Toronto workers strike for nine-hour work day (Printers' Strike), Canada, 1872

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Time Period:  
25 March
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Toronto, Ontario
To decrease work days to nine-hours (some workers were expected to labour as long as 12 hours).

The printers took the initiative for the shorter workday, commonly called in those days the "nine hour movement," viz., the Saturday afternoon holiday... Big money was offered to the men in lieu of the short time. But it was Saturday afternoon holiday that was wanted and not an increase of wages. - John Armstrong


The Toronto’s Printer’s Strike was part of the Nine-Hour movement. The Nine-Hour movement was an international worker’s movement striving for shorter workdays in the 1870s.

In January 1872 in Hamilton, Ontario, railroad workers as well as other craft workers formed Nine Hour Leagues. Nine hours was normally a reduction of two to three hours off a regular shift. The workers explained that society as a whole would benefit from shorter workdays because individuals would have more time for family and community.

From Hamilton, the movement spread to other parts of Canada, notably Toronto, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec. The movement gained support from smaller Ontario towns as well including Sarnia and Perth, and from regions as far east as Halifax, Nova Scotia. This came to be known as Canada’s first mass worker’s movement.

Toronto is important to the Nine-Hour movement because it was there that words were transformed into action. The demands that had started in Hamilton, Ontario were taken up by the Toronto Typographical Union. When these demands were not met the printers threatened to strike. The employers stated that the demands of the union were “foolish.”

The printers went on strike 25 March 1872. They focused on Liberal George Brown and his newspaper the Globe but engulfed all newspapers based out of Toronto. The one exception was the Leader. The owner and editor of this paper, Tory MP James Beaty, stated that, “[t]he shortening of the hours of labour is one of the most commendable movements inaugurated by working men.” Beaty was said to have been keen to see George Brown suffer as a result of this strike.

On 15 April 1872 the printers led a parade through Toronto, starting at the Trades Assembly Hall on King Street, marching down Yonge to College and finishing at Queen’s Park. The parade included marching bands and signs proclaiming the demands of the printers. The group started the march with 2000 individuals and by the time they had made in to Queen’s Park the crowd (made up mostly of working class individuals) had grown to around 10,000. At the time, the population of Toronto was 100,000.

The employers fought back in several ways. They brought in replacement workers from small towns to fill the positions of the workers on strike. They also started an association that opposed the movement called the Master Printers’ Association. George Brown was recognized as leader.

The Master Printers’ Association launched legal action against the Toronto Typographical Union for “conspiracy.” At the time, the activity of unions was considered to be a criminal offense (a law dating back to 1792).

One day after the parade to Queen’s Park, police arrested the 24 members of the strike committee and threw them in jail. Those arrested included John Hewitt and John Armstrong, leader of the Toronto Typographical Union.

Hours after the arrest, citizens met in Market Square to denounce the Master Printer’s Association. Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, seeking support from the workers and seeing an opportunity to embarrass his political rival, Brown, introduced and passed the Trade Union Act on April 18, 1872. The Act legalized and protected union activity.

The Printer’s Strike did not lead to nine-hour workdays. In the short-term the strike was damaging to the strikers. Many lost their jobs and had to leave Toronto to find work elsewhere.

The strike also led to many positive outcomes. Unions were legalized and the public showed that they were interested in their own affairs. After the strike of 1872 almost all unions began to demand 54-hour weeks for their workers. The printers of Toronto were indeed pioneers in the struggle for shorter workweeks.

Research Notes

The Printer's Strike influenced unions in Ontario to demand shorter workweeks. It took until the turn of the century for the movement to reach places such as Chicago or New York.

Babcock, R. H. (1981). A Note on the Toronto Printers' Strike, 1872. Journal of Canadian Labour Studies, 7, 127-129. Retrieved from

Bradburn, J. (n.d.). Printers Demand a Nine-Hour Day. Retrieved from

Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. (2010, July 30). Nine-Hours Movement. Canadian Museum of Civilization, 100 Laurier Street, Gatineau, Quebec. Retrieved from

Marsh, J. (2012). Origins of Labour Day. The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Foundation. Retrieved from

Nesbitt, D. (2012, February 16). Toronto Printers Strike. Retrieved from

Palmer, B. D. (2012). Nine-Hour Movement. The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Foundation. Retrieved from

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Karla Froese, 04/03/2013