Canada, A Working History

Overview

A deep exploration of the experience of work in Canada

Canada, A Working History describes the ways in which work has been performed in Canada from the pre-colonial period to the present day. Since the time of European colonization, the need to obtain and ensure a steady supply of workers to drive Canada’s economic growth has been a key objective for policy-makers. This book argues that there are key themes found in the history of work in Canada that persist today.

Work is shaped by a wide array of influences including gender, race, ethnicity, geography, economics, and politics. It can be paid or unpaid, meaningful or alienating, and always essential. The work experience led people to form unions, aspire to management roles, pursue education, form professional associations, and seek self-employment. Work is also often in our cultural consciousness; it is pondered in song, lamented in literature, celebrated in film, and preserved for posterity in other forms of art. It has been driven by technological change, governed by laws, and has been the cause of disputes and the means by which people earn a living in Canada’s capitalist economy.

Ennobling, rewarding, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating, work has helped define who we are as Canadians.

Reviews

Balanced, informative, and insightful, Jason Russell’s Canada: A Working History, provides a comprehensive and compelling survey of the contours of work in Canada from before the colonialist period to the COVID-19 pandemic. The scope and depth of Russell’s work provides anyone interested in understanding the evolution of work in Canada with a narrative that captures the tremendous historical challenges and accomplishments of working Canadians. Accessibly written at a crisp pace and with an engaging style, Canada: A Working History, helps 21st Century Canadians understand the roots of working people’s current predicaments and possibilities — from deindustrialization and precarity to revitalized worker activism and renewed optimism about the future of work in Canada.

Dimitry Anastakis, author of Re-Creation, Fragmentation and Resilience: A Brief History of Canada Since 1945

Jason Russell offers a fresh and insightful new survey of the history of work in Canada. The book's ambition is remarkable: readers get a grounding in the broad landscape of Canadian history starting from European colonization, and a keen understanding of the repeated transformations of the world of work up to the present. His analysis considers a range of complex social, economic, and political forces shaping work in Canada, including workers' efforts to organize themselves, yet his accessible prose makes the book an enjoyable read for anyone interested in labour and history.

David Goutor, author of Guarding the Gates: The Canadian Labour Movement and Immigration, 1872-1934

Canada, A Working History is a refreshing take on Canadian history. By focusing on workers and their battles — rather than on the elite running the country — historian Jason Russell tells the story of Canada in a way that is both enlightening and engaging.

Linda McQuaig, author of The Sport and Prey of Capitalists

From precolonial history (including essential discussions of colonialism and slavery) through to the present-day challenges of technological surveillance of workers, Canada, A Working History is a comprehensive overview of the history of work in what is now Canada. Jason Russell takes care to move beyond a focus on union organizations to include the role of the state, the demands of capital, and the portrayals of labour in various media. Significantly, Russell’s definition of work is not limited to paid labour, which allows him to pay much needed attention to the essential roles of women workers both domestically and outside the home. Canada, A Working History is a useful synopsis for any and all Canadian workers.

Janis Thiessen, author of Snacks: A Canadian Food History

About the Author

Jason Russell

Posted by Kendra on September 24, 2019
Jason Russell photo

Jason Russell

Jason Russell has a Ph.D. in history from York University and is an associate professor at SUNY Empire State College in Buffalo, New York. He lives in London, Ontario.