After the Depression in the 1930s, there were many people without jobs or any source of income. The government had to do something to fix this, so they created relief camps for those without work. Many men checked into these camps, and they would do 44 hours of physically demanding labour a week. In exchange for this, they received room and board, some food, and living essentials. However, their living conditions were not optimal, and they only received 20 cents a day on top of their small portioned out meals and a few clothes, which was not a proper wage. The men in these camps were mad at the government for using these camps as a temporary solution rather than just providing proper jobs. As well as this, if anyone was caught complaining about the camps or organizing the camps, then they would be blacklisted and expelled. The men in the camps decided that they had had enough of the relief camps, and decided to stand up to the government to change the way they were being treated. This is when the On to Ottawa Trek happened.
In 1835, around 1500 men from relief camps all over BC went on strike and came together in Vancouver. They protested in the streets until Mayor McGeer told them that the Municipal Council didn’t have enough power to do anything about their complaints. He brought up a counter offer instead, which was that they would return to their camps, and he would finance a delegation to send to Ottawa to discuss the complaints of the men. However, the strikers turned down this option, because they wanted immediate change.
On June 3rd and 4th, over 1000 of the strikers decided to go all the way to Ottawa so that they could present their concerns directly. They started off by train, but soon enough they received a decree from Prime Minister Bennett, which prevented them from using train cars. Eight of the strikers were motivated enough to decide to walk all the way to Ottawa. However, everyone else decided to stay in Regina. They were fed and housed by private citizens, and were sustained by the Saskatchewan government. The eight men that were walking made it to Ottawa, but the Prime Minister rejected their demands, so they came back and joined the men in Regina.
On July 1st, 1935, the campers organized a public protest in the streets of Regina, which eventually had to be broken up by police officers. The police arrested Arthur Evans, and some other speakers, which then started a riot, and the marchers started throwing rocks at police officers. Two people died, dozens were injured, and one hundred and thirty marchers were arrested. This was the climax of the on to Ottawa Trek, and a few days later the marchers were forced to return to the camps. The way the Prime Minister dealt with the marchers was highly criticized and it damaged his reputation and career.
The On To Ottawa Trek had a large impact on both Canadian social norms and Canadian economic norms. This trek helped to spread the idea of autonomy within Canada. Although the March was not successful right away, the camps were shut down in June of 1936, so the marchers efforts were not put to waste. This march spread the idea that if many Canadians came together and fought for their rights, they could make a difference, and help Canada change for the better. This march did mostly involve white males, but it still spread the idea of autonomy and may have helped to encourage other groups to speak up for their rights.
In terms of economy, these marches showed the government that having relief camps was not good enough, and there had to be more job positions made. These marches forced the truth upon people: that something had to change, and these camps needed to be shut down. This march was one of the things that helped Canada recover from the great depression economically.