"We Were the Salt of the Earth!": A Narrative of the On-to-Ottawa Trek and the Regina Riot

Description

206 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
$15.00
ISBN 0-88977-037-9

Year

1985

Contributor

Reviewed by Greg Turko

Greg Turko is a policy analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and
Universities.

Review

The Regina Riot, within the context of the Great Depression and the On-to-Ottawa Trek, provides one of the emotional and enduring issues of Canadian history. In his book Victor Howard sets out to describe the conditions leading up to the events in Regina on the evening of July 1, 1935.

Howard begins his discussion with the creation of the Relief Camps under the provisions of the Unemployment Relief Scheme. In the opening pages he provides detail on the thought behind these camps, as well as specifics about who went there, what they were to do, and what they received. By concentrating primarily on B.C. and on a specific group of workers, supporters, and leaders, Howard is able to give a very clear focus to his work. In the course of his discussion he provides a detailed picture of life in the camps, the discontent growing from this experience, the On-to-Ottawa idea, the formation and progress of the Trek, and, of course, the Riot itself.

Howard has chosen the narrative style for this account, which allows him to introduce a wealth of diverse detail — such as the number of sandwiches (3000) and the amount of lemonade (4000 gallons) consumed by the Trekkers during their Sunday Picnic in Regina, it also makes frequent use of the “human interest” material, particularly in his description of the Riot. Thus, the reader learns, for example, that John and Mrs. Cheers are on their way downtown to a movie, but are “drifting around (Market) Square” because Mrs. Cheers has “never seen these strikers in the body before... and she would like to see the boys.” The result of this technique is undeniably a readable, vivid, and dramatic account of particular interest to those involved in the study of historical detail.

Yet, for all the skill Howard displays in writing and organizing, readers may come away feeling that they still do not understand the events being described. Was there a revolution in the making? Were Canadian “radicals” sufficiently capable to stage a “takeover” as many seemed to fear? Were “foreigners” a major force in the various movements, as is often intimated? And finally, there is the larger question of the nature of historical knowledge: can an event be explained, or can we increase our understanding of an event, by fashioning a composite of individual perceptions and accounts and whatever verifiable detail is available?

Citation

Howard, Victor, “"We Were the Salt of the Earth!": A Narrative of the On-to-Ottawa Trek and the Regina Riot,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36255.