British colonial officials sign a Toronto Purchase Treaty with leaders of the Mississaugas of the Credit to obtain land for settlement. A new one is signed in 1805, granting the white settlers access to more than 250,000 acres of land in return for ten shillings. In 1998 the Mississauga of the New Credit launched a claim against the federal government that ultimately resulted in a settlement of $145 million.
Governor John Graves Simcoe introduces an anti-slavery act, which made it illegal to bring slaves into the colony of Upper Canada, although any slaves already in the colony remained the property of their owners, as did their children until the age of 25.
Toronto’s journeymen printers form the York Typographical Society. Four years later their strike against employing printers is broken. William Lyon Mackenzie is the leader of the union busting. The union expires in 1837 but is revived in 1844.
British legislation completely abolishes slavery throughout the British Empire, including British North America. Four years later African Canadians in Toronto organize the first Emancipation Day celebration to commemorate the new freedom for blacks in the Empire.
Mackenzie leads the unsuccessful Upper Canada Rebellion in pursuit of democracy and Canadian self-government. Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews are executed for participating.
Irish refugees flee “The Famine” – With a population of 20,000, Toronto greets 38,000 Irish newcomers in one year, many of them in very poor health. 863 die in the Fever Sheds and are buried near St. Paul’s Cathedral
The Provincial Freeman is founded as a weekly Black newspaper; Mary Ann Shadd Cary is the first woman and Black woman publisher.
Toronto boot and shoe workers are the first local union to affiliate to U.S. based international union. The moulders, locomotive engineers and cigarmakers and printers follow shortly after.
In order to pursue common concerns across occupational boundaries, craft unions in the city found the Toronto Trades Assembly, forerunner to today’s Labour Council.
When the Toronto Typographical Union strikes for a nine-hour day against the newspaper publishers, 24 leaders are arrested and charged with conspiracy. 10,000 supporters of the printers rally at Queen’s Park. Sir John A. Macdonald’s government in Ottawa then passes a Trade Unions Act that makes unions legal, rather than criminal conspiracies.
During the strike, Toronto labour leaders begin publishing The Ontario Workman, the city’s (and Canada’s) first labour newspaper. It continues for several years.
Daniel O’Donoghue, an Irish-born printer and president of the Ottawa Trades Council, becomes the first labour leader to be elected to the provincial legislature at Queen’s Park.
Labour leaders lobby successfully to get an amendment to the Criminal Code to protect peaceful protests and pickets.
A new central body, now known as the Toronto Trades and Labor Council, is formed.
Toronto telegraphers organize the first branch of the Knights of Labor in the city. Over the next few years this international organization will draw in some 5,000 workers in more than fifty “local assemblies.” Unlike the craft unions, the organization is committed to organizing all workers, including women and blacks (though regrettably not Chinese). It declines abruptly in the late 1880s under the pressure of unemployment, employer hostility, and internal disputes.
The first Labour Day is celebrated in Toronto with a huge parade and picnic. Four years later, arrangements are made for free entrance into Canadian National Exhibition for labour members on the first Saturday of the “Ex”, when 50% of receipts are turned over to labour. In 1894 Parliament finally makes the first Monday in September a legal public holiday.
The first three women members arrive in the Toronto Trades and Labor Council as delegates from a female shoe workers’ union.
The Toronto Trades and Labor Council organizes the city’s first independent labour campaign in a provincial election. The labour candidates lose, but the council runs another slate in 1886, again without success.
The Ontario government passes the Ontario Factories Act (not implemented until 1886), which sets minimum age and maximum hours of work for women and children, and thus begins to reduce child labour. But it applies only to workplaces with more than twenty employees and is enforced by only a small handful of inspectors.
Toronto’s biggest strikes in the late nineteenth century are on the Street Railway, first in 1885 and then in 1886. The company refuses to recognize the Knights of Labor as representatives of the workers in Toronto, but the people of Toronto refuse to ride on street cars run by scabs. The strike fails when Knights leaders insist on putting funds and time into a cooperative street railway project instead of supporting the strikers. There would be another tumultuous street railway strike in 1902.
