The Nation-Building Bill: A Recognition of the Labour that Built Canada

-Slade Brown, Stephen Doong, Julian Gossen & Paige Leach

*illustrations rendered by Milo Groundawater

As with all capitalist countries, Canada has had a fraught relationship with its working class. And yet, without the tireless efforts of Canadian workers, Canada as we know it would not exist. By celebrating the labour of Canada’s exploited workers, we hope to begin rectifying Canada’s shameful history of abandoning the very people who built our nation.Our two-dollar bill honours two underappreciated groups: Chinese railway workers, who helped construct the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the participants of the Winnipeg General Strike, who fought for the rights and dignity of Canadian workers. Despite being denied citizenship by racist anti-immigrant policies, the Chinese railway workers who constructed the CPR sutured what would become Canada together; they quite literally built Canada. Participants in the Winnipeg General Strike also helped establish the power of Canadian workers on their own terms. Represented with the infamous tilted trolley, we recognize the importance of the General Strike not as a failure but as an essential stepping stone towards modern labour rights. Commemorating these labourers speaks to both an omission and an aspiration; by acknowledging the ways in which the people who built Canada have been forgotten, we can help forge a Canada which respects the contributions of all its workers.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Bercuson, David. Confrontation at Winnipeg: Labour, Industrial Relations, and the General Strike. Montreal, CA: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990.

Chan, Anthony B. “Chinese bachelor workers in nineteenth-century Canada.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 5 (October 1982): 513-534.

Donegan, Rosemary. “The Iconography of Labour: An Overview of Canadian Materials.” Archivaria 27 (Winter 1988-89): 35-56.

Eremenko, Kseniya. “The Centenary of Confederation as a Milestone in the Evolution of Canadian National Consciousness.” Études Canadiennes / Canadian Studies, no. 84 (2018): 31-44.

Idiong, Uduak. “The Third Force: Returned Soldiers in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.” Manitoba History, no. 34 (1997): 15.

Nieguth, Tim, and Tracey Raney. “Nation-building and Canada’s National Symbolic Order, 1993-2015.” Nations and Nationalism 23, no. 1 (2017): 87-108.


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