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Western Protest

Formerly part of the North-West Territories (which was demarcated from the rest of Canada in 1875), the two Prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan attained provincehood in 1905, but did not obtain control of their own natural resources until 1930.

Yet even before entering the Dominion of Canada, the West had an entrenched antipathy to eastern Canada, which it did not believe protected or promoted the interests of westerners. By the First World War, western Canadians were generally suspicious of the federal government, which seemed more concerned with pandering to the interests of the more heavily-populated "Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle" than other parts of the country. When Prime Minister Robert Borden granted a military exemption to western farmers in 1917, and then reneged on his promise several weeks later, the already-established pattern of Western protest was reinforced.

Matters worsened with the economic depression following the First World War, which created working-class discontent and made the West ripe for confrontation. This occurred in the famous 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, which greatly alarmed Winnipeg's city elites yet rallied thousands of political and labour activists, many of whom faced arrest and imprisonment for their display of labour solidarity. This included Methodist minister J.S. Woodsworth, who was charged with seditious libel and was incarcerated briefly. This unparalleled withdrawal of labour in a major Western city showed that all was not right on the Prairies.

The confrontation in Winnipeg, however, was only one manifestation of western grievances. During and following the First World War, western social reformers clamoured for prohibition and women's suffrage, which they considered to be part of a broader battle for order and equality in the Canadian Confederation. Meanwhile, political activists, weary of the dominance of old-line parties which did not acknowledge the contributions of the West to the Canadian economy or polity, looked to third-party protest movements to exert influence. This they found in the unorthodox National Progressive Party, which succeeded in winning enough seats to form the official opposition in the 1921 federal election.

By the 1920s, the West had an established regional identity that would manifest itself in future political and social protest movements with a distinctive western flair. In the years to come, the rest of Canada would have no choice but to sit up and take notice.

Further Readings

See also

Laurier and the Prairie West



Songbook published by the Industrial Workers of the World, ca. 1917
Songbook published by the
Industrial Workers of the
World, ca. 1917

Permission card used during the Winnipeg General Strike, 1919
Permission card used during
the Winnipeg General
Strike, 1919

Workers' Liberty Bond issued by the Workers' Defence Fund, Winnipeg, 1919
Workers' Liberty Bond
issued by the Workers'
Defence Fund,
Winnipeg, 1919


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