The Chinese Immigration Act introduces a $50 head tax. In 1900 it is raised to $100 and in 1903 to $500. By 1923 the Canadian government will have collected $35 million from the tax.
The craft unions and the Knights of Labor unite in founding of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada, which will last until it merges into the Canadian Labour Congress in 1956. Its role is to lobby for labour legislation. It is a parallel national organization to the American Federation of Labor, but much smaller and weaker.
Across North America, on May 1st, workers strike for the eight-hour day and thus launch a tradition that would become known as May Day. In 1889 the European socialists proclaim May Day as an international day of workers’ protest. The first May Day celebrations in Toronto will not occur for more than twenty years, but in the 1920s and 1930s thousands of workers will march in celebration of the day.
The first “Black Flag” demonstration of unemployed workers demanding “Work or Bread” marches from St Andrew’s Square to City Hall.
The Union Label League is organized in Toronto to campaign for support for union-made products.
A Labour Day brochure to “Organize, Educate, Resist” is distributed; this slogan is revived in 1996 for the Toronto Days of Action against the Harris government.
Toronto radicals form a branch of the Canadian Socialist League, the country’s first home-grown socialist organization.
In response to labour’s demands for more information on labour conditions, the federal government launches a Department of Labour, with a monthly journal, conciliation services for industrial disputes, and the young William Lyon Mackenzie King as deputy minister.
Under pressure from the American Federation of Labor, craft unionists in the Trade and Labor Congress expel all independent unions that existed alongside the US-based internationals.
The Toronto Labor Temple is opened on Church Street as a meeting place for the city’s unions.
Mackenzie King introduces the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act. It required all workers/employers in transportation, utilities, and resource industries (the engines of economy) to submit disputes to a three-person conciliation board before striking/locking out. The board heard evidence and issued a report, and required a “cooling off period” before a strike could happen.
Toronto printers win the eight-hour day, when most other workers still had a ten-hour workday.
More than a thousand unemployed workers organize a series of mass demonstrations demanding the city provide work, wages, and better treatment at the city’s House of Industry.
Over the objections of some craft unions, the Toronto Trades and Labor Council votes to endorse industrial unionism as the preferred mode of organizing – a reflection of the need to unite workers in large-scale mass-production industry.
As part of a new wave of organizing among less skilled workers, garment workers at Eaton’s, both women and men, wage a major battle and strike against new work rules.
Social Democratic Party gets the labour candidate Jimmy Simpson elected to the Board of Control (twenty years later he will be Toronto’s mayor).
Ontario passes a Workmen’s Compensation Act for workers injured in the workplace. Workers no longer have to sue their bosses to get compensation for workplace injuries, but domestic servants and farm labourers are excluded from coverage.
Canada enters World War One, and Toronto industries start retooling to produce munitions and clothing for the war effort. Many more women are encouraged to take up industrial jobs. Under the War Measures Act, the labour press is censored. German, Austrian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Turkish immigrants have to register with the police, and some are sent to internment camps.
Retail prices are rising far faster than wages, and labour leaders start denouncing profiteering and demanding “conscription of wealth.” In response the federal government appoints a Food Controller and introduces the first Income Tax, which at this point does not touch workers’ wages.
One thousand people turn up to a May Day celebration of the recent Russian Revolution. The federal government will ban several radical organizations in September 1918 and begins to jail and deport European immigrant radicals.
Black sleeping-car porters in Canada form their first union – the Order of Sleeping Car Porters.
April – Women in Ontario get the vote, and a year later get the federal vote, provided they are not Status Indian, Inuit, or Chinese.
December – the Greater Toronto Labor Party is formed, an affiliate of the Independent Labor Party of Ontario. It attracts a huge membership.
Union membership soars as the war economy soaks up the unemployed and gives workers more bargaining clout. Many new groups of workers are organized, including women, immigrants, and public-sector workers. And their militancy explodes into numerous strikes, including one by the Toronto police. In October the federal government moves to curb all this action by banning strikes.
A group of militant women form the Women’s Labor League to agitate for better working conditions for women. Their first bold campaign is an attempt to organize Toronto’s domestic servants into a union.
