Boys in the Pits

Boys in the Pits: Child Labour in Coal Mines

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Boys in the Pits
    Book Description:

    Boys in the Pits shows the rapid maturity of the boys and their role in resisting exploitation. In what will certainly be a controversial interpretation of child labour, Robert McIntosh recasts wage-earning children as more than victims, showing that they were individuals who responded intelligently and resourcefully to their circumstances.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6867-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xv-2)
  7. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    At Springhill, Nova Scotia, in the early afternoon of February 21, 1891, a charge of gunpowder was lit nineteen hundred feet underground to dislodge a small quantity of coal. The explosion backfired, igniting airborne coal dust. Wind and flame, followed by balls of fire, stormed through the entire No. 1 (East) Slope of the colliery.¹ Above ground, Springhill residents rushed to the mouth of the pit and waited anxiously. Rescue parties soon entered the mine through the adjacent No. 2 (West) Slope. Injured, unconscious, and dead mine workers were carried to the surface. Smoke and poisonous gas, a mix of...

  8. CHAPTER TWO The Making of Modern Childhood
    (pp. 14-41)

    The activity of most children in Canada today is divided between school and play. Typically, boys and girls reside in an urban community. They are raised in a nuclear family of on average under two children, although much of their day is spent outside their parents’ supervision. While they may assist in household chores or take part-time jobs as adolescents to earn some spending money for themselves, expert advice and popular belief emphasize the crucial role of play in children’s development into healthy adults. Gender roles — how boys are to behave as boys, and girls as girls — are learned early...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Miners, Mine Operators, and Child Labour
    (pp. 42-64)

    Boys were first brought into the coal pits by their father or an older relative, immigrant miners recruited in Great Britain for the large commercial mines introduced in Nova Scotia during the 1820s and on Vancouver Island in the 1850s. These experienced miners demanded the traditional prerogative of craftsmen, the right to control entry into their trade by means of rules of apprenticeship. They would hire mine labourers, generally young kin; educate them in mine work; pay, supervise, and discipline them; and determine their readiness to cut coal as qualified miners. For miners, this family-based organization of labour was at...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Coal Mining Technology and Child Labour
    (pp. 65-88)

    The methods used to mine coal created distinct demands on the workforce. Two events marked watersheds in coal mining technology in Canada. The early introduction of steam engines, in Nova Scotia in the 1820s and on Vancouver Island in the 1850s, allowed the development of the first large mines in British North America. Because many jobs in these new mines did not place large demands on individual strength, skill, or experience, they encouraged the employment of considerable numbers of boys. The heavy investment in mining at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly in Nova Scotia, revolutionized mine work through...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The State and Pit Boys
    (pp. 89-105)

    Traditionally, children worked. Their early initiation to work, if remarked on at all, was most commonly considered as salutary, as “good” for the child, as teaching him or her the virtue and necessity of labour in preparation for a lifetime of labour. Concern was far likelier to be expressed regarding the unemployment or idleness of children than over the fact that they laboured productively.¹ But among a broad coalition of social reformers, in which the participation of the organized working class was evident, the legitimacy of child labour was brought into question from the middle of the nineteenth century. Reformers...

  12. CHAPTER SIX The Mining Family
    (pp. 106-126)

    Although the new industrial workplaces emerging in the nineteenth century vastly altered the circumstances in which children laboured, the rationale for their employment remained unchanged. Children worked as part of a collective response within working families to the insecurity of their lives.¹ Any study of the mining family has to be sensitive both to its economic vulnerability — breadwinners died regularly in coal mines, or became disabled, or became sick, or became unemployed, or were underemployed — and to its long-term strategic concerns, notably the pressure to put by for old age. All members of the family laboured at tasks that reflected...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Boys in the Mining Community
    (pp. 127-148)

    At the centre of the boy’s life in coal towns and villages was the mine. He was raised within sight of it; the smell of coal dust was as familiar to him as the sounds of steam pumps and hoists. The boy may have seen for years his father and older brothers leave for the pit. For most boys raised within these communities, the day arrived when they too surrendered their childhood to it. In the nineteenth century, boys raised in coal-mining towns and villages were expected to enter the mine. The class, gender, and cultural identities the community defined...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Boys in the Pits
    (pp. 149-170)

    If the world that pit boys encountered was overwhelmingly shaped for them — by class relationships and the technology of mining; by constraints of gender and legislation; by family survival strategies and the expectations of the mining community — boys’ response to their experience affirms that they remained in their own way historical agents. Although the control they enjoyed over their lives was small, it was tangible. The boys’ world was defined principally by their experience of the colliery. This chapter focuses on Nova Scotia, where most Canadian pit boys laboured, during the period between 1880 and the First World War.


  15. CHAPTER NINE Conclusion
    (pp. 171-180)

    Boys’ participation in the Canadian coal mine labour force was in decline by the early 1880s — a reflection of early mine mechanization in Nova Scotia, the growth of mining workforces in the western interior based on transient adults, and restrictive legislation and alternative sources of low-wage labour in British Columbia — although their absolute numbers continued to grow because of the rapid expansion of the industry. At any given time between the turn of the twentieth century and the First World War, well over one thousand boys still laboured in Canadian collieries. But by the 1930s, they have virtually disappeared from...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 181-254)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-294)
  18. Index
    (pp. 295-305)