Vancouver Was Awesome: The O’Brien Sisters, 1935


A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.

The On-To-Ottawa Trek began as a two month-long protest in Vancouver by a couple thousand unemployed men on strike from the relief camps that were set up and run by the military throughout Western Canada. On 3 June 1935 they decided they accomplished all they could in Vancouver and hopped on boxcars at the foot of Gore and headed for Ottawa to pressure the feds to do something about the unemployment crisis. The Trek was violently crushed in what became known as the Regina Riot. Although the effort failed, the Trekkers were successful in garnering public support and ultimately set the tone for Canada’s social safety net that was erected after the war.

What makes this image unique is that women’s role in the movement was largely confined to maternal activities like supplying food, raising funds, and motherly finger-wags directed at politicians. In contrast, the O’Brien sisters joined the mass of male protesters, attired in what the newspaper caption calls “their mannish best.” Unfortunately we know nothing else about “the pretty O’Brien sisters from Vancouver,” such as how far they travelled, what their motivations were, or what their personal economic situation was.

Source:  Ottawa Citizen, 11 June 1935