Did you know? Part I




During the early part of the 1900s, particularly in the 1930s, the RCMP was called upon several occasions across Canada to assist in dealing with strikes. The Force reported to the government on the intelligence they had on “Revolutionary Organizations and Agitators in Canada”.




A police force is fired – Winnipeg – 1919

The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was one of the most famous and influential strikes in Canadian history. For six weeks in the summer of 1919 the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba was crippled by a massive and dramatic general strike. Frustrated by unemployment, inflation, poor working conditions and regional disparities after World War I, workers from both the private and public sectors joined forces to shut down or drastically reduce most services. The workers were orderly and peaceful, but the reaction from the employers, city council and the federal government was aggressive.
The mayor of Winnipeg, Charles Gray, fired most of the city police force. Many officers were sympathetic to the strikers and they were replaced with 1,800 special constables, recruited and paid for by the business community. The “Specials” received a horse and a baseball bat to keep order. The Royal North-West Mounted Police, the Red Coats, were also brought in.

On June 10th, a riot broke out after the “Specials” tried to disperse a crowd listening to a speech. A few days later, the federal government arrested 12 union leaders, forbade the publication of the Western Labour News, and ordered the Mounted Police to put down demonstrations with any necessary force.

Following six weeks of national and even international attention, the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) descended on the city charged with restoring order to what authorities had taken to calling a “Bolshevik Revolution” run by “crazy idealists” and “ordinary thieves.” Joining the RNWMP were eighteen hundred “special” constables hired by the so-called Committee of 1000, which represented the city’s business interests. The RNWMP began its work in earnest in the third week of June, bursting through the doors of the city’s labour halls and the strike leaders’ homes, and arresting and jailing twelve key strikers. Finally, the RNWMP charged a large, open-air gathering of strikers at Portage and Main on 21 June — Bloody Saturday — killing one and wounding scores more. The strikers returned to work four days later, their demands unmet.

On June 21, 1919, war veterans organized a parade to protest the restrictions and a crowd of 6,000 people gathered before the city hall.
A streetcar, operated by strike-breakers, approached on its route. The veterans overturned it and set it on fire. The Mounted Police and the “Specials” charged the crowd.

Mounties face the crowd…someone always has to get the white horse!

Then with revolvers drawn,” editor of the Western Labour News, Fred Dixon reported, “[the Mounted Police] galloped down Main Street, turned, and charged right into the crowd on William Avenue, firing as they charged. One man, standing on the sidewalk, thought the Mounties were firing blank cartridges until a spectator standing beside him dropped with a bullet through his breast … dismounted red coats lined up … declaring military control.

Fearing more violence, workers decided to call off the strike. On June 25, at exactly 11:00 in the morning, the strikers returned to work. Forty days after it began, the largest social revolt in Canadian history has been crushed.

Seven of the arrested strike leaders were convicted of a conspiracy to overthrow the government and sentenced to jail terms ranging from 6 months to 2 years. Protestant minister James Shaver Woodsworth was arrested but not convicted. He was elected to Parliament two years later.

Mounted Police and Special Constables, perhaps after dealing with the crowd, as some horses appear to have lost their riders.

It is not the Musical Ride, but Mounties are performing the “Charge”!

Note the notation on the photo – “Special Mounties” – the hired guns!

Saskatoon – 1933 -BILL WAISER, SASKATOON STAR PHOENIX Published on: September 26, 2017

One of the great challenges of the 1930s was what to do with the single, homeless unemployed. In Saskatoon, the province took over an existing relief camp that the city had operated on a “temporary” basis for almost two years at the city’s exhibition grounds.
The Saskatoon camp was a troubled one.

The superintendent was a former army officer whose authoritarian manner became a source of alienation and friction. The men wanted a voice in camp affairs, but complaints about the food and living conditions elicited the stern response that they should be satisfied that they were not out on the street.

The growing population only increased the tension. On Feb. 2st, 1933, there were 391 men in the camp. That number climbed as the depression tightened its grip on the province — to 630 on April 7 and then 870 on May 5.

The Saskatchewan government sought to defuse the volatile situation by transferring men to other camps — starting with so-called troublemakers. A batch of 50 was to be taken to Regina by train on May 8, 1933.

They were not expected to go willingly. A police spy on the inside warned that any attempt to remove men would be met with stiff resistance.
Government authorities went ahead with the operation, ready to use force if necessary. When the group to be relocated took refuge in the dining hall, surrounded by their supporters, two mounted RCMP troops galloped into the camp to disperse the angry crowd and help the city police remove the men.

In the ensuing melee, Inspector Lorne James Sampson, Reg # 6252/O.281, #50 on the RCMP Honour Roll, who commanded the mounted police force, fell from his saddle, with his feet caught in the stirrups, and struck his head on a telephone pole while being dragged helplessly by his horse.

That poor young man died right in front of our eyes,” recalled Bill Hunter, the future Saskatchewan sports promoter, who watched the riot with some childhood friends.

Reeling from Sampson’s tragic death, the RCMP attributed the trouble to outside agitators who threatened the safety of the country in provoking the unemployed.

