Labour Unrest
On the Grand Trunk Pacific


A component of…

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Rivers, Manitoba

A Project of The Rivers Train Station Restoration Committee

Labour Unrest on the Grand Trunk Pacific

The presence of a large-scale employer such as a railway brings a variety of changes to a small rural community. Labour unrest is not a copy many small towns are likely to experience, but with a national operation such as a railway, what happens in one part of the country affects the staff across the land..

The First Strike

The Grand Trunk Pacific had been in operation on the prairies for only a few years when a widespread strike hindered operations.

The strike against the G.T.P. was declared on Oct. 10, 1911 by machinists and boilermakers who sought parity to CP. and CN workers. Objectives included a 9 hour day and a minimum of 45 cents per hour.


Winnipeg newspaper , “The Voice” covered the strike in detail on Oct. 3.

After a few months, the effects of the strike was beginning to have its effect on the community. There were reports of skirmishes at the river between strikers and strikebreakers. A leading official of the international association of machinists addressed a mass meeting at which local professional men spoke. G.T.P. general manager E. J. Chamberlin briefly visited the scene, and then departed.
Rivers was created by the railway. The workers who came here to work were not entering an established town so much as creating a town. They were part of it from the beginning, not outsiders brought in to work. For that reason it is likely that the non-railway townspeople would tend to side with the workers rather than the management.

That indeed was the opinion of G.T.P. general assistant C. Warman, who was not too happy about it. He had this comment (or threat) published in the local paper: "If the railway is in trouble, the town usually sides against it. If there is rioting, they are more likely to consort with the rioters than with the railway and the authorities endeavoring to preserve the peace...Retention of the shops at Rivers or at any other terminal of the Grand Trunk Pacific may depend in no small measure upon the attitude of the people who inhabit these terminal towns."

There were bound to be some disputes. IN one case some striking workers took alternate work painting and that was not well received by those already engaed in that work.
But he more damaging effects of the strike might never have reached this small town except for the introduction of strike breakers from the outside.

The Brandon Sun on Oct. 18 reported that 100 strike breakers from Montreal had reached Rivers and the the new workers would replace those out at various points. It notes that, “The strikers here are orderly, but the bringing in of strike breakers is strongly resented.” The report was an exaggeration as only about ten boilermakers and two machinists were sent to Rivers, but as one might expect there were a few incidents.

'One of the Strikers' in the local press commented that, "we could not have called a strike at a better time. The Company's power is now in deplorable condition. Of course, the public is suffering and we are sorry for the public. . .Strike-breakers do not know the meaning of truth. . . "
These sorts of exchanges were to be expected, but the small close-knit community no doubt expected little more in the way of drama. That made it all the more shocking when one altercation between a strike-breaker and a striker escalated into gunfire and death.  It seems that a strike breaker, when confronted by a striker, produced a pistol, and in the scuffle that followed shots were fired killing on and injuring another. (See The Alston Murder Trial).

But that was certainly the exception, and for the most part the town weathered the storm by waiting it out.


Brandon Sun, Oct 18, 1911


The Voice, Oct 13, 1911

It took some time, and over a year had gone by before the end was in sightr. In December of 1912 representatives of the G.T.P. strikers, including William Renton from Rivers, met with the Minister of Labour in Ottawa about the strike, which had now lasted 14 months. It was settled shortly afterwards, with the strikers gaining most of their demands.

The Winnipeg General Strike

In 1919 at the time of the Winnipeg General Strike the neighborhood railroaders quit work in a body. Another ex-minister of the gospel and now a labor leader, James Woodsworth, spoke at a meeting arranged by local unions - this just prior to a riot in the provincial capital. No violence, however, marred the Rivers scene and the dispute was settled quickly.
The 1950 Strike
In 1950, for the third time in the community’s history a nation wide strike shut down the shops, freight shed, depot and station restaurant and telegraph. In the roundhouse lay idle a solitary locomotive, the yard engine: and while highway conveyances delivered the necessities of life. The strike lasted nine days.