The Limits of Labour: Class Formation and the Labour Movement in Calgary, 1883-1929

By David Bright | Go to book overview

Introduction

Every summer, Calgarians gather to celebrate a mythical version of their city's history. For ten days in July, men and women from all walks of life don tight-legged jeans, wide-brimmed hats, and ornate leather boots as they cavort through the city's streets, bars, and midway. The 'world's greatest show outdoors,' as the Calgary Stampede modestly describes itself, is in fact a celebration of some ill-defined 'frontier democracy,' that is located vaguely in Calgary's distant past in a world where social equality and economic opportunity ride spiritedly across the prairies. It is a powerful myth, promoted and perpetuated by virtually all of Calgary's public institutions, including the city's media, museums, libraries, schools, and civic administration. Like all myths, it contains an element of truth. Nevertheless, this Turnerian vision of Calgary's history remains an invention of the past. 1

Consider, in contrast to the myth of frontier equality and opportunity, the testimony of one local resident in 1919, the same year in which the Stampede was held for the first time since its inception in 1912. On the morning of 5 May, Calgary postal worker Clifford Nicholls stood up to testify before the Royal Commission on Industrial Relations. Like many of the nearly 500 witnesses who addressed that inquiry as it made its way across Canada, Nicholls spoke of the immediate conditions that lay behind the current wave of labour unrest that would soon culminate in an unprecedented series of general strikes. But he also described the grinding realities of a society that had long been divided by differences of class, differences that routinely shaped an individual's daily experiences:

Any bitterly cold morning in this city and what will you see? You will see miserable, pale-faced men with drunken, weary-looking eyes, crawling out of their beds in the early hours of the morning, sitting down to an almost bare breakfast table and then crawling off to work with their dinner pails with a few little sandwiches in them, crawling off to the

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The Limits of Labour: Class Formation and the Labour Movement in Calgary, 1883-1929
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Part 1 - Class Formation, 1883-1913 15
  • 1 - From Cow Town to Hub of Industry 17
  • 2 - Social Divisions and Class Disposition 31
  • 3 - Class, Culture, and Politics 51
  • 4 - Unions and Strikes 76
  • Part 2 - The Labour Movement, 1913-29 97
  • 5 - Depression and War, 1913-7 99
  • 6 - Economic Recession and Restructuring, 1918-24 120
  • 7 - 1919: Revolt Reconsidered 145
  • 8 - Dissent and Descent: Labour Politics in Calgary, 1918-24 162
  • 9 - The Limits of Labour, 1925-9 179
  • Epilogue 206
  • Notes 215
  • Bibliography 249
  • Index 269
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