M984.306.512 | A young Canadian worker

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A young Canadian worker
Eugene Haberer
1877, 19th century
Ink on paper - Photoengraving
37.8 x 27.5 cm
Gift of Mr. Colin McMichael
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Genre (188) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

According to the entry accompanying this image, the young worker pictured here was a machinist and engineer. In other words, his job was to "assemble and operate" machines. The workshop in this print appears to manufacture tools and machinery. In 1867, there were between 30 and 40 factories in Canada devoted to this type of manufacturing.

The industrialization that began in Canada in the mid-19th century was characterized by the introduction of machine tools in the workplace. With their arrival came the need for the hands-on expertise of specialized machine assemblers and operators.

At the time, these specialists stood at the top of the working ladder and, because of their qualifications, were generally well paid. By way of comparison, the wages of specialized workers would sometimes be twice those of a day labourer, or unskilled worker.

If the individual in this print was, in fact, an engineer, he might have acquired his skills at a university, since Canadian universities had already been offering engineering courses for a few years. McGill University, for example, began offering engineering programs in 1856. The University of Toronto began its programs in 1873.

  • What

    The accompanying text is from the Montreal weekly L'Opinion publique, January 11, 1877 edition : "The subject of this sketch is a young engineer and the scene is a workshop in which he is employed as a machinist and engineer. Those who know him say that the young engineer is a very fair likeness of himself and also that the surroundings are good. His name is James McDonald and he resides at Collingwood."

  • Where

    Collingwood is located in Ontario, on the shores of Georgian Bay.

  • When

    Since 1850, the tools and machines of industry were increasingly made in factories rather than forges or small workshops.

  • Who

    Prior to the 19th century, the title of engineer was generally reserved for the military. During the 19th century, engineering practice expanded into society at large, giving rise to various specializations including electrical and mining engineering.