Heart in Hand

© Maria Dunn, 2015

Arranged M. Dunn, S. Johnson, S. McDade


The 1986 Gainers Strike in northeast Edmonton’s meatpacking district lasted a bitter six months and reverberated across the country with a nation-wide boycott of Gainers products. Company owner, Peter Pocklington (who happened to also own the Stanley Cup winning Edmonton Oilers at the time) had pleaded with his workers to accept rollbacks in 1984 to help turn around the failing Gainers operation. In good faith, the workers accepted those rollbacks and improved production at the plant such that, two years later, they knew the company was making a profit and they expected Pocklington to negotiate fairly with them in terms of wages and benefits. He responded by terminating their collective agreement and advertising for replacement workers. The strike was divisive and ugly, particularly in its early days, with buses of strikebreakers attempting to cross the picket line.

In 1986, Renée Peevey was a young worker at Gainers, active in this struggle for better wages and working conditions. In 2015, she eloquently described her experience on the front lines of this “Battle of 66th Street” to Edmonton historian Catherine C. Cole. Her interview and this song appear in the Video Ballad entitled Packingtown.


It’s a bright June morning, beautiful day

And though it turned so ugly, I’ll remember it that way

Til those buses start in, like they’ll never stop

Coming for to carry some poor fool to my job


Then like a seamless dance where the partners glide

Or the graceful flow of stream and tide

We all moved, so instinctively

From the deepest well of our dignity


Heart in throat, heart in hand

Sitting arm in arm, you can see, here I am

I look so young, but I am strong, not scared

With my sisters, my brothers, I’m there


Do you think so little of me, do you think of me at all

As we slow your bus to a crawl?

As your boss tries to bring us to our knees

As the window smashes, do you think of me?


How I work hard, I’m good at my job

We saved this company, and all for what?

To be sneered at, sold out, undermined

Do you think of me when you cross the line?


One by one, they try to take us all away

But like pebbles on a beach, we shift and remain

You can grind your heel down into the sand

But your mark disappears when the next wave lands


Oh, heart in hand, our bodies on the line

We who never took a handout in our lives

Now the goodwill and the money pours in

It makes me weep, such a simple thing


Maria Dunn vocal, acoustic guitar, accordion

Debbie Houle harmony vocal

Shannon Johnson violin

Jeremiah McDade whistle

Solon McDade upright bass