On September 29, 1931, almost 400 striking coal miners clashed with local police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in the streets of Estevan, Saskatchewan. The battle lasted less than an hour but left three men dead and twenty-three seriously injured. It was Canada's worst day of labor-related violence since "Bloody Saturday" in Winnipeg (June 21, 1919), and before long Estevan's day of infamy became known simply as "Black Tuesday."
Miners in the Estevan-Bienfait region had long complained about their seasonal employment, low wages, and atrocious working and living conditions. However, they lacked a vehicle to voice such grievances until the summer of 1931, when they formed a branch of the Mine Workers Union of Canada (MUWC). By September they had managed to organize virtually the entire workforce.
Coal operators refused to deal with the new union, complaining that it was connected to the procommunist Workers Unity League. In response, the MUWC held a strike vote and on September 8 brought the coalfields to a standstill. Over the next two weeks, the rcmp and private police were brought into the area to maintain order and protect property while employers unsuccessfully attempted to reopen the mines using nonunion men.
Hoping to mobilize public support, striking miners proposed to parade through the streets of Estevan. Although advised by town officials that this would not be permitted, the strikers proceeded as planned, and on September 29, accompanied by their wives and children, they descended upon the town in a convoy of cars and trucks. An early scuffle with the police resulted in the fatal shooting of one miner, which in turn sparked the riot. Subsequent criminal trials and a Royal Commission attempted to allocate responsibility for the breakdown in civil order, but given conditions within the industry, "Black Tuesday" is probably best understood as a tragic accident that had long been waiting to happen.
David Bright University of Calgary