It’s hard to believe there is only one long weekend left for summer 2019. Here’s some history about Labour Day, in case you need some inspiration for your plans. Perth County has celebrated Labour Day in one way or another since it was proclaimed in 1894. The first few Labour Days were mainly a chance to enjoy some extra time off. Public offices and the Grand Trunk Railway repair shops in Stratford were closed, but some businesses remained open as usual. Things had improved by 1897. Many took special trains to Toronto for “the Ex.” Local church groups organized picnics in Queen’s Park and Monteith’s Grove on the edge of town. The newspaper reported that “games of all kinds were indulged in and refreshments were provided in abundance.” In 1900, there were arches all around Stratford, decorated with evergreen boughs, and merchants and shopkeepers created floats. A parade marched through the city watched by huge crowds. There was a Wild West show and an afternoon of athletic competitions. As years went by, contests for children were added. This photograph, from the Stratford-Perth Archives, shows some of the bicycle-decorating competitors in September 1948.
The Sept. 6, 1894, Milverton Sun newspaper announced the Act of Parliament that designated the first Monday in September as a legal holiday across the country, and commented that “it did not receive attention in this part, as the people of this community consider they have had holidays enough. It is all right enough to observe this day in the cities where the Artizans have few holidays but in the country it is different; farmers have plenty of spare days.”
Not surprisingly, in Milverton the custom was to head to Stratford for Labour Day celebrations in the early years, if you were interested in that sort of thing. In 1901, the “race for the 100 yards sprinting championship for the County of Perth” was held in Stratford on Labour Day. Nearly 500 people turned out to see “Grosch of Milverton” compete with “McCully of Stratford.” Perhaps that exciting display led to a change in local attitudes as, the next year, the Sun described how “quite a number of the younger people attended the Labour Day demonstration at Milverton.” They estimated that 1,000 people turned up. There was horse racing, baseball, football, running races, and bicycle races. Competitors were present from Atwood, Millbank, Shakespeare, Gadshill and Stratford. The day ended with a concert that included Toronto’s Eddie Piggot, “one of the best Irish comedians that ever appeared here.” Perhaps an extra holiday wasn’t so bad after all!
The Stratford-Perth Archives’ 2019 exhibit honours of the 125th anniversary of Labour Day in Canada. Parades, Picnics and Power celebrates the soapbox derby races and beauty queen pageants and explores the infamous 1933 furniture factory workers strike, along with James Reaney’s play – King Whistle – based on those events. Artifacts and photographs from workers in Kroehler’s furniture factory, including the twin steam whistle, are also on display. The Stratford-Perth Archives is located at 4273 Line 34 (Highway 8), just west of Stratford. We are open for research from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Please call 519-271-0531 ext. 259 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.