Throwback Thursday – July 16, 2020

Throwback Thursday – Transit and Face Masks – A History

As many of you will know, we started a recurring Throwback Thursday post on our Facebook (ATU Local 583) early this year. With the eruption of Covid-19 and the resulting pandemic, we put that feature on the back burner for a few months. With the launch of our new blog, we’ve decided that now is a great time to bring that feature back.

Today we will be delving into a short history surrounding the enforcement of mandatory face masks for riders on Transit in the past and what that could look like in the present.

Our 100th Anniversary Book (wonderfully researched by Harry Sanders) includes the following clip from the Calgary Daily Herald on October 25, 1918:

“The war’s (World War 1’s) denouement came with the world-wide Spanish influenza that killed more millions than the war itself had. Among their other duties, motor-conductors sold face masks to the few riders who braved the streetcars.”


From the graphic we can see that local police were to help enforce the Health Board order on Municipal Railway. Specifically citing that Motormen were not to take riders without facemasks and those attempting to ride without one would face a summons. A previous article printed October 24, 1918 in the Calgary Daily Herald noted that police involvement would occur “if necessary”. (Article is from the Calgary Herald archives).

The same article notes the following: “The fact that the use of the masks is becoming more general throughout the city is probably responsible for the fact that the epidemic has apparently ceased to spread as rapidly as at first”.

The 1918 flu pandemic infected an estimated 500 million (1/3 of the world’s population at that time).

Today, in the midst of our own pandemic, the issue of wearing a mask has become politicized. There are many discussions around making masks mandatory in public places including on Transit. Of course, if it becomes mandatory, Local 583 will take the hard stance that our Members are not to be responsible for enforcement. We have little ability to know why the decision was made to have that fall on the shoulders of the Motormen (with the “possible help” of the police force) more than 100 years ago, but we do know that today, Members’ safety is paramount and we would not condone any of you being put in a position to enforce a government mandate.

During this pandemic, ATU Local 583 has had the Members’ best interests at heart at all times. Even supplying sanitation kits and face masks to our Members en masse. Officers have been busy these last few months making sure enough kits and masks are available and delivering them to a Member’s preferred garage for convenience.

We have more masks on the way, these will have an ATU 583 logo on the cheek and will be available in the coming weeks.

Looking back, we can see that Operators today have many things in common with the Motormen of the past. Not the least of which is being at the forefront of a pandemic.

A couple of things we do have on our side 100 years later are science and the protections of unionized labour.

COPE #397

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