In mid May a general strike starts in Toronto in support of the Metal Trades Council’s demands for an eight-hour day and union recognition – a parallel action to the famous Winnipeg general strike that is taking off at the same time. Some 17,000 workers walk out for two weeks, but the metal workers are eventually defeated. Meanwhile, big strikes of garment workers, street railway workers, carpenters, and packinghouse workers had been more successful. The harsh and restrictive Immigration Act of 1919 is passed.
In October Ontario voters elect eleven Independent Labor Party candidates to the Ontario Legislature, who form a coalition with the elected representatives of the United Farmers of Ontario to create the country’s first Farmer-Labour government. Toronto’s four ILP candidates are not successful, however. The government is defeated in 1923.
Labour’s thirty-year effort to win a referendum on public transit results in creation of Toronto Transit Commission.
A province Minimum Wage Board begins setting lower limits on wages for women wage-earners, but, instead of a single rate, sets different rates for each industry – all of them low.
The Toronto District Trades and Labor Council helps in the formation of the Toronto Unemployed Association to combat mass unemployment after World War I.
The provincial government finally removes the property qualification to run for municipal office, which had kept so many workers out of elected office.
The Chinese Exclusion/Immigration Act is passed to stop Chinese immigration and to amend the definition of British subjects to keep out those who aren’t white out.
When kosher meat gets too expensive, Jewish women from a wide range of organizations organize a boycott, which within two weeks brings prices down. Another such successful boycott takes place in 1933, with mass picketing of butcher shops.
To win support for his minority government from the Labour MPs led by J. S. Woodsworth, Mackenzie King introduces the first Old Age Pension legislation, which is available to those over seventy who can prove their poverty. Ontario delays joining the program until 1929.
Some Toronto unions, notably the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Employees, help to launch a new national central, the All-Canadian Congress of Labour, which opposes international unionism. Communist unionists are also involved.
Toronto Communists take a leading role in the creation of a new radical union central, the Workers Unity League, dedicated to militant industrial unionism and socialist revolution. The league will lead numerous strikes in the early 1930s, notably the Toronto garment workers’ struggle.
Unemployed family men form the East York Workers’ Association to agitate on behalf of the unemployed in that eastern suburb. In 1935 the group called a strike of men working for relief when payments were slashed. Similar organizations appeared in other parts of the city.
The first of several strikes by female garment workers takes place in the Spadina district. They would strike several times during the 1930s.
As Depression deepens, unemployed men are sent to Relief Camps run by the Department of National Defence. In 1935 the Relief Camp Workers’ Union leads an On-to-Ottawa Trek to demand work and wages, but is stopped in Regina. Toronto workers had their own trek to Ottawa.
Toronto socialists participate in the founding of a new social-democratic party, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Regina, whose manifesto promises social security, social planning, and greater worker control.
Some 7,000 people are deported (often for their political beliefs) including whole families. During the Depression, people of colour are more likely to be deported, are generally not eligible for relief (or received less), are not eligible for old age pensions (i.e. Chinese seniors), and are not allowed into the relief camps.
Jimmie Simpson becomes first labour Mayor of Toronto.
Committee for Industrial Organizing is formed within the American Federation of Labour to organize mass production industries. In Toronto its greatest success before the war was in the garment industry.
The Canadian Jewish Labour Committee is formed to spearhead a campaign to end discrimination and promote human rights within the labour movement.
The Toronto Housewives Association is formed to fight the rising price of food. They affiliate with the Toronto and District Trades and Labor Council.
Canadian CIO organizations join with the All-Canadian Congress of Labour to create the Canadian Congress of Labour as a new central for industrial unions. Each city and province have separate councils and federations.
After years of organizing, workers finally win Unemployment Insurance.
The Toronto Division of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is organized. Three years later it signs a first collective agreement.
In the Ontario general election, the CCF wins 34 seats, including several in Toronto, and, with only four fewer seats than the victorious Conservatives, forms the official opposition at Queen’s Park.
Fearful of rising labour strength, the federal government under Mackenzie King passes an order in council, P.C. 1003, which enables unions to be certified and requires employers to bargain with certified unions. In 1948 this new legislative framework is made permanent in new federal and provincial laws.
Massive organizing of industrial workers into unions changes the balance of power in basic industries across Toronto. The Hours of Work Act legalizes the eight-hour day and paid vacations.
