Estevan Riot 1931: Weighing the Causes

IT ALL BEGAN WHEN...

In late August and early September of 1931,
miners in the Bienfait-Estevan coal fields
joined a miners' union and went on strike
seeking improved wages & working conditions.

On September 29, 1931,
a riot erupted
in the town of Estevan.

On this autumn day, carloads of miners
from the Bienfait-Estevan coal fields
-- along with some of their wives and children --
ended up facing off against local police and the RCMP
on the streets of Estevan.


PAS Photo Series R-B14216-1


PAS Photo Series R-B14216-5

Three miners were shot and killed;
some other miners and some police officers were injured.


Funeral for three miners killed during the Estevan Riot, 1931.
PAS Photo R-A18508


WHO or WHAT CAUSED THIS RIOT?


Was it striking coal miners?
Was it unsafe working conditions or low pay
in Bienfait-Estevan area coal mines?


Loading coal in a Saskatchewan coal mine, n.d.
PAS Photo R-A937

Was it a fearful mayor and town council of Estevan,
who banned a miners' protest parade?
Was it coal mine owners and operators?
Their company stores? Their company housing?


Taylorton - Western Dominion Collieries, 1930
PAS Photo R-A938

Was it the Mine Workers' Union of Canada?
Was it Communists?
Was it fiery speeches by union organizers
like Annie Buller, Sam Scarlett, or James Sloan?


Annie Buller speaking to miners in Estevan, Sept 27, 1931
PAS Photo R-A32584

Was it the government's response to conditions 
in Saskatchewan's coal mining industry?
Was it a town police force or the RCMP, 
itching for a fight?


During the riot, September 29, 1931
PAS Photo R-B14216-2

 

THINKING ABOUT CAUSE & CONSEQUENCE


The following guideposts are worth considering
when thinking about the relationship of
causes and consequences to events in history:

♦ Change happens due to multiple causes and results in multiple consequences. ♦

♦ These causes and consequences are interrelated and vary in duration. 

♦ The causes that lead to a particular historical event vary in their influence.
Some are more important than others. 

♦ There is an interplay of historical actors taking action to cause events
and the social context within which the actors operate
that impact analysis of cause and consequences of an event. 

♦ The events of history are not inevitable.
Change an action or condition and
the event might have turned out differently. 

Adapted from The Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts
by Peter Seixas and Tom Morton (Toronto: Nelson Education, 2013.)


USING DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE


Examination of primary source documentary evidence
created before, during and after the event
can help us understand the causes and consequences
of the Estevan Riot in 1931.

PAS, R-284: L-M1 – Saskatchewan Department of Labour,
Deputy Minister’s Office – Estevan Bienfait Coal Mine, 1931

Click here to access
primary source documentary evidence 
related to the Estevan Riot.