selection process and chosen design is at:
Dennis Lewycky

Thursday, 14 April 2016

General Strike Tour for 2016

Sunday May 15th, 2016

The 1919 General Strike Tour took place with 38 participants this year.
Thanks to a volunteer bus driver from the ATU and City Transit who helped with the tour.

Other smaller tours may be organized on request.
Contact or call/text 204 793 3289 to arrange a tour.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

1919 General Strike gets attention for 2019

2019 will mark the centenary of the General Strike and a number of memorials and events are being planned for Winnipeg. The next few years will be exciting for everyone who has been aware of the importance of the Strike to so much of what Winnipeg is today. 
The Winnipeg Labour Council is starting to plan a series of events for 2019. CentreVenture is looking at what should be done in the Exchange District. Strike the Musical will hopefully start shooting the film version this summer that will be shown in 2019. And artist Noam Gonick is planning an installation on Main Street. And the City of Winnipeg has invited proposals for a ‘Winnipeg General Strike Design Competition and Interpretation Installation at the corner of Lily Street and Market Avenue’.

While this City memorial could be a way for the City to exonerate itself, it appears it is going to maintain a pattern of virtual denial of the Strike it set almost a hundred years ago. The site proposed for the installation is small, obscure and funding is inadequate. Note:

·         Two years after the Strike the City destroyed Victoria Park where the strikers met daily. In 1924 a steam plant was erected on the site that functioned until 1984.

·         A reasonable plan to recreate a modest Victoria Park in 1999 as part of the North Main Development Plan was never implemented.

·         Proposals presented 10 years ago by the Labour History Project to develop a park and memorial on what was Victoria Park was rejected by the Planning Committee of the City.

·         Instead the land was sold to developers who built a condominium block and boutique hotel on the site that some historians call “the spiritual centre” of the Strike.

·         The condominium developer was required to place a memorial on its fa├žade in 2012 but a modest plaque created by the Province has not been used (word is they will put it up in 2019).

·         The memorial plaque that was put outside on City Hall in 1969 (by the Steelworkers where it could be publicly seen) was removed two years ago and is now in the basement next to the women's bathroom (where very few people will see it).

Considering this history of suppressing the Strike story, it is unlikely that the City will revise its plan for this token site for a memorial. However, someone may bid on the proposal and note that ‘Hell’s Alley’ was near this site where the ‘Specials’, hired by the City, attacked and brutalized strikers who were fleeing the North-West Mounted Police on June 21, 1919.

For the record, there are dedicated Winnipeggers who have not let the memory of the Strike fade away. In 1992, on the 75th Anniversary of the Strike, the Winnipeg Labour Council collaborated with community and government in a jubilant commemoration of the Strike.  Strike the Musical is a wonderful depiction of the personal passions and deep sacrifices made by the strikers. Tombstones have been erected for the two men shot by the police on ‘Bloody Saturday’. Each year there are about five Strike tours around the city to educate people, entertain tourists and keep the memory of the Strike alive. Historians teach about the Strike at both universities and The Manitoba Museum has a large Strike display. At least four web sites are repositories for photos, analysis and stories from the Strike, and there have been numerous books written and smaller markers erected to commemorate the Strike or parts of it by individuals.

Hopefully others will come forward to help commemorate what the strikers did then and how their courage and solidarity set the stage for so many social benefits we have today. If you or your organization is interested in contributing to these efforts, contact me and I will forward your information to the appropriate groups.

Dennis Lewycky


Sunday, 16 August 2015

History Denied or Delayed???

  I’m not sure that City officials are out to deny history or they merely have delayed recognition of one of Winnipeg’s most important historical events, the General Strike of 1919.
  There is only one official marker of the Strike put up by the City – a bronze plaque at the corner of William and Main.  Don’t be embarrassed if you have never seen it, as it is very innocuously placed where only those waiting for a bus might notice it.
  Another plaque was to the right of the entrance to the City Hall chambers. It was taken down, apparently ‘for cleaning’ over two years ago and has not been replaced.
  The Provincial government has at least recognized the Strike. There is a very informative display at the Museum of History. However, another plaque that was in the main hall of the Legislative building has been removed.
    Bruce Owen of the Free Press recently noted at a public event, that for decades after the Strike there was virtually no mention of the Strike in city newspapers. This is understandable as the owners of the media, business and industry were the ones who suppressed the Strike.
  Fortunately that are people in the City who are keeping the history of the Strike very alive. Thanks to Danny Schur and STRIKE the Musical, or the Brown family and Victoria Parkette (see story below). The Winnipeg Labour Council President has spoken often about the Strike and the Labour History Project has kept this blog active.
  Could it be that there is still a fear in City officials and the ruling elite of Winnipeg, that another general strike could erupt if there is recognition of what happened before. Possibly they are just waiting for the 100th anniversary of the Strike to recognize its contribution to our social history and to then take credit for the Strike!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

General Strike - 96th Anniversary

 OTTAWA—A room devoted to the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike could have been excluded from the renovated Canadian Museum of History, but officials promise the labour movement will still have a home in its halls.

Toronto Star article

STRIKE Tour - May 24, 2015
The 1919 General Strike Tour took 40 people through the highlights of what happened in 1919, with a look at social and economic conditions that led to the General Strike. The tour reflected on how the echoes of the Strike can be heard in Winnipeg of 2015.

The tour started in the north end, went to the residential area south of the Assiniboine River and ended in the Exchange area of the city, particularly on the Red River at  Victoria Park. 

Participants said they found the tour informative and particularly were pleased to learn about Victoria Park and the lack of effort on the part of government to commemorate this important moment in Winnipeg's history.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Victoria Parkette

Who knows where the Victoria Parkette is located?
It is a small section of land, at the corner of Lily and James, near the waterfront. It is intended to remind everyone of Victoria Park that was once a central feature of the City's park infrastructure.

The owners of the land have set up Victoria Parkette on their own, as they saw the significance of the Park to our social history. Jon Brown of Leon Brown initiated the effort and I think we should applaud him and his family for it.

The Parkette is not on the original land of Victoria Park as that land is now occupied by a condominium development and a hydro station. The City of Winnipeg has done virtually nothing to commemorate the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and Victoria Park, so it has fallen to people like Jon and those involved in the Labour History Project to maintain this important place in history.

Watch Videos:  Victoria Park and Victoria Parkette