At that time there was a very powerful, and hypocritical man named George Brown, who published a newspaper called the Globe. As the Civil War was raging in the United States, Brown wrote bombastic editorials calling for the abolition of slavery. Unfortunately, he wasn't above treating the workers who ran his printing presses as slaves - he fired many and had several more arrested just because they had organized themselves with the Toronto Trades Assembly and asked if they could work 54 hours a week. At that time, Canadian law viewed union activity as a criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade.
The Trades Assembly retaliated against Brown's tyranny and an unfair law by taking it to the streets. They staged a parade through the streets of Toronto on April 15, 1872, where 10,000 people waved colourful ribbons, listened to marching bands and speeches calling for the release of 24 union leaders and the legalization of trade unions in Canada. A few months later, on September 3, a group of unions in Ottawa staged their own parade, and they marched on the home of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald by torchlight.
The Ottawa workers took the Prime Minister from his house, loaded him onto a carriage, and took him to the steps of Ottawa's City Hall. MacDonald may have been languishing from one of his legendary bouts with the bottle at the time. He may have been caught up in the excitement of the demonstration, or he may have seen an opportunity to sabotage a political rival (Brown was a Liberal whose editorials were consistently critical of MacDonald's Conservative Party).
The Toronto Trades Assembly would go on to celebrate the anniversary of this important victory with an annual rally in picnic. In 1882, they invited representatives from the American United Brotherhood of Carpenters to the festivities, who in turn staged the first American Labor Day events in New York on September 5, 1882. In 1894, the government of Sir John Thompson made Labour Day a statutory holiday in Canada.
However you celebrate Labour Day this weekend, remember the hard work and sacrifice of the workers who came before us to achieve the benefits that we enjoy, and enjoy this made-in-Canada holiday - you've earned it.