In Canada, when we hear Labour Day, we usually think about enjoying the last bit of summer before the unavoidable return to work or school. Yet Labour Day (or Labor Day in the United States) was originally held as a way to recognize the contribution and achievements of labour movements at the turn of the 20th century. Back then, you’d be more likely to get together with fellow protesters on the streets, rather than with family and friends for a backyard BBQ.

As an ode to the workers of the past who fought for the working conditions we currently enjoy, including the 8-hour work day, here are a few facts about this statutory holiday.

  1. The very first Labour Day was held in 1872, when unions organized parades and rallies in Ottawa and Toronto, Canada.
  2. In the United States, the first Labor Day took place on September 5, 1882 in New York City. It became an official holiday in 1894.
  3. In most European countries, including France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and many more, International Workers’ Day – or May Day – is celebrated on May 1. It commemorates the fight for workers’ rights.
  4. In many Latin American countries, May Day is celebrated and recognized as a public holiday.
  5. In France, May Day is the only mandatory public holiday for all workers, with the exception of professionals providing essential services (e.g., police, doctors).
  6. Prior to the 19th century, May Day was a celebration of spring in many parts of Europe.