Published: Thursday, September 3, 2015, by Shawn Micallef, Living Columnist, Toronto Star
Read the story from the Toronto Star website to see more photos: https://www.thestar.com/life/2015/09/03/torontos-rich-in-labour-history.html
Toronto may not immediately seem like a town with a rich labour history, but this Labour Day weekend look beyond the bank skyscrapers and skyrocketing real estate prices and discover some of the significant labour sites here, both historic and contemporary, that have influenced Canadian working conditions.
1 The Athenaeum Club (167 Church St.)
Originally an athletic club built in 1891, this building was known as the “Labour Temple” from 1904-1968 after the club was purchased by the Toronto Trades and Labour Council by selling shares to members of associated unions. “A library was set up, many unions had their offices located here, and for the 64 years it operated as the centrepiece of the Toronto labour movement, and many meetings held here to discuss the key issues of the day,” says David Kidd, a CUPE member and labour historian who has led labour-themed walks through Toronto. Those issues included public ownership of the TTC and Toronto Hydro, and whether to support conscription during the two world wars. Today the facade of the Athenaeum Club is preserved as part of the “Jazz” apartments.
2 Bell telephone operators strike (37 Temperance St. at Bay St., but no longer exists)
In 1907, hundreds of female telephone operators walked out in response to Bell Telephone’s plan to cut their wages and increase work hours, a precursor to today’s precarious employment struggles. At the time Bell’s central exchange was at 37 Temperance St. near Bay St., but no longer exists. “William Lyon Mackenzie King, the future Prime Minister, was assigned to investigate the circumstances leading to the walkout and due to the women’s insistence and organization they did get improvements to their working conditions and eventually a union,” says Kidd.about:blank
3 UNIA Hall — United Negro Improvement Association (355 College St.)
Though the hall itself is now gone, the current location of Thymeless Bar is where the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and other black groups and organizations met after the hall was purchased by the Toronto division of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the 1930s. UNIA president Marcus Garvey even visited on occasion and local jazz musicians like Archie Alleyne also used the hall.
4 Hogg’s Hollow disaster (York Mills Station)
On March 17, 1960, five Italian immigrant labourers died while digging a water main tunnel that passed underneath the Don River in Hogg’s Hollow when a fire broke out and the tunnel later filled with water and silt. A royal commission afterwards resulted in new labour safety laws and increased employer accountability for their workers.
Breaking Ground, a large quilt by fabric artist Laurie Swim honouring the five fallen workers, was installed on the 50th anniversary of the disaster and hangs in the main mezzanine of York Mills subway station today.
5 Cloud Garden Park (14 Temperance St.)
With its greenhouse and waterfall, Cloud Garden Park makes for an urban oasis in the downtown core, but the massive quilt-like wall by artist Margaret Priest honours the construction trades that built this city, with each section made of a different construction material to represent that particular trade. “Where our banks and financiers have buildings and streets named after them, the construction workers that actually raised the beams of the skyscrapers are celebrated here,” says Kidd.
6 Trump Hotel (325 Bay St.)
Though reports of the Trump Tower’s unstable antennae swaying above the downtown core proved to be unfounded, it could be a metaphor for the contemporary fight against precarious employment as nearly 100 women working below in the Trump Hotel won union certification this past spring, bringing labour struggles in the city right up to the present day.