Street Railway Strikes, Collective Violence, and the Canadian State, 1886-1914

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Political trials and security measures, 1840-1914 / edited by Barry Wright and Susan Binnie, Canadian State Trials, Volume III. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2009.


Strikes and lockouts; Railroads--Employees; History; Canada


Street railway strikes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were often accompanied by high levels of public disorder. The challenge to public authorities, however, was not just in the scale of the disorder but also the disjuncture between the behaviour that a significant portion of the working-class community felt was legitimate in the circumstances and what the law tolerated. Public officials confronted with this dilemma had to negotiate between the disparate zones of community and legal toleration. How much disorder would they tolerate before mobilizing the coercive power of the state to protect the right of the street railways to operate with strikebreakers and how much coercive power were they prepared to deploy to impose the law’s order? These are the central questions this chapter addresses, but before turning to the Canadian street railway strikes that are the subject of this chapter, it examines briefly the development of the state’s power to maintain civic order in the second half of the nineteenth century.

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