Dr. Rick Huijbregts' Blog Posts

Happy Labour Day with George Brown


Today (marking the fourth week of my time with George Brown College) we are celebrating Labour Day: starting the beginning of a new (school) year. Last week, I thoroughly enjoyed the new-student orientation activities at George Brown College. For this week, my kids' backpacks are ready to go; we memorized the new codes of the locks for their lockers; food for lunches is ready to be packed; and an updated fall wardrobe is ready to be worn. Tomorrow, we will adjust once again, to the routine of school and after-school activities.

The summer is over.

To be honest, I have never given the celebration of Labour Day much thought. It always felt indeed as the end of summer and beginning of a new school-year routine, with picnics and fireworks. Or maybe it was the fashion industry that needed to signal a point in time after which wearing white pants wasn't cool anymore.

Of course, celebrating the Day of Labour has nothing to do with either. Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. Labour Day was an occasion to campaign for and celebrate workers' rights organized by trade unions.

Labour Day in Canada has been recognized on the first Monday in September since the 1880s. Its origins can be traced back to 1872 when the Toronto Trades Assembly called for its 27 unions to demonstrate in support of the Toronto Typographical Union's strike for a 58-hour work week. Then-politician and editor of the Toronto Globe tried to stop the strike which triggered the Labour leaders to march into Ottawa and demand for a 58-hour work week, and soon thereafter a 54-hour work week, from Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald. The labour union prevailed and Parliament passed the Trade Union Act in June 1873.

It was to my great surprise to learn that the then-politician and editor of the Toronto Globe was no one other than George Brown. George Brown (1818 - 1880) was a Scottish-born Canadian journalist, politician, and one of the Fathers of Confederation. Although his effort to thwart the strike for his economic reasons was short-lived and didn't mount to much, instead, a little research shows his more noteworthy focus and fight for ending slavery and for supporting public education.

George Brown College is named after this historic Canadian figure. As we recognize still, and George Brown did then, the role of education was and is critical to the success of any economy and all people.

As the world around us is changing fast in today's third industrial era, we see pressures on today's jobs rapidly increase. The nature of work is changing in the digital economy. Not surprisingly, the role and fight of labour unions has not diminished, still hundred-and-fifty years later. Some say that most of our jobs will be taken over by machines. Others say that new jobs will be created to help build and support a new digital world. The truth may lie in between…changes in industry, work, and jobs are inevitable.

Therefore, we need academic institutions such as George Brown College that are quick to anticipate market transitions; deliver leading-edge education; build relevant skills for tomorrow's industries; apply innovative methods to teach; support unmatched student success; while being committed to strengthening the cultural, economic, and social fabric of Toronto.

I'm sure that George Brown watches with pride and pleasure from his grave to what his namesake College stands for and has accomplished over the past 50 years. I am excited to be part of an organization that is making a difference in the lives of 10s of thousands of students…those that come straight from high school, that return from an earlier and maybe different career, and that want to supplement degrees from other higher education institutions with relevant skills for a brighter future.

From now on, I will never think of Labour Day anymore as solely the end of summer or as the moment for me to hang my bright white pants. From now on, I will remember that the person after which my institution is named had a enabling role in creating what we now know as Labour Day. I will also never forget the important role that George Brown College plays in providing relevant and future-ready skills that will support all-collared labourers prepare themselves for new and exciting opportunities in a digital and transformative future.

Happy Labour Day.

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