436 Main Street
"The 1919 Winnipeg Strike"
Tom Andrich's winning design for Mural Fest 2K6.
The Mural was ripped from the wall and damaged as the result of a severe storm with high winds in Sepember, 2012.
Original notes follow:
Prior to Mural Fest 2K6, artist Tom Andrich filed the following
synopsis in support of his design entry of the 1919 Winnipeg General
"I chose the 1919 Winnipeg Strike as a Mural project because the Strike was of
great importance to Winnipeg's history and to the Labour movement in Canada. The
present generation knows little about the strike. A Mural is an excellent way to bring
history into the present –to educate and to promote discussion. I've attempted to depict
the anger, the confusion, the violence, the passion, and the hugeness of the event. Over
30,000 people out of a city of 200,000 participated in the strike. Individuals gave up their
freedom and went to jail to advance the cause. People from all types of employment and
from all walks of life were united- even the police force went on strike!! Thugs were
hired by the city to replace the police!!"
"When the men returned from the war, they were promised jobs. Many were not
given jobs and those that did get work had to work for starvation wages. Women were
paid even less. The businesses refused to negotiate for better wages. The eight men
pictured in a group are some of the leaders that were imprisoned in Stony Mountain
penitentiary for uniting the unions. Some were sentenced to more than a year in prison.
One of these prisoners was R.B.Russell whom a school was named after. Some of the
leaders names live on as street names or buildings such as the Woodsworth building.
Their crime was leading the strike and asking for a living wage. The woman in the group
is Mrs. Helen Armstrong, leader of the Women's Labour League. She was also sent to
prison several times for her leadership role in trying to get decent wages for the working
women of Winnipeg."
"A 'Citizen's Committee of One Thousand' was formed by the businessmen of
Winnipeg to oppose the strikers. The 'Committee' blamed the foreigners for the strike
and the Federal Government deported many. The majority of the strikers were of British
background but the strike was used as an excuse to get rid of the foreigners. The
Committee of One Thousand feared that the Russian revolution of 1917 would repeat
itself in Canada unless the strike was put down quickly. The Committee and the Mayor
convinced the Federal Government to stop the strike by sending in the Royal Northwest
Mounted Police. In the process of stopping the strike on June 21, they beat and injured
approximately 100 people and shot one striker to death for 'hurling a rock at the
policemen'. His name was Mike Sokolowski. This came to be known as Bloody
Saturday. The strikers were so agitated they overturned a streetcar in front of City Hall.
The strike ended after the Royal Northwest Mounted Police attacked and dispersed the
strikers. Many of the strikers lost their jobs and many never got an increase in wages. The
strikers may have lost the battle for immediate change but gained the ability to unite
unions for a common goal and through legislation, to negotiate wages by collective
Tom Andrich provided to me the following commentary in an interview after the
completion of his Mural:
Tom Andrich: "I think this is an important Mural for our city. We aren't putting down
this kind of history enough with Murals. Murals often show the history, the events- even
the ancient Greco-Roman ones did this. The Mexican Murals often show what is
happening politically. Even Picasso's work showing what was happening in Spain with
the bombing and the killing. We have an amazing history here in Winnipeg; and there
have been a lot of notable women. Our society tend to talk about the MEN, street get
named after men and so on; but there were several Winnipeg women who were
tantamount in changing History like Helen Armstrong, Nellie McClung and Margaret
Scott. Helen was a real rabble-rouser, and the way I see it she was put in jail just because
she was a woman. They didn't consider it 'ladylike' or a proper place for a woman to be
promoting other women to strike and protest poor pay and working conditions. I felt very
strongly about bringing her into this Mural. She brought the women into it and made it
public. Would you go to jail for your beliefs? She did so several times and chastised for
what she believed. She wasn't even breaking any laws- she was doing what she thought
she needed to do."
"The top left corner of the wall features just part of the strike committee that went to jail.
I included Helen Armstrong in the group (N.B.- the original photo reference Tom used
for the strike leaders was only of the 8 men). Helen is at the bottom left of the group.
