“Never on Sunday” – the Holiday Shopping Referendum

Never on Sunday front page

Election brochure. City of Richmond Archives, MR 35, File 4569 (1981)

Many people today are surprised to learn that prior to 1981, most stores in Richmond were prohibited from opening on Sundays and holidays.  Provincial legislation, namely the Holiday Shopping Regulation Act, was enacted in 1980, and provided a means by which an individual municipality could ask its citizens whether they wished to remove restrictions on Sunday and holiday shopping.

As a result, Richmond Municipal Council decided to add to the November 21, 1981 municipal election ballot the following referendum question:

“Are you in favour of Richmond By-law No. 4016 which in summary would permit all retail businesses to carry on business on a Sunday and any other holiday as defined by the ‘Holiday Shopping Regulations Act’?”

Two groups emerged in the community to promote each side of the referendum question, a question that was being asked on a number of municipal election ballots throughout the province.

Back page of election brochure. City of Richmond Archives, SE 35, File 4569 (1981)

Back page of brochure. City of Richmond Archives, MR 35, File 4569 (1981)

The “Committee Opposed to Sunday and Holiday Shopping” was formed as an unusual alliance of church groups, labour unions, major retail stores, and women’s groups.  Using the slogans “Never on Sunday” and the “Price of Convenience”, the committee urged that Sunday should be “a day of rest” for church goers and workers, the latter comprised of a large number of women who worked as retail store clerks.  The Committee warned that if shopping was allowed, “Sundays and holidays would soon become another rat race like any other day of the week, with traffic jams, noise, congestion and frustration for everyone.”

On the other side, some larger, newly-established stores along with a wide-range of citizens argued for the right to shop on Sunday, listing various benefits including convenience, emergency needs, rights of consumers, and promotion of local shopping rather than cross-border shopping or shopping in municipalities which had already adopted Sunday and holiday shopping bylaws.

Lumberland Brochure

Election advertising. City of Richmond Archives, MR 35, File 4569 (1981)

By a margin of 14,434 “Yes” votes to 8,265 “No” votes, Bylaw 4016 received the assent of electors and was adopted by Council on November 23, 1981.  Retail shopping on Sundays and holidays was here to stay.

Bylaw 4016 as adopted. City of Richmond Archives Bylaws

Bylaw 4016 as adopted. City of Richmond Archives Bylaws