This could be Insp. Sampson, prior to his death, preparing to lead his troops. Barely visible written on the picture is Saskatoon, Sask – Riot Duty

Flin Flon and the Mounties

In April of 1935 the Municipality of Flin Flon, Manitoba, contracts the RCMP to be the municipal police, the longest municipal policing contract in the history of the Force. Parts of the contract reads: “the Royal Canadian Mounted Police shall be, and remain, a Dominion Force and shall be entirely under the control of the Dominion government.” The cost per year of the contract…$3,000.00 Number of men provided to police Flin Flon…three. Flin Flon provided quarters for the men and if they were married it was free. Wonder what those accommodations looked like? The contract was for a five-year period.

The story of how Flin Flon got its name combines fact and fiction. It can be traced back to the year 1914 when prospector Tom Creighton and his escort, local trapper David Collins, were exploring the northern frontiers of Manitoba in search of ore. Creighton and his associates Dan and Jack Mosher, Isadore and Leon Dion and Dan Milligan were exploring in the vicinity of Amisk (Beaver) Lake, Saskatchewan when they were shown mineral-rich sulfides by Mr. Collins, who had found the rocks in his hunting territory surrounding the north arm of Athapapuskow Lake.

The statue of Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, stands at the Tourist Park and Campground at the entrance to the City of Flin Flon.

Immediately recognizing the potential value of the resource, the prospectors asked Collins to show them the area where he found the strange looking rocks. Upon being led to the small lake where Collins had found the rocks, near the location of present-day Flin Flon, the prospectors undertook further exploration work and staked a claim to the property.

How the peculiar name “Flin Flon” came to be is where fiction begins to outweigh fact. The unique name Flin Flon came from a fictitious character in a dime-store paperback novel entitled “The Sunless City” by J.E. Preston-Muddock. A copy of this book was found on the trail by pioneer prospector Tom Creighton and his party prior to the discovery of the original ore body in the Flin Flon area.

The book told of how, a grocer turned explorer, journeyed in a submarine of his own design down a subterranean river which flowed from the bottom of Lake Avernus in the Rocky Mountains and into the center of the earth in search of the unknown. Flintabbatey’s journey took him through the Petrified Forest, the Hall of Jewels and the Sea of Earthquakes before he landed in the Valley of Gold where he discovered a new civilization of central earth inhabitants. Exactly how the bottom of a bottomless lake was reached is beyond explanation.

This story impressed and reminded the Creighton party of how the lake near the mineral discovery appeared bottomless that when it came time to record the name of the new ore body,

A more factual account related to the year 1929 when the C.N.R. was requesting a list of place names for sites along the rail line leading north out of The Pas. The diary of Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co, Limited’s radio operator notes the following, “They say they will call it Flin Flon if they don’t hear from us.” Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting never responded to the C.N.R. request and as a result, The City of Flin Flon remains the only city in the world to be named after a science-fiction character.

How did a nice group of RCMP Members end up on strike duty at Flin Flon in 1934?

The emergence of Flin Flon can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century and is the product of prospecting and mining. The discovery of gold around Amisk Lake in 1910 led people from all over Canada into this area. This was the first major discovery of gold west of the Ontario border since the Klondike gold rush.

Flin Flon became the quintessential boomtown. In 1928, the community’s population was estimated at 270; by 1930 the number was 2,000; and by 1935 it was up to 5,000.

Early Labour Strife

Flin Flon historian Gerry Clark details the famous strike of 1934:

A strike! How could that happen? Most of those who went on strike had only been in Flin Flon a relatively short while. Everyone knew how lucky they were to have a job. Many had arrived penniless and desperate. The company had worked hard to provide a community life. This is why Phantom Lake was developed.

When the Mine Workers’ Union set up its pickets, company bosses like R.H. Channing and W.A. Green clearly were surprised and felt betrayed.

So, what can explain the strike? It is still a hot-button question.

The company cut wages 18 per cent but could still pay shareholder dividends. Many issues caused hard feelings. Paying for electricity, when it was abundant and free, galled many. Safety was an issue at the company. Maybe strike leaders stirred the pot and maybe folks went along with the idea of standing up to the company without thinking about the consequences.

It was a terrible crisis for the new community. The RCMP, which had a reputation for harsh strike-breaking tactics, had brought in a large number of officers. There was a rumour the Mounties had a machine gun on the Flin Flon hotel.

Vintage WWI style helmets are used for crowd control. It appears that the only other effort toward officer safety was members removing their spurs. Lanyards still worn and the riding crop for personal safety.

It appears that the so called “harsh strike breakers” were doing their best to keep things calm.

The company refused to negotiate; and refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Mine Workers’ Union of Canada, accusing it of trying to start a communist revolution. This, after all, wasn’t so long after the Russian Revolution.

The strike came to a head in three weeks. Mercifully it ended a lot less violently than it might have.

The company offered the workers the chance to vote on the strike. There was a tense standoff on the steps of the new community hall, where the vote was held.

A group of women, wives of strikers, blocked the entrance, beating up anyone who tried to go through them. Some got beat up pretty badly.

By noon the police, the company and the town decided to close down the vote before something worse happened. By this time the strike leaders were all known. Arrests were quickly made and people taken out of town by train.

A week later the strike broke, the men went back to work and for more than 36 years there wasn’t another strike here.

Helmeted members standing amongst the crowd

Members wearing Stetsons and the old issue rubber raincoat deal with strikers.

The community must have thought the RCMP did a good job, and were not the harsh strike-breakers they were believed to be, for the following year they were invited to become the town’s three-member police force.

image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage