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Hired Hands

Hired Hands: Labour and the Development of Prarie Agriculture, 1880-1930

Cecilia Danysk
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 231
  • Book Info
    Hired Hands
    Book Description:

    In this first full-length study of labour in Canadian prairie agriculture during the period of settlement and expansion, Cecilia Danysk examines the changing work and the growing rural community of the West through the eyes of the workers themselves.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5990-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 9-12)

    In the early 1890s, George Becker pondered his future. He assessed his nature as “being of a type and character who could not entertain to serve others in a servitude position all his life.”¹ Like thousands of other like-minded men, he answered the call of the Canadian prairie West: “Arouse up boys, and come to the country where they [sic] can live free and where they will be equal to their masters.”²

    Becker was drawn to the West at a time when prairie farming was still in its infancy. The agricultural frontier of the late nineteenth century was struggling, through...

  5. 2 Labour-Capital Relations in Prairie Agriculture
    (pp. 13-24)

    Conflict was inherent in labour-capital relations in late nineteenth-century Canada. In 1889, the report of the Royal Commission on the Relations of Labor and Capital in Canada, citing an anonymous observer, reduced the relationship to a single premise: “To treat it (labor and wages) as a simple exchange between equals is absurd. The laborer must sell his labor or starve.”²

    But in the agricultural world of the prairie West the equation was much more complex. An unemployed labourer there did not have to starve. The western prairie was a bountiful mistress, according to popular conception, and any man could at...

  6. PART I BEGINNINGS, 1870s-1900

    • 3 Recruiting the Agricultural Labour Force
      (pp. 25-45)

      In December, 1874, Albert Settee signed a contract “hereby agree[ing] to work for Colin Inkster as a farm laborer for the space of Four Calendar Months” during the following summer season. For “the faithful performance of such service” he was to receive the sum of four pounds per month.² Such written contracts were rare. This one demonstrates a number of features in the relationship between labour and capital during the initiation of the agricultural industry.

      Settee signed the contract in mid-winter, a time of the year when farm work was scarce, if not impossible to find. The assurance of employment...

  7. PART II EXPANSION, 1900-1918

    • 4 Agricultural Labour as Apprenticeship
      (pp. 46-63)

      In the early years of the twentieth century, the promise ofA Farm for Two Poundsdrew Harry Baldwin to the prairie West.² Baldwin achieved his dream by toiling his way up from farm labourer to farm owner, then published an account of his accomplishment. His story is romantic and heroic, similar to that of dozens of others left by prairie pioneers who wrote themselves into the saga of the developing West. His view of himself and his place in the new economy and society is representative of men who entered the shifting world of labour-capital relations during the early...

    • 5 Class, Culture, and Community
      (pp. 64-81)

      After a peripatetic seven or eight years in South Africa and India, Charles Fisher was ready to settle down. His search for a promising future led him to Hazelcliffe, Saskatchewan, a new community that in 1907 boasted a “store and post office, the essentials, and one grain elevator.”² Fisher was impressed by its potential. Here was a community in the making, and he was eager to be part of its growth.

      His first steps were a two-mile walk to his new job at Albert Millham’s farm, where he immediately sat down to a large meal. When Fisher admitted his surprise...

    • 6 The Nature of Work
      (pp. 82-111)

      In May, 1909, Fred Pringle hired on for a month with George Hoskins near Stettler, Alberta. Pringle spent the first day discing, a tiring and monotonous job. The next day found him “puttering around,” basking in the “fine weather these days.”² He was soon back to more serious work, sowing oats one day, drag-harrowing the next, and ploughing two days later.

      Pringle did not record the countless small tasks he performed every day; he noted only those he deemed the major part of the day’s work. Thus, in one week he “sawed wood all day,” “plowed all day,” “broke in...


    • 7 Proletarianization
      (pp. 112-141)

      John Grossman left his native Germany in the mid-1920s, hoping to find work as a hired hand before starting a farm of his own. He joined thousands of other European immigrants ushered into Canada under the auspices of railway companies importing cheap labour and potential railway-land purchasers. His journey was closely directed, and he was “advised to leave the train at Jansen, Saskatchewan,” where “somebody was supposed to ask for me.”

      His initiation to Canadian farm work was not auspicious. His employer put him to work pitching hay “from sun up to sun down.” After one week, recalled Grossman, “I...

    • 8 The Dialectic of Consent and Resistance
      (pp. 142-171)

      Jens Skinberg was drawn to the Canadian West from his native Denmark by the anticipated independence of farm ownership, but by the time he arrived in the late 1920s agricultural labour no longer provided an easy entry. He continued working as a hired hand. The autonomy of his job gave him a good deal of satisfaction, creating the illusion of “working for yourself.” Yet Skinberg was not simply indulging in delusion. His conviction was tempered by realism about the labour involved and resonated with his own ability to influence the nature of his work and social conditions.

      Skinberg had come...

  9. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 172-176)

    “I think Frank was glad of a permanent home,” declared a farmer near Three Hills, Alberta, “and being practically his own boss as far as the work was concerned on the farm.”¹ Frank Ready was a “professional hired man,” according to his neighbours,² and his apparent satisfaction derived both from his inclusion in the farming community and from the independence possible in his labour. This has made his role problematic for labour historians and helps to explain why hired hands have been excluded from accounts examining the growing class consciousness of Canadian workers. It also helps to explain why farm...

  10. Appendix
    (pp. 177-190)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 191-224)
  12. Index
    (pp. 225-231)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 232-233)