Friday, May 2, 2014

Bloody Sunday

This photo of a man donning a gas mask is from the City of Vancouver archives.
Five o'clock in the morning of June 19, 1938 is when all hell broke loose. Presumably, this zero hour chosen by officials was to minimize the number of onlookers and surprise the unemployed men camped out at the post office and the art gallery.

Colonel Foster enlisted the help of Harold Winch of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, who had acted as a liaison in the 1935 relief camp strike. Winch's assignment this time was to ensure that the protesters left the art gallery and the treasures within remained unharmed. Winch successfully negotiated the withdrawal of the unemployed men with a little help from police tear gas canisters.

The post office, however, wasn't the same story.

The post office was a federal building so the RCMP led the assault. The leader of the dissidents, Steve Brodie was known for his infectious militancy. The men inside responded to the first round of tear gas by breaking the windows to allow fresh air inside and hurling whatever they could find at the advancing officers. The RCMP entered the building and forcibly ejected the men into the waiting cordon of police waiting with batons.

It was a bloody mess. Of the 42 hospitalized, only five were police and all of those were Vancouver police constables. 

Supporters of the sit down strike immediately arrived on the scene and following the eviction, the throng marched back to the East End, smashing windows in the Woodwards and Spencer department stores as well as other targets. They caused $35,000 in damage.
As in 1935, the Ukrainian Labour Temple served as a makeshift hospital with the help of volunteer doctors. Steve Brodie had been targeted by the police for particularly brutal treatment and was left with a permanent eye injury. A former militia sergeant, Arthur Redseth, slipped on the post office floor during the fracas and another Serb, 'Little Mike', managed to drag Redseth out of the building through the police clubs to safety. Unfortunately, the gauntlet of police clubs managed to knock Redseth's eye out of the socket. 

Redseth was later rejected for service in World War II because of this injury and committed suicide in 1942. Little Mike asked the police to call an ambulance for his friend and received an injury that required five stitches to his jaw in response. Little Mike died at Dieppe the same year as Redseth committed suicide.

Even though this occurred early in the morning, onlookers, supporters and photographers from the Vancouver Daily Province newspaper arrived on scene. News of what happened travelled fast and that Father's Day afternoon, between ten and fifteen thousand people went to the Powell Street Grounds to protest the police terror of 'Bloody Sunday'. Many thousands also went to the CPR pier to send off a delegation to Victoria to meet with the premier.
Premier Pattullo refused to give any concessions to the unemployed, saying these men had "too much sympathy already". He did try to use this event as evidence the federal government should restore relief funds to the provinces. Prime Minister King offered the same response as his Conservative opponent, R.B. Bennett, gave in 1935. Relief was a provincial responsibility. 

I would like to thank Wikipedia for the information and the Vancouver Library for all the photos except where noted.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. It is getting to look pretty bad here for unemployment and the government is spending far more than what is being brought in. Here in this country today there are 86 million full time private sector workers and 148 million Americans receiving benefits that is Earned Income Credit or Welfare and we have a 17 trillion dollar debt. Do the math and our President says we are doing fine. lol

    1. It is a scary situation. This is the time when people have to realize that they are stronger than they think and that they can do more than they ever thought they could.

  2. Karen I agree completely with your assessment. We will do it. There are people who will step up when the time comes. Things will get worse before they get better. But then watch out. Thanks.

    1. Time to show what we are truly made of and become the people we know we can. It is the tough times that show a person's true character.