Originally part of an old-growth forest called Land's Bush (after Robert Land), Woodlands Park, on Barton between Wentworth and Sanford, was at one time one of Hamilton's most important cultural hubs. Known as "The People's Park," Woodlands was the site of labour organizing, including a 10,000-strong march to Stelco at the height of the workers' strike in 1946.
The 1946 strike was a major event in the nascent labour movement that grew alongside the postwar economy. Hamilton's economy and working conditions changed a great deal over the course of World War Two, with industry booming to keep up with the efforts overseas. After returning from war, many workers were no longer willing to put up with the working conditions they'd accepted before. The fight for democracy overseas strengthened citizens' sense of democracy at home, and the labour movement coalesced into a series of strikes throughout 1946. In July, steelworkers union members walked off their jobs at Stelco, demanding higher wages and a 40-hour work week. In solidarity with the steelworkers, employees at Westinghouse, Firestone, and the Spectator also walked off the job and joined the picket lines. By mid-summer, 20 percent of the city's workforce was on strike, culminating in the massive labour march beginning in Woodlands Park.
Hamilton artist Murray Thomson, who was a production worker at the Westinghouse factory and also organized an artists' union, led the march dressed in a masked effigy of Conservative politician Nora Francis Henderson while other protestors marched in effigies of abour opponents like Stelco president Hugh "Old Ironjaw" Hilton.
The Playhouse Cinema were great supporters of the workers' cause, serving up food to the strikers, arranging entertainment for them, and generally helping to keep morale high.
The workers triumphed in 1946, but the momentum didn't last. In an effort to disperse the crowds who formed a movement together at Woodlands Park, the city first cut down almost all of the beautiful old-growth trees that filled the park, gutting the space into a bare field to make it less hospitable to gatherings. Nonetheless, the labour movement had made great strides that summer, ultimately forcing the federal and provincial governments to pass more meaningful labour legislation that would help protect workers' rights for decades to come.
I'm Avril, and I'm the Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for the Barton Village BIA. On the Barton Villager blog, you'll find news and updates on Barton Village events, businesses, history, and community initiatives.