Vancouver Feature: Police and Strikers Battle on the Docks

Tensions between labour and authorities broke into open conflict a number of times in Vancouver during the Great Depression. At Ballantyne Pier, striking longshoremen clashed with police armed with a potent new weapon — tear gas.

In addition to tear gas, police used more traditional methods of dispersing the demonstrators. City of Vancouver Archives #371-1127.

Ballantyne Pier, 1936. Leonard Frank / Vancouver Public Library 8716C.

The Ballantyne Pier serves as a berth for cruise ships, along with Canada Place to the west.

Longshoremen on Vancouver’s docks were on strike in June 1935, one of a series of strikes that had affected westcoast ports from San Francisco north. Local communists had been elected to the union leadership, and police spies claimed that the strike was part of an attempt to bring about a grander revolution. The police prepared for confrontation by modernizing their arsenal with machine guns and tear gas.

On June 18, a crowd of respectably dressed workers marched toward Ballantyne Pier, led by First World War hero Mickey O’Rourke carrying the Union Jack. Their plan was to talk the strikebreaking workers into abandoning the docks. As expected, they were met by the new chief constable, Colonel W.W. Foster, who demanded that they disperse.

When they refused, the city police, backed with RCMP and BC Provincial Police, attacked. They pursued the longshoremen on horseback, beating them with batons and firing tear gas canisters wherever workers tried to take cover. The workers retaliated by throwing rocks and bricks. The “Battle of Ballantyne Pier” lasted for about three hours, with dozens of protesters and police sent to hospital. Fortunately, the machine guns that were at the ready were never fired.