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

By David Bright | Go to book overview

5
Depression and War, 1913-7

In the winter of 1912-3, an economic crisis sparked by events in the Balkans hit Canada much as it did other western industrial countries. 'Foreign investors, alarmed at the rapid over-expansion of Canada's economic infrastructure as well as by events in Europe,' notes historian James Struthers, 'were no longer willing to finance the frenetic pace of the nation's development. Once pricked, the balloon of credit collapsed.' 1 Among the many victims were Calgary's twin booms in construction activity and real estate speculation. The outbreak of war in August 1914 compounded their collapse. Amid the turmoil that followed, workers in Calgary struggled to adjust to the dramatically changed economic and social conditions, while a new breed of labour politicians attempted to articulate a new sense of collective class identity. 'This is a Labor war and will be won by Labor men,' declared the Albertan in September 1917. 'Will Labor receive its proper reward when the war is over and the battle is won, in better working conditions and a more equitable share in the fruits of production?'2 As the war dragged on, this same question -- what was the broader meaning of a victory for democracy? -- came to the fore in public debate across Canada and ensured that there would be no simple return to the prewar status quo. As Calgary veteran Private Harry Fowler warned in the fall of 1917, 'Labour will demand its place in the sun. Let the Government and the members of industry prepare the way for the new men.'3 Far more than the decade of peace and prosperity before 1913, depression and war helped to focus the minds of labour in Calgary.

The Balkans crisis of 1913 effectively ended the flow of British capital into Canada. The impact was especially severe in the West, where ten years of unprecedented economic expansion came to a grinding halt. Nowhere was this more evident than in Calgary. The depression not only exposed the fragility of the city's economic foundations, it shook the previously unquestioned faith in progress maintained by its authorities and

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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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