Monday, January 13, 2014

Battle of Ballantyne Pier

Last summer, I went and explored New Brighton Park. On my sojourn, around the park I found this interesting monument.

It tells of a demonstration at Ballantyne Pier on June 18, 1935 and today I am going to tell you all about it. Complete with a few old photos.
Photo #371-1125 from the City of Vancouver Archives. Police racing towards demonstration.

Woman yelling at the police. Photo #371-1126
Police dispersing crowd during the riot. Photo #371-1127

1935 was a year of unrest in our city. It was the tail end of the Great Depression and people were frustrated with dealing the poverty and destitution, which had been the norm for years. And back then if a person was poor, they were poor. There was no government social assistance to help those down on their luck. If a church or private organization were unable to offer help, then a person was on their own.

It wasn't only the unemployed that were restless though. The union of longshoremen were heavily influenced by such organizations as the Worker's Unity League - a communist group. The Shipping Federation of British Columbia represented a number of waterfront companies and was the biggest employer on the docks. The union and the federation were in a bitter dispute and eventually talks broke down. (The union claimed the Federation was discriminating against the union workers.)

The Federation lost patience and locked the workers out, bringing in replacements - or scabs - to do the work. All hell broke loose!

Photo #371-1128. A tear-gas bomb in the doorway of the Hastings Bakery. Perhaps strikers were inside?
#371-1129 Mounted policeman club a man during the riot.
Mounted RCMP on Dunlevy Avenue during the riot.

On June 18, 1835, 1,000 workers marched to the entrance of Ballantyne Pier. There, non-union workers were unloading cargo from the ships and the striking longshoremen said they just wanted to talk with them. The strikers claimed they wanted a peaceful exchange but I wonder.

At the entrance, the marchers were met by Vancouver Police Chief Constable Colonel W. Foster. Foster informed the men that they would not be allowed to proceed and issued a decree that their legal right to picket was being suppressed. But the longshoremen weren't leaving.

A large detail of Vancouver City Police, B.C. Provincial Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) bore down on the crowd and attacked protesters with clubs and tear gas. It was chaos as many striking workers were chased down the street while others chose to stand and fight back by throwing rocks and other objects.
Photo #371-1132. Tear gas thrown at protesters.
#371-1133 Crowd and police at the entrance to the Woodward's store entrance during the riot.
#371-1130. Police during the riot
Police at the entrance to Ballantyne Pier

The Battle of Ballantyne Pier lasted three hours. By the end, 28 men were hospitalized and 24 were arrested. A bystander was shot in the legs by a police 

The offices of the longshoremen and the communist organizers were raided by police that day, police shooting tear gas through the windows of the offices to get the occupants to leave before entering. Days later, Mayor Gerry McGeer declared that the striking longshoremen were no longer eligible to receive relief payments for themselves or their families.

The strike wasn't over though. It lasted until December of the same year. However, after the Ballantyine Pier incident, optimism of the workers waned and the more militant faction of the group lost influence. 

This is a photo of the longshoremen on their way to the Ballantyne Pier. See the man in the bottom left carrying the Union Jack flag? That is WWI veteran - and hero - Mickey O'Rourke and I will tell you all about him on Wednesday.

Thanks to the Forbidden Vancouver website for the information on the Battle of Ballantyne Pier. Thanks also to the City of Vancouver online archives for the old photos.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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