Archival Find Confirms 1935 Golden Tale from ‘On-to-Ottawa’ Trek

Archival Find Confirms 1935 Golden Tale from ‘On-to-Ottawa’ Trek

Photo courtesy Golden Museum and Archives.

The On-to-Ottawa Trek in 1935 is a fabled part of Canada’s social history.  Thousands of unemployed men, frustrated with the lack of compassion from government to their plight, boarded CPR freight trains in Vancouver with a plan to confront Prime Minister RB Bennett in Ottawa.

After receiving a cool reception in Kamloops and clinging to the outside of boxcars through the mountain tunnels, the men arrived exhausted in Golden BC on June 6, 1935.

The story of the trekkers’ arrival in Golden has become legendary.  Writing in “On the Line: A History of the British Columbia Labour Movement” [2018], Rod Mickleburgh relates that the “men staggered down from their perches and marched toward a local auto park”. 

“As dawn broke, there waiting for them was a bathtub suspended over a fire and a grey-haired woman stirring its contents—a vast beef stew—with a three-foot-long ladle.”

In “Work and Wages” [Swankey and Sheils, 1977] trek veteran George Tellier Winters describes that morning. “We got out of the freight trains at Golden…and marched…to this place the people had arranged for us.  It was stew and Arthur [Slim] Evans gave a speech and said it was the finest stew that was ever made…we were hungry.”

For decades the story of the Golden stew has been shared among historians, but there was never more than oral accounts of the day.  Until now.

Recently we received a tip from a videographer in Ontario who told us that the event had been captured in a photograph.  We could not have been more delighted to locate the above image of the Town of Golden’s contribution to the story of the On to Ottawa Trek.  Our thanks to the Golden Museum and Archives for permitting us to share the photo, and to the Workers’ History Museum in Ottawa for the lead.

The man stirring the stew is Slim Evans, whose organizing of the On to Ottawa Trek is central to the history of working people in British Columbia. To his left is Aleta Sorley, a resident of Golden and organizer with the Workers’ Unity League.

Trekkers lined up for stew on June 6, 1935 in Golden BC. Photo courtesy Golden Museum and Archives
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