Over the years Canadians have taken to the streets in protest for scores of reasons. Most often, politicians are the source of public ire, and so scarecrows in their likeness have faced the flames. At other times, the more creative members of unruly mobs have worked artful metaphor into the performance. A handful of protests over a hundred years of Canadian history prove that economics was often a cause that brought the torch to the tinder.
|Revolutionary Lego Men protest British Taxation|
Cooperman Brick Foundry
An early account of symbolic arson arose in the colony of New Brunswick when the British mercantile system was teetering on the breach. Timber became a profitable export after Napoleon's European blockade halted the supply of Baltic wood to Britain. After the War of 1812, the lumber barons of New Brunswick were quick to press authorities for a preferential tariff against non-imperial timber so they could still turn a profit.
|"View of the Town of St. Andrew's with its magnificent Harbour and Bay", ca. 1840.|
Coloured lithograph by William Day (Day and Son Lithographers) after a sketch by Frederick Wells. Credit: Library and Archives Canada/C-016386.Family Heritage
An 1831 description of pyrotechnics in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, shows the great enthusiasm for news of a British ruling which maintained the tariff.
A boat said to be Baltic built, was filled with a cargo of combustibles and ... towed into the harbour, where she was moored. The Effigy of a distinguished supporter of the Baltic interests was suspended from the mast with a paper in his hand bearing the superscription "Baltic Timber Bill" - several pounds of gunpowder were concealed under his waist coat, and there was a large quantity in the boat. The combustibles were set fire to, and in due seasons, poor ______ was blown to atoms." (Cited in Graeme Wynn, "On the Margins of Empire", Illustrated History of Canada, 2007, p.199)
The protectionism of Sir John A. Macdonald's National Policy proves tarriffs were still a pressing issue after confederation. In the Conservatives last electoral victory with The Old Chieftain, reciprocity in trade (free trade on many goods) was on the receiving end of a symbolic scorching. Historian D.J. Hall noted that when John A. Macdonald's Conservatives won the 1891 election, supporters in Brandon, Manitoba, hit the streets in a victory parade. The procession included the burning of a bin of "Liberal" rubbish labelled "Unrestricted Reciprocity." Hall notes that "the Liberals were consoled when, despite the Tories' best efforts, it resolutely refused to ignite." (Hall, The Young Napoleon, p.50)
|Glenbow Museum and Archives File number: NA-3561-1|
Title: Social Credit rally poster, Fort Macleod, Alberta.
Date: July 2, 1935
To celebrate the victory they piled up packing cases, boards, and poles in the main street and built a huge bonfire. They made a straw man, to represent the former member and defeated U.F.A. candidate for Bow Valley, Jonathan M. Wheatley. Around this effigy they wrapped the election posters of all the opposing parties, and heaved it into the flames with a pitchfork. This act, they explained, was not to be understood as an attack on Mr. Wheatley. They meant nothing personal: they were burning the monetary system. (Irving, 332)
Mr. Wheatley's reaction to his stunt double's use in this fiscal allusion is not recorded. The crowd's sentiments suggest the specious dogma of Social Credit financial ideology had taken a firm grasp of the Albertan psyche. Wheatley's treatment shows there could be sinister undertones to such pageantry, with the threat of violence directed at the effigy's mold.
|Protest of Maine Liquor Laws in Saint John N.B.|
featured burning effigies of US authorities.