Trade Unions in Canada 1812-1902


600 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-5485-4




Reviewed by Toby Rupert

Toby Rupert was a librarian living in Toronto.


Eugene Forsey was for many years the Director of Research for the Canadian Labour Congress and its immediate predecessor, the CCL. He held that position from 1942, stepping down in 1966 to begin work on this trade union book, which was commissioned by the CLC as its Centennial project. Obviously, even with the help of researchers and graduate students it has taken far longer than expected to trace the evolution of the trade unions and guilds in the early years, but then the monograph is chock-full of facts and figures (including an invaluable series of appendices containing tables of locals of unions in Canada) largely derived from a whole range of primary sources. The bibliography lists the immense scouring job: manuscripts, archives, government reports, union proceedings, newspapers, theses, and even a few secondary sources.

His survey-history covers construction workers, foundry workers, tailors, shoemakers, printers, and others from the early beginnings of the crafts workers through the Mechanics’ Institutes and the rapid internationalization. There are many profiles of industrial, local, regional, national, and international unions, as well as organizations and associations such as the Knights of Labour. Operations in every province are covered, as to formations, functions, politics and philosophies. This book is an enormously significant contribution to Canadian labour history.


Forsey, Eugene, “Trade Unions in Canada 1812-1902,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,