All Hell Can't Stop Us: The On-to-Ottawa Trek and Regina Riot
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
W.J.C. Cherwinski is a professor of history and Canadian Studies Program
supervisor at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is the co-author
of Lectures in Canadian Labour and Working-Class History.
If there is a single event that symbolized the economic and social
impact of the Great Depression in Canada, the reaction to it, and the
seeming lack of concern for the plight of the dispossessed by those who
should care, it was the tightly organized march on Ottawa by relief camp
workers in the summer of 1935.
The story is well known: the unprecedented unemployment experienced by
the unskilled and semi-skilled who worked in staple-producing industries
and primary manufacturing as a result of the severe economic downturn;
the need to hit the road in search of work; the growing fear of social
unrest resulting from concentrations of men near urban centres; the
establishment of relief camps, first by the provinces and later by
Ottawa in isolated areas like central British Columbia; the organization
drive by affiliates of the Communist Party and the establishment of the
Relief Camp Workers’ Union; the descent on Vancouver in search of work
and wages; the decision that resulted in about a thousand workers
hopping freight trains to travel to Ottawa to demand same from Prime
Minister Bennett; and the decision of the police to charge the trekkers
in Regina on Dominion Day, which resulted in a bloody riot.
Trekker Ronald Liversedge and historian Victor Howard told the story
before, but Saskatchewan historian Bill Waiser carries it one step
further. The maps and photos, many of them published for the first time,
complement the dramatic details revealed from hitherto untapped sources.
A list of about a fifth of the trekkers compiled by the author is useful
to both the scholar and the genealogist. Most impressive of all is the
balanced interpretation brought by time and exhaustive research. The
faceless and often nameless participants were not doctrinaire
revolutionaries but decent, young Canadians frustrated by their
inability to find a better life.