Monday, January 30, 2012

Pivotal Moment

by Alice Valdal

At Christmas, I received an interesting book, (one of my favourite things) called 100 Days that Changed Canada.  It is a different kind of history book.  One that draws attention to the day-to-day matters that affect the lives of Canadians, things like the invention of Pablum, or the day Foster Hewitt called his first hockey game live on radio station CFCA or the day Stompin' Tom Connors sent back his Juno Awards.
    One of the dates singled out for this book was March 16, 1907, the day the Lord's Day Act was passed.  Before then Canadians worked seven days a week, old and young alike, often in miserable conditions.  If you think children working underground in a coal mine only happened in Dickens' England, think again.  Canadian children worked in the mines of Sydney, Nova Scotia and the factories of Toronto.  Work days were 12 to 16 hours long, conditions were dirty and dangerous. 
   The crusade for a shorter work week was lead by the Reverend John G. Shearer, a Presbyterian minister in Toronto.  He founded the Moral and Social Reform Council of Canada.  Support for the idea came from a variety of interests.  Religious groups campaigned on the premise that it was wrong not to observe the Sabbath.  Labour and reform groups pushed for legislation that would give workers some relief from their toil. 
   When the Lord's Day Act passed into law in 1907, Canadian workers, for the first time, could look forward to at least one day off every week.  A day when they could worship, walk in the park, spend time with family and friends and enjoy Sunday dinner. 
    The Lord's Day Act paved the way for the standards we now take for granted, things like an eight hour workday, pensions, child-labour laws and the minimum wage. 
    Over the years, the law has been challenged, and today commerce operates freely on Sundays, but the principle of a day of rest for workers is enshrined in our culture. 
    British Prime Minister David Cameron has taken a lot of flak for his assertion that Britain is a Christian country, but history shows that Christian principles are at the heart of traditions and freedoms countries like Britain and Canada enjoy.
    March 16, 1907, a day that changed Canada.

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