Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Canadian Workers

The Industrial Revolution was driven by great advances in technology in machinery that completely reorganized the framework of production, dramatically altering the lives of urban and rural workers of Canada. The advent of new machinery saw production become more centralized, and in the meantime more regimented.

While the industrial revolution saw a great boost of Canada’s economy, it brought great wealth to few, and great poverty to many- leaving many workers on the farms and in the cities in turmoil. Undoubtedly, the advances in manufacturing technologies and that led to the rapid industrialization of Canada forever transformed the economic and social environment of Canada forever.

Technology brought about the birth the Industrial Revolution in Canada, influenced by its boom in other European nations. Many workers across Canada lost their way of life after machinery began manufacturing articles that were previously handmade by skilled trades-people. In the beginning, this shift in were largely brought about by the invention of the steam engine, by iron making, and textile spinning technologies.

Factory machines powered by coal replaced skilled traders, with workers required to carry out small, repetitive operations that anyone with a pair of hands could perform. The textile industry saw a huge uplift with the advent of power looms that could weave large quantities of cloth and required little labour to operate. The Threshing machine, which quickly made its way across Canadian farms, could process more grain in one day than the average worker could by hand in a year.

Mechanical mowers, seed drills, and gasoline powered tractors all meant fewer hands were required on the farm. All of these advancements would bring see the goods being pushed out into the market in mass quantities at lower costs. As manufactured products created greater revenue than raw materials, in which the economy was previously dependent on, Canada was gaining a greater advantage in trade and the economy blossomed as a result. However, this great leap forward in our economy came at the expense of the lives of workers all across Canada.

Industrialization led to the birth of the factory, and largely, the birth of our major cities as larger number of migrants flocked to the factories in search of employment which for some time was abundant. It was a drastic transition for those who came from Canadian and European agrarian communities. Industrial methods of production left business owners with little need to maintain a relationship with their workforce- reduced to mere drones, in masses, while their employers stuffed huge sums of their businesses revenues in their own pockets.

Employers of disregarded illness, pregnancies, injuries and other afflictions of their workers as interruptions to their profitable manufacturing lines- and with the long line of people looking for work across the nation, these ills were often disregarded by employers as workers were dispensable. Factory workers, as well miners and lodgers serving the needs other growing enterprises, work toilsome hours for abysmal wages. Workers could see themselves working up to twelve, fourteen, or sixteen hours a day, often for lower than twenty dollars for an entire work week. New immigrants, women and children were hired for much less.

Child labour was rampant. Working conditions were not only terribly strenuous, but often dangerous, even life threatening. Pollution from coal smoke used to operate machinery and generate power, exposure to chemicals (many of which were not known to be dangerous), and machinery without protective measures threatened the health and safety of workers, which was largely unrecognized. Additionally, workers in urban centers, earning abysmal salaries, were forced to under the unhealthy and inhumane conditions of piteous homes.

Cities saw the rampant spread of disease, and antiseptics and clean water was not readily available for many. This period is often regarded by historians as the “Gilded Age” because, although overall output and profit in the market was increased massively, workers were subject to wage slavery and often appalling standards of living, while social programs lagged far behind industrial advances.

The rapid industrialization of the country left a great mark on the lives of farmers across the nation, totaling around half of Canada’s population in the nineteenth century. As production increased, so did competition. Farmers, who previously earned at least a sustainable living, had to vastly expand their landholdings to have greater harvests, while farmers that were less successful to adapt to these changes were left to suffer. Land became scarce and prospective farmers, or unsuccessful ones, were forced to move west towards the prairies where agricultural land could be claimed.

The farm technologies that processed more materials were necessary amidst this great competition in the agricultural sector and were very costly. Freight rates on the railway were high, whether farmers were shipping grains east or machinery west. Many farmers were forced to borrow from banks to pay for the costs of their harvest, whether it be to buy land, seed or machinery, all while hoping that the seasons would be favourable to them and would give them a good harvest. Even then, a good crop would see the prices of grain drop as there was a bountiful supply, exceeding consumer and trade demand.

Had farmers, completely reliant on their banks find themselves unable to make their payments, their farms could be seized and sold off to pay off their debts. As this pattern reoccurred, thousands began migrating to the cities. While agriculture became more efficient and saw businesses and landholders with large stakes in the ground flourish, industrialization impoverished agrarian communities.

As you can see, the industrialization of Canada had an immediate, often devastating impact on the average Canadian worker. Canadian workers did achieve some success in pressing for greater working conditions and for their recognition as they organized and formed unions, but it would take decades for true movements to take force to loosen the severe, vertical income inequality gap. The bottom line is, even though the industrial revolution boosted Canada’s economy, it created horrible working and living conditions for the workers.