Social Progress Web Gallery, Canadian Museum of Civilization
In Canada, labour has been at the forefront of groups seeking
legislation designed to improve Canadians' quality of life. Pensions,
health insurance, the shorter workday, a living wage and the right to
organize were all fought for by workers in unions or trying to form
The origins of the labour movement in Canada go back to the mid-nineteenth
century when the country experienced an industrial revolution. The building
of canals and railways and the emergence of factory towns and cities
heralded the advance of industrial capitalism. Workers, who now had to
compete fiercely for jobs and face plummeting wages in recessionary times,
created unions to protect themselves. The first unions although small, faced
a hostile reaction including harassment, firings, blacklisting and arrests.
The first permanent unions emerged among craft workers such as printers,
shoemakers and bakers, as well as railroad workers.
In partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Museum of
Civilization has created a multimedia history of the Canadian labour
movement from the mid-nineteenth century to today. Visitors who consult it
either at the Museum or via the Internet will find a broad overview of this
history, from the beginnings of craft unions and the nine-hours movement,
through the development of industrial unions, the new militancy which
followed the First World War, the dark years of the Depression, the move to
greater unity and founding of the Canadian Labour Congress in the 1950s, and
finally serious challenges faced by organized labour in the 1980s and 1990s.
Visitors will also find a variety of historic images and audio files. A
feature called "Voices" (testimony in both text and audio form) offers a
view of events through the eyes of workers and their families. One can read
the testimony of a young boy beaten by his factory boss, sing along to the
chorus of Solidarity Forever, or listen to the woes of the worker faced with
a bucket of 10,000 bolts on the assembly line.
The history of the Canadian labour movement, as well as the history of the
evolution of Canada's electoral system can be found in both French and
English at the Canadian Museum of Civilization's Social Progress Web
Gallery listed below.
Additional histories will be added in the near future. If you have any
comments regarding these sites please address them to Chris Kitzan at
email listed below.
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