For the past 125 years, Labor Day has celebrated American workers by giving them a day to relax on the first Monday of September. In Fairbanks, that also means a parade and picnic.

“Labor Day constitutes a national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country, as well as the social and economic achievements of the American worker,” Doug Tansy, president of the Fairbanks Central Labor Council, said in an email. 

The council is sponsoring the 35th annual Labor Day Parade and Picnic on Monday, a day of rest and relaxation for working families. It will begin at noon with a parade from Noel Wien Library to Pioneer Park, via Airport Way. The Fairbanks Red Hackle Pipe Band will lead the parade. A picnic will follow at Pioneer Park. Tents will be set up near the volleyball courts and playgrounds, Tansy said. Several area youth groups and sports teams help with the children’s activities, which will include rides on the Pioneer Park train and carousel. 

The public is welcome. There is no charge. 

Labor Day was championed by the labor movement in the late 19th century at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. It became a federal holiday in 1894.

The holiday was a hit-and-miss affair in the first few decades of Interior Alaska history. In Fairbanks, the first Labor Day celebration was held in 1908. Newspaper articles at the time promised a “grand celebration” with an “unusually fine program” that would bring in “everyone from the creeks to participate.” Of course, it rained.

According to the Fairbanks Daily News, “It was cold and rainy, and only a few men were willing to join the line and plod through the muddy streets. The committee in charge had provided an excellent program for the entire day, but the elements intervened this morning and spoiled the parade, which was to have been one of the main features.”

The parade featured members of the brewers’ and miners’ unions, and one float, a Barthel Brewing Company wagon “loaded with kegs and decorated with flags and bunting.”

Fortunately, the rain lifted enough for afternoon activities, such as footraces and miners’ shoveling and wheelbarrow racing contests, as well as a goldpanning competition.

That was a far different celebration than that of two years prior. According to a headline in the Sept. 3, 1906, edition of the Fairbanks Daily Times, “‘Everybody works but Father,’ on Labor Day.” The brief story opined, “It is very much as Mr. Dooley would say: Labor Day is the day when the workingmen see the rich people enjoying a holiday and taking things easy. The working men kill themselves parading and then go back to work.”

A few years later, in 1915, a brief item in the Daily Times noted that Labor Day was not observed in Fairbanks. “The greater part of the business houses, including the banks, keeping open all day. The federal offices, in all departments observed the holiday by keeping their offices closed. There was no celebration of any kind.”

On Aug. 30, 1930, the News-Miner noted Labor Day is “the day when America calls toil and machinery to a halt. For Labor Day is America’s way of paying homage to her huge army of workers, the mighty cogs in the wheels of our Nation’s Industry.” Most business and federal offices closed for the holiday.

And in 1931, Interior residents flocked to Circle Hot Springs via buses from the Richardson Highway Transportation Company. The News-Miner reported that “Frank Leach, owner of the Springs, expects 150 guests over the weekend. An orchestra will go from Fairbanks to provide music for dances which will feature the entertainment.”

Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.

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