September 10, 2010
Saskatoon Public Library Local History Room
By Kris Foster
Labour Day is more than the day before students flood onto campus—it is a day to look back at the history of Saskatchewan’s labour force. To that end, the U of S Archives created an online exhibition titled AT WORK: Historical Images of Labour in Saskatchewan.
Cheryl Avery, U of S archivist, and Neil Richards, retired employee of the Library’s Special Collections Unit, in collaboration with archives from across the province, collected hundreds of images of people in their workplaces for the exhibit.
“Cheryl and I thought there was a lack of easily accessible images of Saskatchewan’s work force,” said Richards, AT WORK curator. “Many think of the Saskatchewan work force as primarily agricultural, but that is less than 10 per cent of the work force today. Wage labour has always been a large part of Saskatchewan’s history and economy.”
Supported by a grant from Canadian Heritage, the exhibit features some 600 photos, artworks and video clips of workers in offices, mines, manufacturing, retail service, food processing and many other industries. The searchable site includes a detailed description for each photo and information on when and where the photos were taken.
The exhibit depicts the diversity of the work force, but it also highlights how working conditions have changed. “Even looking back 10 years ago, it is amazing to see how much has changed,” said Richards. “We sometimes complain about chairs not being ergonomic or the air conditioning not working, but looking at this exhibit, you see how dreadful and indeed dangerous working conditions were in the past.”
Another interesting aspect of the exhibit is the photos that fall under the “Lost Jobs” theme, jobs that were once crucial but no longer exist. “We don’t often think about how many once familiar jobs just don’t exist anymore. Like typewriter repair, blacksmithing, and milk and ice delivery.”
Richards hopes that the exhibition will be an important contribution to Saskatchewan history. “We spend so much of our time and energies working, it seems to me important to recognize and better understand Saskatchewan’s history of labour.”
Visit AT WORK at
U of S Archives A-853