The Origins of April 28th as The Day of Mourning

At the 1984 Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress a resolution was adopted declaring April 28th as a “National Day of Mourning” to honour those workers in Canada who have been killed, injured or disabled on the job, or who suffer from occupational diseases. April 28th was chosen because on that day in 1914 Ontario proclaimed the first comprehensive Workers Compensation Act in Canada.

The idea caught on as labour organizations around the world adopted April 28th as a “Day of Mourning.” Today more than 100 countries recognize April 28th, although many refer to it as “Workers Memorial Day.” The day is acknowledged by the International Labour Organization, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the American Federation of Labour.

The Canadian labour movement lobbied for legislation to identify April 28th as a “National Day of Mourning.” Their efforts were rewarded in February 1991, when the Federal Parliament passed the “Workers Mourning Day Act” (Bill C-223). In 2000, the New Brunswick legislature passed similar legislation. Both of these Acts recognize April 28th as a day of national observance.

Since the adoption of April 28th as a Day of Mourning, “April 28th Day of Mourning Monuments” have become some of the most prominent “Labour Landmarks” in Canada. New Brunswick currently has seven such monuments. They are located in; Atholville, Bathurst, Edmundston, Miramichi, Moncton, Saint John and Shippagan.

On April 28th, the Canadian flag on Parliament Hill will fly at half-mast. Workers will light candles, don ribbons and black armbands. Wreaths are laid at the foot of the monuments and a moment of silence is observed. Businesses and politicians are asked to participate and to do their utmost to prevent workplace deaths, injuries and illnesses.

The April 28th Monuments are often inscribed with the words “Fight for the Living, Mourn for the Dead” It is a day to honour the dead, but also a day that reminds us of the need to protect the living.