The "On to Ottawa" Trek
The "On to Ottawa" Trek
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Prime Minister Richard B. Bennett (National Archives of Canada , C-000687)
Plagued by problems caused by the Depression of the 1930s and economic hardship, single, unemployed men had no option but to check into local relief camps for the unemployed. In British Columbia these men, dissatisfied with their living and working conditions, decided to march to Ottawa to protest and air their concerns about the measures taken to counteract the social and economic problems Canada was experiencing.

After the stock market crash of 1929 in New York City, the most serious economic crisis in history struck the Western world. Canada felt the impacts; unemployment reached staggering proportions and poorly designed government policies provided no assistance to the hordes of jobless. In 1932, the Federal Government set up relief camps for the unemployed, where single, homeless men were given shelter, food, clothing and paid 20 cents per day for 44 hours of public work per week, all under the direction of the Ministry of National Defence in cooperation with the Labour Department. The men who chose to move into these camps did so of their own free choice.

Dissatisfied with their living and working conditions, 1,500 men left the relief camps in British Columbia to go on strike in April 1935 and head toward Vancouver, alleging that the relief camps offered them no viable future. Mayor McGeer told the strikers that the Municipal Council had limited powers and therefore could not do anything about their claims. Instead, he offered them an alternative: to return to the camps and to finance a delegation to send to Ottawa in order to discuss their demands, but the strikers refused. On June 3rd and 4th, after seeing the government's indifference to their plight, more than 1,000 men decided to go to Ottawa to present their grievances, hoping to create awareness for their cause. They set out first by train, but after receiving a decree from Prime Minister Bennett, they were denied access to the train cars. Eight men undertook the walk to Ottawa to argue their case, while 2,000 others settled in Regina, where they were fed and lodged by private citizens while being sustained by the government of Saskatchewan. The Prime Minister refused the delegation's demands and the eight returned to join the Regina group. On July 1st, 1935 they organized a public protest that was broken up by police squads who came to arrest Arthur Evans and a number of other speakers. This act prompted a riot, with the marchers throwing stones at the police officers. Two people died in the clashes, including a local constable; dozens of people were injured; and 130 were arrested. A few days later the marchers returned to their camps, with funds from the government of Saskatchewan so that they could travel by train. The failure of the "On to Ottawa" Trek was a tough blow for the career of Prime Minister Bennett, who was widely criticized for his handling of the situation.

Stock market crash
A drastic drop in share prices, having serious repercussions on the economy.

Economic crisis
Significant drop in economic activity, leading to various problems, such as a rise in the unemployment rate and decreased production. The economic crisis of the 1930s (the Great Depression) set in after the Wall Street stock market crash on Black Thursday (October 24, 1929). The crisis was felt on a worldwide scale.

Period of enforced work stoppage affecting people who cannot find a job.

A reason to complain about a given subject.

Measure taken toward a person or a group of persons imposing a decision made by an authority, such as a government authority.

Popular uprising, usually spontaneous and disorganized, accompanied by fighting and screaming. A riot, unlike an insurrection, is not meant to overthrow the established powers.