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Text with Happy Labour Day with a group of diverse professionals who celebrate the Labour Day holiday in Canada.

Marking the unofficial end of summer, most people know Labour Day in Canada for its extravagant parades and great shopping deals. Labour Day in Canada is an annual statutory holiday that occurs on the first Monday of every September. The holiday has a very deep and complicated history that many Canadians are not aware of. As we prepare for another Labour Day weekend, let’s remember to celebrate the workers, including immigrants, who built the country it is today. Discover the history of the Labour Day holiday in Canada and what it means for workers’ rights today.

Why Do We Celebrate Labour Day

The working class didn’t always have the rights we have in Canada today. Fair employment standards such as a safe workplace, a set minimum wage, and the right to join a union are some of the rights we take for granted today. The working class in the 19th century did not enjoy many of these rights. And, Canadian workers went through a lot to gain these rights. Labour Day reminds us and celebrates the progress and success of those dedicated to creating the workers’ rights and protections that we have today.

History Of Labour Day In Canada

Labour Day officially became a statutory holiday in Canada in 1894. However, the holiday finds its origins long before that. Many historians accredit the events of 1872 to have been the driving force behind achieving Labour Day. The Nine-Hour Movement of 1872 was a push for shorter work days at a time when most employees were expected to work twelve hours a day.

Nine-Hour Movement

On April 15, 1872, workers from the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike. They paraded with 10,000 union supporters to Queen’s Park in Toronto. At the time, however, work unions were illegal and it was illegal for workers to strike against their employers collectively. As a result, 24 leaders of the strike were arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy.

The arrests were met with widespread protest and the general population was enraged. The first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, responded by promising to get rid of anti-union laws. On July 14 of the same year, Parliament passed the Trade Unions Act, which legalized unions. 

Labour Day Becomes a National Holiday

Yonge Street in the early 1900s is lined with people celebrating a Labour Day Parade.
A Labour Day Parade along Yonge Street in Toronto, Ontario in the early 1900s.

This was a huge breakthrough in workers’ rights. The passing of this bill gave way to many other rights that would eventually be demanded by workers. After the events of the Nine-Hour Movement, Toronto would hold an annual parade to celebrate the victory of getting unions. In 1894, Labour Day became a national holiday. At first, it was a holiday associated mostly with work unions. As time went on, however, more and more businesses started giving employees the day off. Today, Labour Day is a statutory holiday across Canada and most workers will get the day off.

Labour Day in Canada

Today, most people see Labour Day as the holiday that comes at the end of summer. While the holiday still reflects what it originally stood for, many Canadians don’t know the significance behind the holiday. It originated as a day for workers to rally together and campaign for better working conditions and that has made it a unique holiday. Unlike the rest of the Canadian statutory holidays, Labour Day is not much of a festive holiday. Rather, it consists of activities such as parades, picnics, speeches and competitions.

Celebrations usually take place throughout the Labour Day long weekend. Since most Canadians also get Monday off, the Labour Day Weekend has three days. Many Canadians use the Labour Day weekend as a way to enjoy the company of family and friends. It is common for families to go on a picnic before the summer ends.

The first day of school usually follows the Labour Day holiday for most elementary, secondary, and university students. So, the Labour Day weekend in Canada is an opportunity for students to celebrate the last long weekend of the summer and prepare for the exciting new school year.

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Is Labour Day a Statutory Holiday?

Yes, Labour Day is a federal statutory holiday. Unlike most other statutory holidays, labour day is pretty straightforward. All government offices and almost all retail stores will be closed. Some convenience stores and restaurants may remain open but it is mostly pretty straightforward. Because the day after Labour Day marks the first day of school for students, many people refer to Labour Day weekend as the end of summer in Canada.

When is Labour Day in Canada in 2023?

Labour Day falls on the first Monday of September every year. In 2023, Labour Day will fall on September 4th.

Celebrating Labour Day Weekend in Canada

Now that you know a little bit about how Labour Day came to be and how Canadians celebrate it, let’s talk about some of the popular events that take place on the Labour Day weekend in Canada. Two of the biggest and most anticipated events that happen around Labour Day are the Pacific and Canadian National Exhibitions. The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) takes place in Toronto while the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Canadian National Exhibition

The CNE is one of the most anticipated events of the year. Every year, the event comes to Toronto in the weeks leading up to Labour Day. This year, the CNE will start on August 18 and run until Labour Day on September 4. To many, the exhibition is Toronto’s signature end-of-summer event, receiving around one and a half million visitors each year.

Pacific National Exhibition

The PNE is Western Canada’s equivalent of the CNE. Like the CNE, the PNE comes to Vancouver every year and runs for around two weeks leading to Labour Day. PNE will open on August 19 – September 4, 2023.

The PNE is full of entertaining performances, music concerts, and lots of food. This year, some of the events the PNE will be hosting include:

  • Summer Night Concerts
  • Barkade from the SuperDogs
  • Knights of Valour, a real live jousting event
  • The Flying Fools High Dive Show.

Both exhibitions are jam-packed with exciting activities and displays and are sure to give you an excellent time. They are a great way to spend time with family and friends while having the time of your life. The CNE and PNE might be the two biggest Labour Day events but they aren’t the only ones. No matter where you live in Canada, there will likely be a couple of events in the area. Many professional sports leagues also hold special games over the Labour Day Weekend.

With all of the exciting events that take place on the Labour Day weekend, let’s remember to celebrate the workers, including immigrants, who built the country it is today and who continue to fight for workplace equity.