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The Peace Walk years

In 1981, Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned in apartheid South Africa. Ronald Reagan was president and the USSR was seen as a threat to American safety and supremacy. The response: build as many nuclear weapons as possible and hope to scare away the enemy.

The Peace Walk began with just a few hundred people, crying out for an end to the arms race. Those who called them "Peaceniks" underestimated their ability to organize and rouse the emotions of the public. In time, veterans, church groups, secondary schools and clubs, city councils and aldermen, artists, musicians, and even the mayor of Victoria joined and endorsed the Peace Walk. The walk grew from 3, 000 people in 1982, to 15, 000 people in 1990.

Despite a few years with rain or drizzle, the walk and rally always took place, featuring music of all genres and speakers that carried the multiple themes of peace, the environment, and social justice. Sometimes the crowd stopped at Beacon Hill Park for picnics, or MacDonald Park in James Bay, but traditionally walkers met in Centennial Square and gathered in the front lawn of the Legislature.

Always among the Peace Walk's many organisers was the Greater Victoria Disarmament Group. It was supported by the Victoria Peace Centre, an office and library, established after a woman left the group a $10, 000 bequest in the early 1980s.

Church bells rang to welcome a multitude of people as they traditionally stopped traffic on Douglas Street, waving hundreds of colourful artist-made pennants high in the air. A woman once walked with signs on her two dogs, saying "Poodles for Peace". A mother wore a sign as she carried her baby: "Babies for Peace".

For a few years, a double decker bus followed the crowd with anyone unable to walk. CFUV also broadcast the Peace Walk live, sharing the experience throughout the city.

School groups took part with series of creative events. Two hundred and fifty Claremont secondary students formed a giant peace sign in their schools rugby field in 1986, as one of their classmates, who was taking flying lessons, took a snapshot overhead.

At the 1987 rally, some high school students performed "A Day in the Life of Emergency Canada" - a spoof on the agency's nuclear emergency pamphlets.

Students from across Victoria gathered for a few years to release helium balloons the day before the walk. Youth of the United Nations, who organized the event, also passed petitions through the schools, calling for world peace.


1989 girl with peace sign painted on face

Peace Walk 1989 supporter.

Signs of protest on ground before the walk, 1987.

Protest signs for the 1987 walk.

1986, arial shot of secondary school students on their school lawn.

Balloons released for the 1988 Peace Walk.

Protesters fill the streets in the name of peace.

Peace rally, March 1988.

1987 Peace Walk banner.

The Victoria walk began in solidarity with an even larger walk in Vancouver, which grew to 150, 000 in 1985. But the drive for peace spread throughout the province. Vernon, Kelowna, Terrace, Kamloops, and the Shuswap area all held demonstrations on the same day in 1983. Some of these towns were also joined by Prince Rupert, Prince George, and the Slocan Valley two years later.

During the late 80s and early 1990s, the walk held a Peace Dance on the day of or the day before the walk - Spirit of the West and the Big Band Trio played in 1988.

Artists also joined one year by displaying their work on Belleville Street during the rally.

The Earth Walk Years

The walk kept a duel theme of Peace and the Environment for the first few years of the 1990s, changing its name to the Earth Walk in 1993. Gradually the issues surrounding the walk changed from Star Wars (the US's proposed nuclear missile defense program), uranium mining in Canada, and nuclear research and testing in BC, to the logging of Clayquot Sound.

When the Peace Walk combined its theme with Earth Day in 1990, Victoria was part of the largest international demonstration in world history - involving 141 countries and 200 million people. That year participation in the walk almost doubled to 15, 000, introducing Victoria's long-standing reputation for having Canada's largest per capita involvement in Earth Day events.

Surrounding the Earth Walk was Earth Week, a series of events focused on environmental awareness scattered throughout the week of the walk. Earth Week 2000 involved well over 100 events, the largest number in its history.

1993 Earth Walk Rally

For two years, youth took part in the Shadow Project in conjunction with Earth Week, using chalk to draw pictures of flowers and animals, and words of love, hope, and sadness around the Victoria downtown area. Unfortunately, in 1992 a select few used purple paint to deface the base of the statue of Queen Victoria and the steps to the legislature. The Shadow Project was cancelled.

From 1991-1993, a 10K walk-a-thon joined The Earth Walk, involving as many as 75 people. CFUV continued to broadcast for a few years, and the walk attracted some new faces. Artist Robert Bateman joined the events in 1994. The Irish Rovers played for the crowd in 1995 and Mae Moore and Daniel Lapp and the BC Fiddle Orchestra played in 1997.

First Nations people began to play a more prominent role, involving both First Nations' speakers and performers. First Nations' drummers often led the sea of people as they wove through Victoria's downtown.

Korean War Veterans agreed to move their Medal Awards Ceremony in 1992 so that the Earth Day rally could take place on the legislature grounds.

In the last five years, the walk's greatest victories have been made against legislation that threatened its success. In 1996, the city of Victoria decided to charge Earth Walk's organisers over $1500 to pay for the cost of policing. Since the Earth Walk normally has a budget of $4000, this meant a 50% increase in costs.

With the support of the BC Civil Liberties Association, Earth Walk organisers successfully lobbied the city to wave its fees. For a few years, Earth Walk organisers had to compile a complicated amount of paperwork to receive a grant from the city to cover their costs. Now, the walk is an official city event and all fees are immediately waived.

Securing the front lawn for the rally is an ongoing struggle that has also lasted for about five years. The lawn has drainage problems in the spring. As a result, it is usually roped off to prevent the grounds from becoming too muddy. Walk organisers feel that the visibility of being on the front, and not the back, lawn is imperative to their strong message of unity and support. The negotiations continue.

1987 Peace Walk Supporter

1990 Peace Walk Supporter

1983 Supporter


Historic photographs used courtesy of the Victoria Times Colonist and Monday Magazine.

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