Northeastern Minnesota celebrates its Labor roots

The Chestnut Street funeral procession for John Alar. Mining company guards shot Alar outside his home in Virginia, Minnesota, during the IWW Mesabi Iron Range strike of 1916.

Maybe it’s just because I’m practically drowning in Iron Range history research these days, but Labor Day seems a significant holiday to mark this year. After all, we see workers standing for fair pay across the Mesabi Iron Range this week.

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about the transition of the region’s economy, on automation and trade, the plight of modern workers. So much of this is new, and yet not terribly dissimilar from the old labor fights.

Those battles, after all, gave us the 8-hour work week, overtime pay and safety protections now built into many jobs. And they also gave us the sketchy potato salad and accordion versions of Woody Guthrie songs you might enjoy this weekend.

Many towns have small Labor Day gatherings, but in Northeastern Minnesota there seem to be a few big ones.

Iron Range Labor Assembly Labor Day Picnic

On Monday, Sept. 3, the Iron Range Labor Assembly will host its annual Labor Day picnic from noon to 4 p.m. at Olcott Park in Virginia, Minn. This could be an interesting event if the Steelworkers are on strike or locked out from area mines.

Carlton County Labor Day Weekend

Another major event in Northeastern Minnesota happens in and around Cloquet, a paper mill town southwest of Duluth. Cloquet holds one of the longest running Labor Day traditions in the nation.

There’s a Fun Run and car show in the morning. At 11 a.m., the parade winds down Cloquet Avenue from 18th St. N. to 8th St N. This is the largest Labor Day Parade in the area, and one of the longest continuously-held Labor Day Parades in the nation.

The Cloquet Labor Day Picnic runs noon to 2 p.m. This free picnic is open to all. It will be held upstairs of the Cloquet Labor Temple, 1403 Avenue C, and beginning right after the parade.

From 12-5 p.m. the Labor Day Carnival in Pinehurst Park occurs at Hwy 33 and Carlton Avenue in Cloquet. Attractions include a petting zoo, inflatable amusement rides, face painting, Army National Guard Rock Climbing Wall, the Sawdust Scramble, and a folk singer that will conduct sing alongs and maypole dances.

Duluth AFL-CIO Labor Picnic

Duluth’s big Labor Day picnic will happen noon to 4 p.m. at Bayfront Festival Park on the shores of Lake Superior.

Bovey Farmers Day

In 1912, the citizens of the western Mesabi Iron Range city of Bovey threw their first Farmers Day celebration.

While Bovey became known as a mining town, it’s foundation was also rooted in the need for an agricultural hub in east central Itasca County. The region’s early harvest season coincided with Labor Day, hence Farmer’s Day.

Bovey holds an entire weekend of Farmers Day activities starting Friday. The schedule is below:


  1. Joe musich says

    And as a questions about contract with steelworkers will give them their share …

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