Memories of Metis Women of Saint-Eustache, Manitoba — (1910-1980)

Memories of Metis Women of Saint-Eustache, Manitoba — (1910-1980)

Oral History Forum/Forum d’histoire orale
Volumes 19-20 (1999-2000)
pages 90-111

Nicole St-Onge, Professor of History
University of Ottawa

Introductory Comments

In an article entitled “Hired Men: Ontario Agricultural Wage Labour in Historical Perspective” Joy Parr wrote the following, telling,  words:

Scholars too have claimed that from the beginnings of the province, agriculturalists’ desire for independence combined with the rigorous seasonality of rural work to determine that “no hierarchical labour organization would persist ilz Canadian agriculture.” Yet in each successive generation from the settlement phase onward, rural wage labourers have been essential to the functioning of the province’s persistent and unmistakably hierarchical agricultural system. Through two centuries of clearing, tilling, seeding, and harvesting, the relationships between land and labour and capital and labour have changed, but the reality of the rural hierarchy has been as enduring as the season.

The ‘rural hierarchy’ examined by Parr for Ontario also existed and endured in the Prairie region of Canada. Census data available since 1891 reveal that hired men, over the age of fourteen, were always an important component of farm labour on the Prairie; they represented 13% (6,000) of all rural workers in 1891, 19.4% (84,000) in 1931 and 14.1% (46,000) in 1951. Yet, standard histories of North American agriculture have had difficulty probing beyond the positivist myth that surround the ‘Family Farm’. Few studies discuss in any detail the existence of an impoverished underclass of rural wage workers. Even oral history projects dealing with rural inhabitants have tended to be celebratory; charting the progress of a community since its pioneering days without much regard or analysis to the price paid by some individuals for this ‘success.’ Or, other rural oral history have been apocalyptic lamenting the demise of the Family Farm again without much regard for the consequences ofthis economic and social restructuration for people other than the owners of farms or the businesses that service them…

Read the entire article here.

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