As a result of a lengthy strike against Ford in Windsor, Justice Ivan Rand issues an arbitration award that establishes a principle known as the Rand Formula, whereby all workers must pay union dues in a unionized workplace, regardless of whether or not they are union members. This formula become widely adopted across Canada.
All Toronto’s packinghouse workers join a two-month national strike of meatpacking plants.
The Chinese Immigration Act was abolished, and Chinese-Canadians received the vote.
The Toronto Joint Labour Committee for Human Rights is formed.
Workers at Eaton’s join the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union, and begin a four-year union drive for recognition. They are unsuccessful but will succeed in a renewed organizing effort in 1985.
Both the Canadian Congress of Labor and the Trades and Labor Congress expel affiliates led by Communists. In Toronto this affected the United Electrical Workers, the International Leather and Fur Workers, and the Canadian Seamen’s Union.
A national strike of all railway workers shuts down transportation and brings back-to-work legislation and compulsory arbitration.
Campaigns led by the Toronto Joint Labour Committee on Human Rights and community allies help win the Ontario Fair Employment Practices Act – the first such legislation in North America
Delegation of Black community and labour activists travel to Ottawa to demand an end to Canada’s racist immigration laws.
Bromley Armstrong and Ruth Lor of the TJLCHR go to Dresden to challenge systemic racism.
The Canadian Labour Congress is formed by a merger of the Trades and Labour Congress and the Canadian Congress of Labour, and their labour councils are unified. Bill Jenoves becomes first President of the Toronto and District Labour Council and serves in that role for two decades.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission is created to combat discrimination.
Five immigrant Italian construction workers die while tunnelling 35 feet underground through Hogg’s Hollow. The outcry following their deaths fuels new investigations and eventually tightening of workplace safety standards. A quilt honouring their sacrifice now displayed in York Mills Subway Station.
Some 6,000 Toronto workers in residential construction, many of them Italian immigrants, who are trying to cope with poor pay and uncertain jobs, walk out on strike in defiance of labour legislation, led by the Brandon Hall Union Group. Their concerns are sent to arbitration, and a royal commission is set up to investigate.
Discussions between the CLC leadership and CCF leaders result in creation of the New Democratic Party, taking a step away from a socialist vision towards vigorous reform in order to attract middle-class support.
Workers at the Royal York Hotel are forced out on a long bitter strike.
Ironworkers walk off subway project on Don Valley bridge for two weeks to protest firing of Black steward – Jack White who was rehired, subsequently became first Black construction union representative in Canada
Printers at Toronto’s three daily newspapers walk out on strike over technological change in the composing rooms. The strike was never settled.
Toronto’s postal workers and letter carriers earning poverty wages go on a wildcat strike in July for a hefty wage increase that also included workers in several other Canadian cities. They won a substantial pay hike, and convinced the federal government to allow civil servants the right to strike in the new Public Service Staff Relations Act two years later.
United Way of Toronto is created with Labour Council as a founding partner.
After years of pressure from labour, the federal and provincial governments introduce government health-insurance.
Doris Archer elected as first woman on Labour Council Executive.
United Farmworkers grape boycott campaign launched in Toronto.
Mass labour-farmer rally at Queen’s Park demanding strong provincial legislation on Medicare.
Labour Council forms Italian Advisory Committee to help address issues of immigrant communities.
Ontario Civil Service Association of Ontario, now OPSEU is recognized as the bargaining agent for the province’s civil servants.
Hundreds of workers and students turn out to support the striking workers, most of them immigrants, at Artistic Woodwork, where police violence creates public outrage.
Labour Council Development Foundation is created to build co-op housing.
December – Teachers submit mass resignations and rally at Maple Leaf Gardens to demand full collective bargaining and the right to strike.
Three hundred injured workers meet to form the Union of Injured Workers to agitate for better treatment of those with workplace injuries and better health and safety legislation.
Toronto’s Grace Hartman is elected as the second president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, becoming the first woman to lead a major labour union in North America.
Cleaners Action is created out of St Christopher’s settlement house to assist women working as cleaners in downtown office buildings.