Including her seemed obvious to me. She went to prison several times for trying to get
the women to strike and to object to their low pay. The only photographs I ever was able
to find for Helen Armstrong was in the DVD that Buffalo Gal Pictures did. I took screen
captures of their photographs from the DVD." (Ed note- Ms. Armstrong's likeness varied
quite a bit from photo to photo, perhaps they were from different periods of her life; and,
of course a snapshot sometimes catches an odd pose which for some reason or another is
just NOT a good likeness- something I believe we can all attest to. Therefore Andrich
picked the two photos which seemed most to complement one another in terms of points
of likeness as well as those most pleasing to the eye; and based his portrait of her on
those two photos).
"I had to change Helen Armstrong's face a couple of times. I would paint it and it would
look fantastic up on the lift; and then I would come down and it would look terrible- it
wouldn't look like her. Working with the vinyl and the inks was a bit different. It was
more difficult to manipulate the paint the way I'm used to with acrylic, so the
brushstrokes wouldn't work the same. I persisted with her likeness, though, and I'm
happy with it now. I'm also really happy with the figures on the left, especially the horse,
and the guy, Sokolowiski, lying on the ground. The scattered rocks on the ground- I
needed good debris where he lay because people were throwing things, that's what a riot
is, and that's what happened. During the strike, there were actually TWO people killed.
The other guy killed apparently was hiding in a doorway and was hit by a stray bullet."
(Ed. Note- Andrich had two different sources for the 8 strike leaders portrait. As to the
identities of the men, the two sources were in agreement for all but the middle two men in
the back row, in which the names of the two men are reversed between the two sources.
Those two men are Robert B. Russell and John Queen. Standing at the far left is R.E.
Bray; next to him with the white hat and dark vest is George Armstrong. Second from
the right end is R.J. Johns and on the end is William Pritchard. Seated in front are (l-r)
William Ivens and A. A. Heaps.)
"At the very beginning, our projection (Photo 3) was off. When we were projecting I was
estimating that this group picture was half ways down, but because the vinyl being
draped on the wall for projecting was bigger than the wall being used to project on it,
what I thought was half ways down was actually only about one-third, so I ended up with
extra room at the bottom. When I put the horse in and the strike sign 'prisons cannot
confine ideas', that changed my whole composition down at the bottom. I had more
room than I originally planned. The same thing was true on the right half of the Mural.
Everything below the streetcar had to be adjusted for the amount of space I now had."
A further problem related to the projection for Andrich was that the vinyl was mounted 3
full weeks before Mural Fest began, and by that time when the painting could begin,
almost all (about 90%) of Tom's projected tracings and outline had been baked right off
the vinyl by the hot sun of that south-facing wall. There was only one or two lines left to
represent the streetcar and nothing else on the entire right side of the Mural.
"One of the potential problems I had to be mindful of was the size of the people as
compared to the streetcar. That was tough. My tendency was to make them too small
and I had to go back and forth several times until I was satisfied with their scale."
"On the last day I changed the length of the streetcar. I had begun wondering if I had
drawn it too long. Judy (Tom's wife) counted the windows and I had too many sections,
too many windows. I found that doing this actually improved the balance of the design.
I also added more people to the crowd. I had Judy pose for me for the guy lying down
and for the guy running. I took the horse from one of my mid-western art books. A
cowboy was riding it so I changed the cowboy into a Mountie. I had tried to figure out
earlier where to put the horse in because I wanted a full horse and a guy running.
Originally when I did the body it was way off and I couldn't figure out what was wrong
so I got Judy to wear a suit coat and lie down like she got hit and I took photographs (see Photo 14).
The next time I went to the site I realized from the photos that it was the positioning of
the feet that were wrong in the scene, so I redid them. Judy also posed for me for the
man running so that I would get the orientation of the body, legs and hands correct."
"For the Mountie, I did research in the archives to get the look of the Mountie uniforms
of the time- how they would have their belt going across their chest and coat, that kind of
"All of the strike signs were taken from archival photographs, and reproduced in their
likeness. The 'Strike or Starve' sign I wanted it to look like it had been lettered by an
individual and not by a professional- so I didn't take great care in lettering it, like it had
been done in someone's back yard. Of course there wasn't enough room in the design for
all of the strike signs. I look at it now and wonder if perhaps there are too many signs in
the Mural. But you need the signs- it's the signs that really help tell what's going on,
give an authentic flavour to the scene, and tells how people were feeling. Also, at the top
I wanted to use an unusual type of font for the '1919', something that wouldn't look
modern, like it had been done a long time ago. I still wonder if I should have done the
lettering for 1919 differently and changed those 9's."
Displaying Photos 1-3 of 14