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The Bunkhouse Man

The Bunkhouse Man: Life and Labour in the Northern Work Camps

Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1972
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    The Bunkhouse Man
    Book Description:

    Journalists and poets, economists and political historians, have told the story of Canada's railways, but their accounts pay little attention to the workers who built them.The Bunkhouse Manis the only study devoted to these men and their lives in construction camps

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-3238-7
    Subjects: Transportation Studies, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. An introduction
    (pp. v-2)

    The Bunkhouse Man, based on a doctoral dissertation submitted to Columbia University in 1922, was published in 1928 in the university’s series of ‘Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law,’ along with many outstanding works of scholarship, including several by Canadians.¹ Written at a time when sociology was young in the United States and in its infancy at universities in English-speaking Canada, it was probably not classified as sociology by its author. As an attempt to understand an aspect of social life, it would be so classified today. Since it examines that aspect of social life in a particular time...

  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. 3-4)
  4. Preface
    (pp. 5-12)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 13-18)

    FOR twenty-four years the writer of this brochure has had practical experience with the work and pay of men in frontier places across Canada. In 1904 he first went to the camps as a bushman on the North Shore. He was one of the earliest instructors of the Frontier College, then shortly started by Alfred Fitzpatrick, B.A., and slowly taking shape. With different phases of this work, particularly with those pertaining to bunkhouse men, he has since been closely associated.

    Previous to 1904 the writer had never seen the inside of a sleep camp. After five years’ experience as a...

  6. Chapter 1 The background of the navvy
    (pp. 19-42)

    IN VIEW of the frequent mention that is made throughout this book of campmen and workers on railway construction, a brief survey will be given in this place, showing in retrospect the development of transportation throughout the lands that now comprise the provinces of the Dominion.

    Transportation has always been a problem in Canada. Since the earliest days of the French Regime the commerce of the northern part of the continent had followed the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence, and the several large rivers that flow into the North Atlantic. This was a great advantage to Canada. Nature had endowed...

  7. Chapter 2 The contract system on railway construction
    (pp. 43-52)

    THE PEOPLE of Canada have paid dearly for their efforts to facilitate transportation. Increasing amounts since Confederation have been expended, particularly on steam communications. During one ten-year period of railway activity, which necessarily has a direct relation to the present study, namely that following 1905, considerably more than one billion dollars (ten hundred and forty-four million), was expended in the Canadian provinces, on the improvement of lines already existing, and the construction of new roads.

    In accordance with the methods so commonly pursued in all railway building, a considerable proportion of this entire amount passed through the medium of the...

  8. Chapter 3 Work and pay in isolated camps
    (pp. 53-90)

    In the chapters immediately preceding, an attempt has been made to the background of the navvy. It is intended in the three of this present chapter to enter, with more detail, into the facts of daily life as they pertained to the hire, the housing, the pay of men in camps during the last period of railway expansion in Canada.

    The present section will touch briefly on the system of hiring workers through private employment agencies. This method, to 1916, was commonly pursued throughout all parts of the Dominion in placing workers on the job, particularly men employed bushwork, at...

  9. Chapter 4 Some ethnic groupings among campmen
    (pp. 91-112)

    BEFORE discussing further the activities and daily work of men on frontier works it may be profitable to obtain a clearer conception of the racial elements which go to make up the body of workers in camps. In this section the campman will be discussed from a more intimate angle, his personal traits, some of his ethnic qualifications, and his usual form of employment, as observed during the building of the National Transcontinental.

    There are two distinct groups of workers at once apparent in camps on a piece of railway work, the ‘whites’ and the ‘foreigners.’ This semi-racial demarcation is...

  10. Chapter 5 When the campman becomes a contractor
    (pp. 113-128)

    SUB-LETTING is the bane at times of camp employment. It rears its head in many shapes. In chapter 2, mention was made of station-work. It will be appropriate here to enter more fully into the details of such methods as were observed along railway construction, for jobbing under one form or another is still commonly in vogue in the different frontier works.

    A sub-contractor seldom undertakes more than ten miles of work on a new grade. Such a stretch offers about the maximum amount to be handled safely, considering the outfit and equipment usually at his disposal. He has, too,...

  11. Chapter 6 Shacks and shack-men on railway construction
    (pp. 129-138)

    STATION-WORK necessarily involves shacks. Each group of station men will have a shack-centre. These may be located at distances of one mile, two, four or eight miles from the office of the subcontractor, according to the location of their work. Few station men, however, are farther than six miles from some source of supplies, whether at the sub-contractor’s office or at a temporary depot situated conveniently to the station men.