Prime Minister Trudeau introduces Wage and Price Controls. Workers in companies with more than 500 employees, construction firms of more than 20. elf-employed professionals and the federal public sector had caps on all compensation. Prices were more loosely monitored and difficult to control.
Occupational Health & Safety Project formed by Labour Council and U of T Department on Preventive Medicine.
September – Labour Council helps form the Urban Alliance on Race Relations to challenge racism in society.
Centre for Labour Studies was set up with Humber College (later became Labour Education Centre).
Organized Working Women is formed to fight for women’s rights and equality.
On October 14, 1976, a Day of Protest over Wage and Price Controls. one million workers skip work to unite against the Canadian government over wage and price controls.
Wage controls are lifted, but serious cuts in Unemployment Insurance (now known as Employment Insurance) benefits are introduced along with severe tightening of eligibility criteria.
International Women’s Day marches begin in Toronto.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is set to strike; the federal government threatens legislation before the strike begins and arrests leader Jean-Claude Parrot for failing to order workers to stay at work.
Anti-racism coalitions oppose the Ku Klux Klan setting up in Toronto.
Ontario’s hospital workers walk out on an illegal strike. CUPE President Grace Hartman is jailed for failing to order them back to work.
August – CUPW National Strike wins paid maternity leave.
November – Thousands of Toronto workers join the 100,000 from across Canada rallying on Parliament Hill to protest the federal government’s monetarist policies.
The labour magazine Our Times is founded.
Racism Hurts Everyone Campaign launched by the OFL.
The Ontario government passes the Inflation Restraint Act, which imposes wage controls on public employees.
Labour Community Services is founded.
The English in the Workplace Program is launched by what later became the Labour Education Centre
Gay Pride celebrations begin in Toronto.
Twelve hundred workers in six Eaton’s stores in Toronto join the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, but, after fruitless bargaining, walk out on a strike that lasts more than six months. They get strong support from women’s groups in Toronto, but two years later all but one store is decertified.
Canadian Labour Congress declares April 28th National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job, or suffering from workplace disease. Monuments to honour workers are on Front Street, Queen’s Park, Larry Sefton Park, Columbus Centre and at the Woodbridge Memorial Arena.
Workers Health & Safety Centre formed to provide union-based training for safety activists.
The Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists is formed, and Herman Stewart of ILGWU is elected first Black leader of major union.
The annual Mayworks festival of labour arts is launched.
The Supreme Court of Canada rules that employers are required to ensure workplaces are free of sexual harassment in Bonnie Robichaud case.
The Pro-Canada Network (later renamed the Action Canada Network) is founded as a coalition of labour unions, professional organizations, and social groups opposed to the free trade agenda.
The Labour Education Centre is founded.
Linda Torney becomes first woman President of Labour Council.
Monument to Chinese Railway Workers is unveiled at Spadina + Front.
Free Trade Agreement is signed with the United States. Within five years over one third of Ontario manufacturing jobs were wiped out.
On April 28th Day of Mourning construction workers shut downtown jobsites and rally at Chinese Railway Workers Monument to demand stronger safety laws.
An NDP government is elected in Ontario. Faced with economic recession, it adopts new labour laws, environmental programs, anti-racism programs and employment equity, and saves many large plants such as DeHavilland aircraft and Algoma Steel, and invests in social housing and infrastructure to create jobs.
Supreme Court of Canada rules that unions can fund political and social justice campaigns.
Labour Council supports launch of White Ribbon Campaign to challenge male violence
Monument to Construction Workers erected in Cloud Garden Park in downtown Toronto.
Ontario’s NDP government introduces the Social Contract. Government workers in offices, schools, hospitals, universities have a three-year wage freeze imposed.
North American Free Trade Agreement comes into effect. Many factories are closed as production is shifted to Mexico.
Mike Harris is elected and proceeds to implement drastic measures known as the Common Sense Revolution. Social housing and subway projects are cancelled, welfare rates slashed, transit funding ended, labour laws are gutted, employment equity is repealed. Union and community groups come together to resist, and the Metro Network for Social Justice is formed. A series of city-by-city general strikes are launched to oppose the cuts, starting in London.
