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Boys in the Pits: Child Labour in Coal Mines

Boys in the Pits Format Hardcover
Catalogue No. 0-7735-2093-7
Pages 305
Language English only
Price $70.00
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Written by Robert McIntosh.
Published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000.


Beginning early in the nineteenth century, thousands of Canadian boys, some as young as eight, laboured underground - driving pit ponies along narrow passageways, manipulating ventilation doors, and helping miners cut and load coal at the coalface to produce the energy that fuelled Canada’s industrial revolution. Boys died in the mines in explosions and accidents but they also organized strikes for better working conditions but were instead expelled from the mines and lost their jobs.

Boys in the Pits shows the rapid maturity of the boys and their role in resisting exploitation. In what will certainly be a controversial interpretation of child labour, Robert McIntosh recasts wage-earning children as more than victims, showing that they were individuals who responded intelligently and resourcefully to their circumstances.

Boys in the Pits is particularly timely as, despite the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, accepted by the General assembly in 1989, child labour still occurs throughout the world and continues to generate controversy. McIntosh provides an important new perspective from which to consider these debates, reorienting our approach to child labour, explaining rather than condemning the practice. Within the broader social context of the period, where the place of children was being redefined as - and limited to - the home, school, and playground, he examines the role of changing technologies, alternative sources of unskilled labour, new divisions of labour, changes in the family economy, and legislation to explore the changing extent of child labour in the mines.
“This is a superb study of the rise and fall of child labour in the coal mines of Canada in the days of the industrial revolution. We learn about the attitudes of employers, governments and social reformers, but above all we also meet the pit boys themselves. Robert McIntosh takes us into their workplaces, homes, families, and communities and presents them as young industrial workers who struggled to achieve some measure of power within the historical circumstances of their times. Based on intensive research and careful analysis, this is an impressive work of scholarship and a unique contribution to the social history of childhood.” – David Frank, Department of History, University of New Brunswick
“A major contribution to work in the field of coal mining history in Canada, and clearly intersects with research on the history of the family and the rise of the common schools.” – Allen Seager, Department of History, Simon Fraser University
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This page last modified: March 19, 2008

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