NOTE: WRITTEN IN FEBRUARY 2019
June 21 will mark 100 years since an infamous day in Winnipeg history — Bloody Saturday.
The historic, violent Saturday afternoon was one of the final days of Winnipeg’s 1919 General Strike.
Bloody Saturday began after Mayor Charles Gray called in the Royal North-West Mounted Police to defuse a protest against the arrests of pro-strike leaders.
The next 90 minutes resulted in two deaths, dozens of injured civilians, and an iconic image of labour activists tipping a passing out-of-service streetcar.
100 years later, the tilted streetcar will be a permanent art installation at the corner of Main Street and Market Avenue, the site of Bloody Saturday.
Winnipeg artist and filmmaker Noam Gonick is the instigator behind re-creating the streetcar in L.B. Foote’s renowned photo.
Gonick and his family carry a strong value for workers’ rights. His father, Cy, is a prominent Canadian socialist.
“The strike is a hallowed anniversary in our family. I was raised to respect the importance of it,” said Gonick. 45.
The streetcar won’t be Gonick’s first project in honour of the strike.
In 1997, Gonick wrote and directed the short film1919.
The film depicts Winnipeg’s 1919 General Strike through a barber shop/homoerotic bathing house, one that actually existed in Winnipeg.
“I was in there either getting my hair cut or in the basement in my 20s, and I was thinking, this place was hereduring the strike,” said Gonick. “I went from wondering what it was like when the horses were running and people were getting shot, to thinking what if the strike was organized here, you know just for fun.”
The shop, located at the corner of Alexander Avenue and King Street, burnt down in 1999.
“When it burnt down news outlets had written that it was some type of headquarters for a strike organizing committee — which wasn’t true,” said Gonick, laughing.
Gonick took his streetcar proposal to the Winnipeg Arts Council, who Gonick says were extremely receptive.
“We had to do some serious fundraising and a little lobbying,” said Gonick when recalling early planning stages.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) has donated $100,000 towards the project.
After hearing Gonick’s pitch, MFL president Kevin Rebeck says they immediately wanted to help and thought it was a great idea.
Rebeck’s trying to get a sound system, a microphone, and a plug-in near the streetcar.
“When there’s a rally outside city hall today, it could be a natural gathering point for people who want to be heard,” said Rebeck.
Gonick’s brought in glass artist Warren Carther to develop the streetcar’s glass, which has been a challenging process.
In order to achieve the right colour and quality Carther’s decided to digitally print the glass, an uncommon method.
“We’re creating a look where during the day the glass is brown, but at night with the lights on it becomes a hazy, white colour,” explained Carther.
Until now, Gonick doesn’t think the strike’s been properly memorialized.
“There are various war memorials and Louis Riel memorials around [Winnipeg], but there’s none of the most important time in Winnipeg,” said Gonick.
Gonick is hoping the streetcar becomes a visual attraction in Winnipeg.
“If you see a picture of a streetcar and think, ‘oh yeah, Winnipeg’ — that’d be ideal for me,” added Gonick.
“It’ll be the new selfie spot in Winnipeg,” said Rebeck.
The plan is to unveil the streetcar to the public on June 21.
Gonick, while knocking on a wood table, says the project is still on schedule.
The streetcar is one of many upcoming events that will honour Winnipeg’s 1919 General Strike.
Starting in March there’s going to be strike-related book releases and a lecture speaker series at Millennium Library designed to educate people about the history and impact of the strike.
Throughout May Manitoba’s Unions are organizing a 1919 social, a Winnipeg General Strike gala dinner, and a parade and community concert.
In June there’s going to be a free full-day concert at Old Market Square, nearly two weeks before Gonick’s streetcar is revealed to the public.