Campaign by construction unions and environmental leaders results in Toronto Better Buildings Partnership to ramp up energy retrofit programs and create green jobs.
Province-wide strike by OPSEU members defending public services.
On October 25th, a one-day strike closes most workplaces in Toronto. The next day a quarter of a million people hit the streets in Toronto in the city’s Metro Days of Action to protest the policies of the Mike Harris Conservative government. Watch: Resistance in Concert – Metro Days of Action.
Teachers across Ontario strike illegally for two weeks to resist the assaults on publicly funded education.
Harris government forces amalgamation of municipalities into City of Toronto and downloads huge financial responsibilities. Mergers are imposed to create Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board while funding is slashed.
Waterwatch campaign defeats efforts by Mayor Lastman to privatize Toronto’s water system.
Campaign for Public Education is founded to fight for education programs and budgets that “give students what they need to succeed.”
Ontario government puts School Boards in Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa under supervision for refusing to implement provincially imposed cuts to courses and programs.
Labour leads massive protests against invasion of Iraq.
Labour Council holds first Aboriginal/Workers of Colour Conference which becomes an annual event.
Society of Energy Professionals strike for 105 days to stop Hydro One imposing two-tier wages and benefits.
Community Organizing for Responsible Development (CORD) created as labour-community coalition to negotiate community benefits for proposed Woodbine Live project in Rexdale.
Labour Council launches $10 Minimum Wage Campaign, secures 28% wage increase over three years for hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers in Ontario.
Non-union workers at Progressive Moulded Products blockade Woodbridge factory for two weeks demanding severance pay after 2000 jobs lost – subsequent campaign wins new severance laws.
Good Jobs for All Summit attracts 1000 participants demanding economic justice following the collapse of financial markets.
May – Stewards Assembly brings all Toronto unions together to pledge solidarity in the face of financial crisis.
November – Good Green Jobs for All conference sets stage for deeper commitment to climate justice by GTA labour movement.
Canadian Labour International Film Festival (CLiFF) is founded.
TTC Riders founded by a Labour Council, Toronto Environmental Alliance, Social Planning Toronto, ACORN and Canadian Federation of Students.
Dalton McGuinty government passes Bill 115 ‘Putting Students First Act 2012‘ eliminating the rights of teachers in the province to go on strike. The Bill is overturned by the Supreme Court.
Toronto Public Library Workers – strike and public campaign triumphs over Mayor Ford’s agenda.
Toronto Community Benefits Network founded to negotiate equity hiring and community improvement on major infrastructure projects.
Labour Council established Diverse Workers Networks for Chinese, Filipino, Tamil, Somali and Ethiopian/Eritrean union members.
Labour Council commits to goals of Paris Agreement on Climate Change – publishes Greenprint for Greater Toronto.
Black Lives Matter mobilizes across North America, BLM Toronto camps in front of Police HQ to demand action on anti-Black racism.
April 28th – Italian Fallen Workers Memorial unveiled.
Toronto Workers History Project founded.
Murders at Quebec Mosque shocks Canadians. Labour Council calls on people of all walks of life to “step up and speak out” against Islamophobia. Toronto City Hall packed for International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Rapid Response Team formed to confront racist hate groups.
Campaign by 15 + Fairness and Ontario’s unions wins major new workers rights, employment standards and a $15 Minimum Wage under Bill 148.
January – 20,000 part-time college staff vote to join OPSEU in largest organizing victory of the century.
Doug Ford Conservatives are elected to Queen’s Park, immediately repeal most provisions of Bill 148, cancel $15 minimum wage; unleash major cuts to education, public health, and threaten to take over Toronto subway system.
Massive resistance to education cuts by Ford Conservatives – job action and rotating strikes, parent networks activated, Labour Council co-ordinates actions across Toronto and York Region.
March – COVID hits and changes everything. The scandal of tragic conditions and deaths in long-term care does little to change provincial policies favouring privatization and precarious work.
May – George Floyd murder unleashes wave of anger and demands to address anti-Black racism. Nooses found on Toronto construction sites. Construction unions and contractors endorse Declaration of Inclusive Workplaces and Communities and commit to tackle systemic racism.
Labour Council celebrates 150 years of working together for justice.