Songs of solidarity and social justice

August 18, 2018

One of Canada’s earliest folk music festivals was held on August 18, 1961 at Oval Park in Orillia, Ontario. The struggles of working people for fairness and social justice have been, and are still the focus of many folk singers. So many songs are linked to the history of unions and the lives of workers – a part of labour history worth exploring.

Summer in Canada is the time of music festivals and one of the earliest held was Mariposa at Oval Park in Orillia. So what does this have to do with the labour movement you ask? Well – many folk singers of the past and still today focus on social justice issues, many of these focus on workers’ struggles and gains.

The Travellers - album cover from a record in the 1960s

The Travellers, best known for their rendition of a Canadian version of “This Land Is Your Land” with lyrics that reference the unique Canadian geography was the closing act at the famous Mariposa festival 54 years ago.

Formed as a result of singalongs at Camp Naivelt, a Jewish socialist vacation community that is operated by the United Jewish Peoples’ Order located west of Toronto. For a generation the group sang across the country and at a number of union halls and labour conventions. As past member, Helen Grey put it “The Travellers were formed to bring the message of peace brotherhood and the importance of working people through song.”

Today there are many – too many singers and songwriters to mention. But while summer is still here, try listening or singing to some of our favorite labour songs listed here:

10 of the Best Union Songs of All Time (CBC)

Top Ten Labour Day Songs (The Nation)

Last Christmas on the Place (Healy & Juravich)

100 Years of Solidarity (UFCW-Canada)

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