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Poverty, Distress, and Disease: Labour and the Construction of the Rideau Canal, 1826-32

William N. T. Wylie
Labour / Le Travail
Vol. 11 (Spring, 1983), pp. 7-29
DOI: 10.2307/25140199
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25140199
Page Count: 23
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Poverty, Distress, and Disease: Labour and the Construction of the Rideau Canal, 1826-32
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Abstract

THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE Rideau Canal was one of the first projects in Upper Canada to employ thousands of wage-earners. While this was a British military undertaking, the officers and the contractors they hired shared a common attitude to workers: they were viewed primarily as instruments of production required to facilitate the most economic completion of the project. Because of an unfavourable labour market, labourers were forced to endure difficult and often dangerous working and living conditions. The response of workers to these conditions was militant but sporadic. They tended to act against individual property owners and contractors in order to obtain the immediate necessities for survival. More concerted activity was discouraged in large part by the military which posted soldiers along the line of the canal to suppress dissent and ensure a cheap supply of labour. /// LA CONSTRUCTION DU CANAL Rideau fut l'un des premiers chantiers au Haut-Canada employant des milliers de salariés. Bien qu'étant un ouvrage militaire britannique, les officiers et les contracteurs qu'ils ont engagés partageaient le même point de vue sur les travailleurs; on les considérait d'abord comme un moyen de production destiné à parachever le projet le plus économiquement possible. Comme le marché du travail leur était défavorable, les journaliers furent constraints à des conditions de vie difficiles et à des conditions de travail souvent dangereuses. Face à cette situation, les travailleurs manifestérent du militantisme, mais leur réaction fut sporadique. Ils s'en sont pris à des propriétaires en particulier et aux contracteurs afin d'obtenir les biens de première nécessité pour survivre. Les militaires stationnés le long du canal pour fair régner l'harmonie et assurer de la main-d'oeuvre à bon marché ont réprimé ces actions collectives.

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