July 1 marked the 80th anniversary of the brutal police attack against the On to Ottawa Trek. On that date in 1935, the citizens of Regina and Trek participants were holding a peaceful mass rally in that city’s Market Square. Suddenly, at 8:17 pm, RCMP officers emerged from vans parked at the square with batons and tear gas to break up the rally, injuring hundreds and sparking the infamous “Regina Police Riot”.
The On to Ottawa Trek was organized by the Relief Camp Workers Union, and led by Arthur “Slim” Evans, one of the most popular trade union and Communist leaders of the “Dirty Thirties” Depression era. In the spring of 1935, after weeks of political organizing in Vancouver to demand “Work and Wages”, hundreds of RCWU members and other unemployed workers boarded freight trains, intending to take their struggle directly to the federal government in Ottawa.
The Trekkers halted in Regina while Evans and other RCWU representatives went to Ottawa in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate with Conservative Prime Minister R.B. “Iron Heel” Bennett over the demands of the unemployed. The July 1 police attack and state repression stopped the Trek at Regina, but hundreds of workers from southern Ontario did get to Ottawa to press the federal government for job creation, unemployment insurance, and other reforms.
A few months later, the Conservatives were soundly defeated in a federal election, opening the way to several decades of powerful labour and peoples’ struggles which gained many of the demands raised by the Trekkers. Today, these victories are increasingly being undermined and attacked by the pro-corporate austerity policies of governments, especially Stephen Harper’s Tories.
To honour the 80th anniversary of these historic events, the Communist Party of Canada placed a wreath remembering the Trekkers at the gravesite of our comrade Slim Evans, in Ocean View Burial Park, 4000 Imperial Street, Burnaby. The ceremony will took place with a brief salute to the Trek by George Gidora, leader of the Communist Party of BC.
For more information about the On To Ottawa Trek, or to arrange materials for local history displays or a speaker from the party at your union, community organization, school or campus, please call the BC office of the Communist Party, 604-254-9836.