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The Industrial Banner

The Industrial Banner
Plaque no. 64
Date of plaque unveiling
17 November 2009
Speakers
Prof. David Spencer
Location
420 Richmond Street, London, Ontario (south facade of Scotiabank Building)
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History

Currently, 420 Richmond Street  is a Scotiabank branch, but at one time the land adjoining it belonged to the London Advertiser Printing and Publishing Company.  The London Advertiser is significant to the city because a newspaper of the same name was printed at that location and, perhaps even more importantly, because Canada’s first and longest-running labour newspaper was also printed there, The Industrial Banner.

For its first issue in 1891, the Industrial Banner was printed at the United Labour Hall.  Original editor Joseph T. Marks, along with his colleagues Rudolph Hessel, Henry Ashplant and Frank Plant, thought it was time for London to have a paper that was devoted to championing the rights of the Canadian working class, and so this monthly newspaper was born. 

Through the Industrial Banner, the editors provided a voice for unionists in the city and even went on to create their own political party, distinct from the existing Liberals and Conservatives.  From this, the “Independent Labour Party of Ontario” was created.  It met with some success over the years, including the election of Frank Plant to council in 1899.

Aside from the part the paper played in politics, the editors had another aim – to promote education for workers and literacy in the entire community.  Most important to them were the creation of a public library and the provision of free textbooks to schoolchildren.  Both of these eventually did occur in the city in later years, but the first referendum on creating a public library did not pass.   After this the editors of the newspaper, along with their sponsors, decided that they should take upon themselves the responsibility of improving literacy. 

To do so, they founded a reading room at the United Labour Hall.  This proved that there was enough interest in literacy and that people in London were serious about the issue.  In 1895 – two years after the opening of the reading room – a second referendum was held on whether to open a library and this one, fortunately, passed.  Joseph Marks, as one of the strongest proponents of the idea, became a founding member of the London Public Library Board. 

For approximately twenty years The Industrial Banner was printed in London at the Advertiser location.   Around 1913, production moved to Toronto, where editor Marks and the Independent Labour Party of Ontario hoped to make their own mark on the political stage.  After ten years in this location, the paper folded.

Though The Industrial Banner saw its end in Toronto, it clearly had its greatest impact in London.  Through the ideas of Joseph Marks and his colleagues, it provided a voice for the working class when they needed it most.  Their influence is still felt through the introduction of a proper public library system – one that still serves London to this day.