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 Manitoba Federation of Labour 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 start shooting the film version soon that will be shown in 2019. And artist Noam Gonick is planning an installation on Main Street. 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