In the late nineteenth century, a wave of labour conflict in Ontario and other parts of the country caught the attention of the federal government. The relationships among workers and their employers seemed to be breaking down. Low wages, horrendous working conditions, the abuse of child labourers, and numerous other issues led to strikes and occasionally violent protest.
In response in 1887, the Canadian government convened a royal commission, a federally appointed inquiry into the relations of labour and capital in the country. The commissioners led a series of hearings across Canada during which they interviewed workers and employers about the conditions of labour in the nascent industrial economy. They heard from carpenters, machinists, moulders, and others about wages, sanitary conditions, convict labour, child labour, workplace accidents, and more.
The final report of the royal commission was released in 1889. This historical document provides insight into the working lives of Canada’s first generation of industrial workers. The evidence published in this report includes rare transcripts of ordinary working people in their own words. In this module, you will analyze the testimony of some of the working people who appeared before the commissioners to answer questions about their labour and working conditions.
- Report of the Royal Commission on the Relations of Capital and Labor in Canada, Evidence — Ontario. Vol. 5. Ottawa: 1889.
- Word cloud of Report of the Royal Commission on the Relations of Capital and Labor in Canada, Evidence — Ontario. Vol. 5. Ottawa: 1889 generated in Voyant Tools.