Photo Story: Labour Day

For nearly 150 years, the Toronto Labour Day Parade has been an event where workers express their identity, union affiliation, and demands through the use of banners and flags.

These photos, spanning a 40-year period, show banners as an integral part of public actions. Whether suspended from parade floats or held by marchers, these pieces of material culture symbolize shared values, strength in numbers, and the power of the union.

Black and white photo of men in uniform marching in the street, the two in front carrying a banner reading IRON WORKERS at the top
Metro unionists, 8,500 strong, march to the music of 20 bands and accompanied by 30 floats in the 92nd annual Labour Day parade. The march, from Queen St. and Spadina Ave. to the CNE marked the 102nd anniversary of Labour Council of Metro Toronto (now the Toronto and York District Labour Council), an organization of 350 unions with a membership of more than 150,000. Floats were judged by local politicians including NDP Leader Stephen Lewis. September 3, 1973. Toronto Star Photograph Archive. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library. Photographer: Mario Gio
A long horizontal banner with a black background, white edges and text, six small metal circles in the corners and midpoints of the long edges, text reads union name and affiliations
Banner of the International Union of Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers
Colour photo of a parade, many people carrying flags and banners
Labour Council of Metro Toronto and York Region banner by Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge at the Labour day parade in Toronto, 2012. Image courtesy of the artists.
Black and white photo of people in parading along a wet street, some carrying banners, a car with a union poster board on top in front, there ane many onlookers, some with umbrellas up
Workers’ march: More than 16,000 trade unionists from 40 organizations marched in Metro’s Labour Day parade. The intermittent rain dampened marchers’ clothes but not their spirits and there were lots of onlookers as the parade made its way to the CNE. September 1, 1980. Toronto Star Photograph Archive. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library. Photographer: David Cooper
Long horizontal orange banner with words across the top in black UNITED ELECTRICAL, RADIO & MACHINE WORKERS OF CANADA (UE), and across the bottom PEACE • JOBS • SECURITY, a green maple leaf in the middle with the initials UE across it
Banner of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of Canada
Black and white photo of parade of men in caps, two in front carry a union banner between them, behind the men carry many flags, including the American and Canadian national flags
Walking tall: Members of the Labourers International Union (now LIUNA) march in Metro’s 117th annual Labour Day parade along Queen St. West. The parade denounced the free trade deal and backed NDP leader Ed Broadbent. September 5, 1988. Toronto Star Photograph Archive. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library. Photographer: Frank Lennon


All photos from the Toronto Public Library