Guelph Industries, Black Immigrants Guelph, Foundries in Guelph, Guelph Trades and Labour Council, Knights of Labor, Woollen Mils
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If men received a living wage, factories would never hire them. Or at least, this was the common wisdom of the time. It was a philosophy and approach that Guelph’s labour leaders had to change if they were to move forward.

Organization was slow but gained steam and eventually, unions were there to stay in Guelph. From the city’s own local unions to the arrival of the city’s first international unions, Guelph workers learned to fight for their rights – striking if need be. Due to the steering committees of the Guelph Trades and Labour Council, unions became part of the workplace landscape. The arrival of communist unions as well as the rebellious CIO shook things up, but ultimately, the various leading factions coalesced to create the Guelph and District Labour Council.

 The Struggle Continues

Today, workers still face obstacles to enjoying a healthy and safe workplace. There are issues of wages, sexual harassment, intimidation by the company and other related problems. Every year, strikes for fair wages and over working conditions occur. And, every day, unfortunately, a worker does not come home. While Labouring All Our Lives, is firmly rooted in what has happened in Guelph’s past, it does provide a cautionary tale as well as hope for those who are struggling to create a secure and non-toxic future for all workers in the city and beyond. It

Creating A New World: Urbanization, Technology And Immigration

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the life Canadians knew underwent a major shift. It was a result of three major factors that coalesced to recreate the economic patterns and way of life. At play were the forces of:

Urbanization: Populations in Ontario were shifting, moving from the
     rural areas into towns and cities

Technology: The so-called Industrial Revolution (and even Second  
     Industrial Revolution) saw an increase in mechanization. Technology
     was put into play in factories as it had never before. It began to replace
     the old handcrafted products and, therefore, the mode of production
     utilized by workers.

Immigration: The influx of new cultures was to impact life the
    economic and social structure of societies in new and interesting

All three were to have an effect on how life was to develop and proceed in communities such as Guelph, Ontario. 

Guelph, Ontario, Canada: The Revolution Arrives


Guelph was founded in 1827 as a planned community. It was meant to be an urban centre. By it had become a town in 1851 and then a city in 1879. During this time, the face of economic and social Guelph changed. From a place where the English, Irish and Scots were prominent, it became a home to a few Blacks, some Chinese and many Italians. The city progressed from a few blacksmiths fulfilling all the needs to several foundries - many who were specialized and “jobbed” to the local factories. Among the earlier ones were:


Guelph or Robertson Foundry – 1847 – Guelph’s first founded
     by John Watt & Adam Robertson

Crowe’s Iron Works 


Wellington Foundry

Guelph Union Foundry

Guelph Steam Foundry

Thomas Worswick’s Machine & Tool Factory

John Kay Brass Foundry

Changes in the Workplace

During the process, the pattern of working life changed. Gone were the days of apprenticing and highly skilled and specialized workers. Factory owners with increasingly mechanized workplaces hired people with less skill and put them immediately on the machines. This was the case at:

Bells Organ & Piano

McCrae’s Woollen Mills

Raymond’s Sewing Machines

Burrow Brother’s Carpets

These and many more since have hired green and unskilled labour – men, women and boys, to perform jobs that were dangerous. They were trained but little, and then let loose to do their jobs for long hours and very little pay. Without guilds to maintain some standard in training and with machinery that was unprotected and unforgiving, accidents were waiting to happen every time someone showed up for work.

Organizing the Workers

The only response workers could and did give was to create and join unions. In Guelph, they were first few and far between. None, except the Knights of Labor addressed women’s work until later. Women were, after all, merely temporary. 

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