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Howard, Victor.

Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina, c1985. 206pp, paper, $15.00, ISBN 0-88977-037-9. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by R. Wieler

Volume 14 Number 2
1986 March

Victor Howard's book has been published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most dramatic stories from the Great Depression in Canada; the On-to-Ottawa Trek, and the Regina riot of July 1, 1935. The book, distilled from government documents, news reports, sworn testimony, and interviews with participants, is a descriptive narrative tracing the origins of the relief camps scheme and the subsequent strikes and aborted trek from Vancouver to Ottawa by more than one thousand destitute men. The title was chosen from the greeting given to the author by one of the surviving trekkers, Joe McKeown, who exclaimed: "We were the salt of the earth."

The book provides an informative and entertaining narrative of the events in the dirty thirties that led the Government of Canada in 1932 to create more than one hundred relief camps across Canada. More than 170,000 unemployed young men passed through these camps in the four years of their existence, as the federal, provincial, and municipal governments quarrelled over the issues of direct or indirect relief. The busiest province for the work camps scheme was British Columbia, and it was there in the spring of 1935 that labour leaders succeeded in gathering the more than one thousand men from the camps into Vancouver to stage a strike against conditions in the relief camps. Included in the narrative are vivid descriptions of some of the labour leaders, provincial and city officials, military and police personnel, and federal officials, including Prime Minister Bennett, and the roles played by these characters as the strike dragged on for two months in Vancouver. By June, 1935 the strikers had decided to take their demands directly to Ottawa, and they boarded trains in Vancouver for the long trek to the capital. The trek ended abruptly in Regina as the railroads, with the collusion of the federal government, refused to transport the trekkers further east. After a three-week stay in Regina, some of the strikers became involved in a bloody confrontation with police and RCMP, in which one RCMP constable was killed, and more than one hundred police, trekkers, and citizens were injured.

Besides the colourful narrative of the events that led to the Regina riot, the book is useful for its description of the various factions within the labour movement in the 1930s, the Communist Party of Canada, the CCF and others, who sought to support the strikers or use the event for their own purposes. The author also examines government documents at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels in an attempt to explain the actions of officials and the police at various stages during the strike in Vancouver and the trek. Howard describes the climax of the trek, the Regina riot, in rich detail and provides some evaluation of the motives of the demonstrators and the police that contributed to the violence. The book is a useful resource for students and teachers at the high school level. It contains sixteen pages of illustrations and is attractively printed and bound.

R. Wieler, Winnipeg, Man.
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