Paving the Old Yale Road between Langley Prairie and Murrayville Five Corners, 1922. This was Langley’s first stretch of paved road. (Langley Centennial Museum collection/ Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Langley teachers take the stand

Educators fought for a salary increase in 1939

The first Monday of September marks a day off for many workers in Canada, and has been a designated statutory holiday since 1894.

Labour Day celebrates the achievement of the workers, stemming all the way back to 1872 when a parades through the streets of Toronto to secure shorter working days – often referred to as the Nine Hour Movement.

Langley was not immune to strikes and strife regarding local labour; roughly 50 teachers unified in 1939, demanding that their salary ($780 a year for elementary teachers and $1,100 for senior instructors) be increased.

Law required these requests be taken to arbitration, though the Langley School Board’s dispute struggled to find serious backing and proper attention because of the Second World War.

Kobi Christian, Langley Centennial Museum curator, said school board chairman J. W. Berry verbally attacked the teachers in Langley Advance articles.

“One of his arguments was that teachers’ should not have been asking for anything during the war, while so many others were sacrificing,” Christian explained.

Connie Jervis rose up as the Langley Teacher’s Association leader, eventually helping take the school board to country court in 1940.

Jervis, along with 13 other teachers were momentarily fired until they did successfully fight to gain their jobs back.

In retaliation, the school board assigned each demoted teacher to more remote and undesirable classrooms – barring them from their previous classrooms.

Jervis instead showed up to her rightful classroom and sat in what had been her teacher’s desk.

“When they were reassigned to other schools, Jervis and others returned to their previous classrooms, almost like a sit-in,” Christian explained, adding that Berry visited each school to demand that the teacher’s leave immediately for their reassigned classrooms.

Jervis refused to leave, even with Berry’s alleged pacing down the aisles and insisting that she leave the schoolhouse.

When it became clear teachers would not take no for an answer, their rightful positions were restored and salary increases approved.

Historically, workers celebrated the day with parades, speeches, games, competitions, and picnics to truly mark a day dedicated to the worker.

The holiday promoted working-class solidarity and belonging during a time of rapid industrialization, though physical celebrations and commemoration have significantly shrunk since the Second World War.

Labour Day around the world is generally linked with International Worker’s Day on May 1, and many iterations are marked at different times during the year.

Canada and the United States are the only two countries to share Labour Day during the first week of September.

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Is there more to this story?

Email: ryan.uytdewilligen@langleyadvancetimes.com

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Connie Winter (Jervis) presents Alice Brown with a gift in the 1960s. (Langley Centennial Museum collection/Special to the Advance Times)

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