The Owen Sound CPR Strike in 1908 immobilized harbour activities in that important Georgian Bay port, the CPR's eastern Great Lakes terminus.
During the late 1890s and the first years of this century Owen Sound’s harbour was the scene of many minor labour disputes over working conditions and pay between dock workers and the CPR. However, in May 1908 a bitter confrontation occurred. When 170 dock workers once again struck the CPR. The company decided to respond with a show of strength.
The company recruited 100 workers in Toronto and brought them to the Georgian Bay port to unload the ships which were laying idle in the harbour due to the Owen Sound CPR strike. Their train was met at the station by a mob of strikers and their supporters. It seems the CPR had neglected to tell the new workers that they would be working as strikebreakers. This news and the size of threatening crowd helped to convince them to join the strikers’ cause rather than take up employment with the CPR.
Undeterred by this turn of events, the CPR hired another 200 workers in Toronto and brought them to Owen Sound. Once again, the train was met by a large crowd of strikers and once again the latest round of “imported” labour chose not to work, but instead join the strikers.
With the weekend approaching the CPR was getting desperate. More ships were arriving in the harbour and there was no one to unload them. With the harbour jammed with vessels waiting to be unloaded, on Saturday morning the company made the strikers an offer of settlement. Perhaps feeling a sense of strength, the workers turned down the CPR’s overture to return to work.
The harbour remained silent the rest of the weekend. But Monday morning the peaceful calm was broken. On the weekend the company had hired seventy more strikebreakers and brought them to town early in the morning hoping to break the Owen Sound CPR strike. Unaware of what was going on the strikers had not met the early train and company was able to get them working.
Meanwhile, the strikers were meeting at the town hall when it was learned of the events taking place in the harbour. The strikers and their supporters rushed to confront the situation. Pandemonium broke lose! The fifty CPR constables on hand to protect the strikebreakers were badly outnumbered. They panicked and fired shots into the crowd. The response was immediate. Strikers attacked with anything they could get their hands on! Some hurled chunks of coal, while others resorted to their fists.
Although a Toronto newspaper reported that twenty-one had been killed and more than one hundred injured in the Owen Sound CPR strike. But, in reality there were only a few minor injuries reported. Two strikers and one CPR constable suffered gunshot wounds and a few more sustained bruises from the pieces of coal which were thrown.
Fortunately, the riot did not last long. Owen Sound’s mayor, Matthew Kennedy boarded one of the vessels at the dock and from its deck he read the Riot Act. Kennedy then ordered both sides back to bargaining table and a few hours later, at 1:30 in the afternoon a settlement was reached. The same day, the workers returned to their jobs and began unloading the ships. The Owen Sound CPR strike had come to an end.
CPR Strike - Mayor Kennedy - Paul White Historic Photo Collection
If it not been for the swift action of Mayor Matthew Kennedy, there might have been more injuries and perhaps fatalities.
The information used in this article came from many sources. First and foremost was, “Owen Sound and the CPR Great Lakes Fleet: The Rise of a Port, 1840-1912" by Keith Fleming, Ontario Historical Society and the newspapers of the day.
A version of the article first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.
Charles Rankin, I Presume: October 7, 1840 marked the meeting of Land Agent John Telfer and surveyor Charles Rankin on the banks of the Sydenham River and the founding of Owen Sound.
Black History: Emancipation Day celebrates the abolition of slavery and it continues to be an annual celebration in many locations that were in some way, or another touched by the impact of slavery.
Black History of Owen Sound: Version 2: There is some debate about the first black citizen in the Owen Sound area. Here is more information for your consideration.
A Curvy Route to Toronto provided a rail connection between Owen Sound and Toronto, the curvy part was thrilling, but beautiful for the passengers and strenuous for the crew.
Billy Bishop: Owen Sound Hero earned national and international fame as a World War One Fighter pilot and used his high profile to aid in the World War Two effort.
John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.
Black Clawson Kennedy: An Iconic Owen Sound Industry provided income for area residents and economic development for the community for almost 150 years.
Amalgamation In and Around Owen Sound is not an unusual happening. Some form of boundary changes have occurred at many different times over the years.
Canada' First Pharmacy Chain Store: The Owen Sound-based drug store chain of Parker and Cattle is credited with being the first pharmacy chain store enterprise in Canada.
DC Taylor: Owen Sound Entrepreneur was not only progressive businessman, he was also an important contributor to the social and cultural fabric of his community.
Owen Sound Businesses: 1920s were owned and operated by families whose deep roots in the community and their efforts had created the backbone of the community and brought success to the port city.
Owen Sound: Dry Gulch Canada Learn the reason why Owen Sound was the last city in the grasp of the temperance movement.
First Cars in Owen Sound could be purchased for less than $500.00!
The harbour history of Owen Sound is rich with detail of businesses which were located at various wharves.
Hillcrest School Memories a look back at my public school days when Owen Sound's Hillcrest Public School celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998.
News of War: The 1940s was supposed to provide the world with a respite after the hardship of the 1930s depression. However World War Two brought more adversity.
Owen Sound 1840 Onward! From a clearing in the Georgian Bay wilderness to a booming port city the 1800s were a time of growth and prosperity.
Owen Sound's First Newspaper: The Comet came into existence a mere 10 years after the first settlers braved the wilderness that would become the Grey and Bruce region.
Owen Sound's First Town Council was created to develop the necessary infrastructure for a pioneer community to grow and prosper.