    A few of the shacks used by station men are very neat, particularly those built by the Norwegians and Swedes. These people when engaged in station work generally take big...

  12. Chapter 7 The medical system on frontier works
    (pp. 139-154)

    NO DISCUSSION of the bunkhouse is complete without some under-standing of the medical system provided for men in grade camps and on isolated works. Vital as the lumber camps and other frontier activities have been in the industrial life of Canada, the sanitary conditions of such places, even as late as the beginning of this century, were but primitive.

    The bunkhouse man for an extended period was even denied the common decencies of life. From the days of the shanties, when cook and men slept and ate in the same building, on through a transition period of twenty-five years marking...

  13. Chapter 8 Some alternative employments for workers in camps
    (pp. 155-174)

    THE IMMIGRANT from central Europe newly arrived in Canada has but a limited choice of works. Handicapped by language, at times, by prejudices, and usually without funds, he is fitted only for the heavier manual tasks. The bush camps, the mines, and the railway extra-gangs during the milder months, as well as camps on new construction, offer the most probable forms of employment, until he has become better accustomed to the country. But even in these occupations there are many forms of work, which from the very nature of the tasks are closed to the newcomer.

    It is intended in...

  14. Chapter 9 What constitutes real wages for the bunkhouse man?
    (pp. 175-186)

    LET US turn aside, for a time, from the more or less beaten paths of the detailed activities of the navvy and other campmen to consider some of the elements which properly enter into any discussion of what is implied in a fair remuneration for work done in frontier camps.

    What constitutes real wages under such conditions and how are they determined? Can a worker, endowed with the rugged qualities which such tasks demand, be assured of fair pay in return? Does consistent service given for hire in some camp on railway construction result in a corresponding personal gain? These...

  15. Chapter 10 What’s wrong with the contract system?
    (pp. 187-204)

    FROM A PERUSAL of the contents of the foregoing sections the reader should now be in a more favourable position to estimate in a practical way how the contract system affects the labourer in a construction camp. At least two things have been indicated: that the head-contractor in some phases of his work possesses a monopoly power, and that the tendency to sub-let is, in the end, a detriment to the navvy in the matter of his pay.

    The question naturally arises: What’s wrong with the contract system? and further, if wrongs are inherent in the whole practice, what suggestions,...

  16. Chapter 11 Ottawa and the camps
    (pp. 205-214)

    SO FAR, an effort has been made to limn the contract system in its varying aspects. Doubtless before this the reader has asked himself more than once: Is not the railway contractor, in turn, confronted by regulations designed to protect the labour of the navvy?

    It is true that the Federal Department of Labour at Ottawa enact fair-wage provisions which prevail on all government undertakings throughout the Dominion. And such clauses were duly embodied in all contracts for the pursuance of work along the National Transcontinental. The usual stipulation was as follows: All mechanics, labourers or other persons who perform...

  17. Chapter 12 The bunkhouse man and public opinion
    (pp. 215-222)

    WHAT, then, are the reasons for the general apathy which prevails toward these conditions of work? Why is not more heard of the circumstances which surround the employment of campmen? Many probable explanations can be given. Here are a few of them.

    It is always in the distant camps, thirty, forty and sixty miles from the steel, that things are worst for the campman and accommodation is crudest. The isolation, combined with the fact that the average grade camp is often temporary, tends to render futile any complaints which may arise as to local camp conditions of work and pay....

  18. Chapter 13 The challenge of the migratory workers
    (pp. 223-238)

    Having in mind some impressions gleaned from the preceding chapters, may we not ask: What have organized labour and its leaders been doing for the navvy and those men employed on seasonal works? And further: Why were the recognized leaders of union labour in Canada so long indifferent to the wage conditions of the navvy on the National Transcontinental? Only in the closing years of the period, so far, at least, as the writer has been able to discover, was any official action taken by them in an effort to protect the interests of the workers in the camps.


  19. Conclusion
    (pp. 239-244)

    CANADA for another hundred years will march by way of the camps. We must look to the frontiers to shape and fashion the life of the Dominion. The hinterland, in an unique way, affords opportunity to display resolution, determination and an unconquerable faith in the national heritage. The continued advance of settlement, combined with the measured development of physical resources, reflects not only a spirit of reliance in the individual, but becomes a permanent element in the life of a people. Material progress in any young nation is proportionate to the size and extent of its frontiers.

    It is hard...

  20. Appendices
    (pp. 245-249)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 250-250)