Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Harvest Histories: A Social History of Mexican Farm Labour in Canada since 1974

Document type Thesis
Author Calnitsky, Naomi
Degree Ph.D., History
Publisher Carleton University; Ottawa, Ont.
Date 2017
Pages 341 pages., ill.


While concerns and debates about an increased presence of non-citizen guest workers in agriculture in Canada have only more recently begun to enter the public arena, this dissertation probes how migrant agricultural workers have occupied a longer and more complex place in Canadian history than most Canadians may approximate. It explores the historical precedents of seasonal farm labour in Canada through the lens of the interior or the personal on the one hand, through an oral history approach, and the external or the structural on the other, in dialogue with existing scholarship and through a critical assessment of the archive. Specifically, it considers the evolution of seasonal farm work in Manitoba and British Columbia, and traces the eventual rise of an “offshore” labour scheme as a dominant model for agriculture at a national scale. Taking 1974 as a point of departure for the study of circular farm labour migration between Mexico and Canada, the study revisits questions surrounding Canadian views of what constitutes the ideal or injurious migrant worker, to ask critical questions about how managed farm labour migration schemes evolved in Canadian history. In addition, the dissertation explores how Mexican farm workers’ migration to Canada since 1974 formed a part of a wider and extended world of Mexican migration, and seeks to record and celebrate Mexican contributions to modern Canadian agriculture in historical contexts involving diverse actors. In exploring the contexts that have driven Mexican out-migration and transnational integration, it bridges oral accounts with a broader history that sets Mexican northward migration in hemispheric context. It reads agricultural migration upon various planes, including corporeality, experience, identity, masculinity, legality, “contra-modernity,” and the management of mobilities.