Owen Sound Tavern Bylaw (1857) tried to tackle the issue of monitoring taverns in the Upper Canadian pioneer wilderness.
Owen Sound's 1857 Bylaw: Dog Control illustrated how a pioneer town controlled dogs in the community, sometimes even using harsh measures.
Owen Sound CPR Strike in 1908 immobilized harbour activities in that important Georgian Bay port, the CPR's eastern Great Lakes terminus.
Owen Sound CPR Link began with a bang, suffered a setback, and ended with a whimper.
Owen Sound Entrepreneurs: S.J. Parker & Richard Notter used their wealth and their friendships to built many community-oriented businesses in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Owen Sound 1920 Stories provide an interesting look at the community as it was about to become a city.
Owen Sound 1920s: Optimism abounded in the port city as a new decade began, The town was becoming a city and the economic outlook seemed bright.
Owen Sound Hospital History is one of a community coming together to take care of the medical needs of the entire community.
Owen Sound Softball and Baseball has a Long Tradition From the 1980s Clippers and the Wawanekas to the 1990s Selects, Owen Sound has a been well-represented in these sports.
Owen Sound Stories: On the Attack! Throughout the history of the community, citizens were not afraid to go on the attack to promote the needs of their town.
Owen Sound Street Names honour the individuals who made a contribution to Owen Sound's development. Today the streets are numbered to help visitors find their way.
O.S.C.V.I.: the History of an Owen Sound High School details from the very beginning the establishment of a high school in the community.
Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 Owen Sound details life in the last wilderness in Upper Canada in the 1840s.
Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 (Part 2) continues the memories of Elizabeth Byth as she encountered life in the Upper Canada wilderness that became Owen Sound.
Pioneer Theatre was a big hit in Owen Sound and across southern Ontario, where Vaudevillians like Perth Ontario's Marx Brothers played to full houses.
U.S. President Taft Visited Owen Sound Ontario, a Georgian Bay port in a momentous winter of events in 1920 as Owen Sound celebrated its incorporation as a ci
Some Interesting 20th Century Events in Owen Sound: One, in particular featured a mayor acting to avert a major labour-related confrontation.
The 1940's: An Eventful Decade in Owen Sound and Grey County: A war; a surprising political event; sports celebrations and much more.
Wawanekas: Fastball pioneers who were a legendary women's fastball team from Owen Sound who dominated their sport for a decade or more.
Political Corruption in 1852 Owen Sound? Does it seem possible that this could happen in a pioneer community on the Georgian Bay shores? Read on, and decide.
Emily Pankhurst Visits Owen Sound. The well-known suffragette visited Owen Sound and spoke not only about suffrage, but the bolshevik threat.
Owen Sound Church History: First United Church was in fact the very first church in the Owen Sound community. It was preceded only Rev Neelands a circuit rider.
Lacrosse History in Owen Sound begins in the late nineteenth century and records the numerous championships that have been captured by Owen Sound teams.
Pioneer Ingenuity: Building Lime Kilns was essential for pioneers as without lime they could not build their brick homes.
Boosterism in 1890s Owen Sound targeted promoting economic development in Owen Sound. The port city showcased what it had to offer investors and visitors alike.
A pioneer home was very utilitarian. It served the pioneer family's essential needs, while the work of clearing the land and planting crops took priority.
Pioneer justice might be described as ruthless. But the question remains, did they always get the right man?
CPR Grain Elevator Fire in 1911 in Owen Sound harbour would have a profound impact on that Georgian Bay community.
Reverend Ryerson Visits Owen Sound and despite a great reception from the citizens of the community, he posts a negative newspaper story of the community.
The Leith Golf Course has provided many families with great memories. The history of this golf course starts, and ends, with the generosity of one family
Fenians: A Threat: The threat of an attack by Fenians was very real in Upper Canada in the 1860s and this was especially true in port communities like Owen Sound.
Inglis Falls is not only a beautiful place to enjoy nature, it is also the home of one of Owen Sound's first industries.
An Owen Sound pioneer, A.M. Stephens provided us with a story about his early years helping to carve out a community in this part of Georgian Bay.
Pioneer industry: William Kennedy William Kennedy's efforts to build an important foundry and machine shop on the banks of Owen Sound's harbour.
Pioneer Resort: King's Royal Park From 1840 meeting to opulent pioneer resort, the citizens of Owen Sound have always worked hard to promote the economic growth and development of their community, and their part of the Georgian Bay shoreline.
Sailing stories: Owen Sound Shipbuilding from the earliest time of settlement busy shipyards dotted the Owen Sound bay where shipbuilding took place, sometimes at a feverish pace.
Spanish Flu Impacted Owen Sound, Ontario causing illness and death throughout the region. But it also illustrated the strength of the community spirit in the area.
Golf Course Review: Stone Tree Golfing at the Stone Tree Golf Club, a golfer can also enjoy sighting American Goldfinches, Purple Martins and the majestic Blue Heron while they pursue their quest to improve their golf game!
Owen Sound Ontario: A Unique Perspective: Book provides a unique and humorous perspective about this Georgian Bay port and hockey hotbed.
Water Quality in Owen Sound has been an issue since the 1840s, two Owen Sound entrepreneurs in the 1870s attempted to rectify the situation.
Owen Sound, located on beautiful Georgian Bay offers a wide variety of entertainment and shopping delights for visitors of all ages. The city and its surrounding area has a rich history, parks and other natural areas for bird watchers, hikers, cross country skiers, etc.