On September 15, 2012, I took photos of this Winnipeg Strike Mural on the south wall of what was then the Whiskey Dix nightclub on Main Street.
I captured the artwork just in time because later that same month a wicked rain and wind storm ripped the vinyl mural from the wall and damaged it.
The mural painted by Tom Andrich told the story of perhaps the most memorable event in Winnipeg history, the strike of 1919. In May of that year some 30,000 workers walked off the job because of poor working conditions and a lack of employment opportunities, especially for World War I veterans.
Union organizers wanted an eight-hour work day, collective bargaining and demanded employers pay a living wage.
These are the strike leaders who were imprisoned. The only woman pictured is Helen Armstrong. Nicknamed Wild Woman of the West she was a union organizer who championed the cause of working women. Born in Toronto she moved to Winnipeg in 1905 and became the leader of the Women’s Labor League.
Her leadership helped bring a minimum wage to Manitoba. During the strike, Helen organized kitchens to feed female strikers and harassed strike breakers who were crossing the picket line. She encouraged women to boycott stores where the workers were on strike and challenged them to join the men on strike.
She was arrested and jailed for inciting people to strike, for disorderly conduct and encouraging the abuse of strikebreakers.
Winnipeg business owners organized a Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand to oppose the strikers. They blamed foreign immigrants for the strike and many were deported. The majority of the strikers however were British.
On June 21, 1919, war veterans organized a parade to protest the arrest of labour leaders. They were also upset at the government edict that the labour movement newspaper could no longer be published. 6,000 people gathered in front of City Hall. When a streetcar, operated by strikebreakers came by the protesters overturned it and set it on fire.
The federal government had sent out the Royal North West Mounted Police to help put an end to the strike. Carrying clubs and firearms the North West Police charged into the crowd after the street car was overturned. They began to fire their weapons.
June 21, 1919, became known as Bloody Saturday, because the North West Mounties killed two strikers, wounded thirty-four and made nearly a hundred arrests. The mural on Main Street has a portrait of one of the men who died. His name was Mike Sokolowski.
After Bloody Saturday the strike organizers fearing more violence called the strike to a halt and the strikers went back to work on June 26th.
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