Wednesday, April 30, 2014


The year was 1938 and the Great Depression was hurting many. The maligned federal relief camps run by the Department of Defence had been replaced by relief projects run by the province and financed by both federal and provincial governments. The pay was the same, five dollars a month, and the work was primarily seasonal work on farms.

Many men from other parts of the province came to B.C. because of the milder weather and the opportunity to work on a forestry relief project, which paid more. From the government's point of view, these relief projects were ideal because the men were kept separate and therefore were less likely to organize. They did not want a repeat of the 1935 strike and 'On-to-Ottawa' trek. As well, this kept the disaffected, unemployed men out of urban centres.

This may not have been an ideal plan but at least the men were working, earning a little money and getting by. However, in early 1938, the Prime Minister of Canada cut grants-in-aid to the provinces, killing the relief projects. Premier Pattullo claimed the province could no longer shoulder the financial burden of these projects alone and shut down the relief projects in April.

Hundreds of unemployed men descended on Vancouver and these men were organized under the Relief Project Worker's Union (RCPU). On May 20, 1938, 1200 men left four different halls in East Vancouver - most believing they were heading to Stanley Park for a protest rally. However, when the group arrived at the corner of Granville and Hastings Streets, it became apparent that the park was not the destination.

About 700 men flooded into the newly renovated post office - now Sinclair Centre. Police reinforcements were called from Granville and Georgia Streets, leaving that area clear for 200 men to enter the Hotel Georgia while another 300 entered the Art Gallery.

The owner of the Hotel Georgia refused to call the police, probably worried about the potential property damage that may occur if the law arrived. He paid the group $500 and they left. The other two groups though stayed where they were for weeks to come. The art gallery closed their doors during the occupation but the post office stayed open.
This demonstration was led by a twenty-six-year-old named Steve Brodie. Brodie had been an activist three years earlier in the 1935 demonstrations and was now leader of the Youth Division of the RCPU. Brodie, and the RCPU, emphasized discipline among the protesters in order to get the public sympathy support. To this end, the post office remained open during the occupation.

Chief Constable Colonel W.W. Foster tried to persuade the men to leave, telling them that they had made their point and should now go home. Brodie politely told the Colonel that if these men had homes to go to, they would be in them. He also invited Foster to arrest the men, saying they would submit peacefully. The Chief Constable refused and decided to manage the situation instead of clogging the jails with 1000 new occupants. The attorney-general agreed with the Colonel, reasoning that the men would give up and leave in a few days. But those few days stretched into weeks and police officers stood by, waiting for orders to evict the men.

Colonel Foster had earned a reputation for diplomacy during the 1935 demonstration and it appeared that this was the way he was handling this event. However, behind the scenes, Foster was plotting with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and politicians to evict Brodie and his companions.

So what happens next? I  will tell you on  Friday.

I want to thank Wikipedia for the information on these demonstration.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. This story is interesting. As I was reading it I was thinking how many stories could be written about similar incidents in my country.

    1. It is interesting.I hope you like Friday's instalment.