Working the North
Labor and the Northwest Defense Projects 1942-1946
They came north like a storm surge of humanity, those wartime workers driven by the forces of World War II. Men and women, black and white, civilian and military, they outnumbered and effectively overwhelmed the largely Native population of Canada's northwest. Under harsh and unfamiliar conditions, they built what the war effort needed--airfields, roads, pipelines. Then, like a storm tide when the winds have passed, they receded from the North, leaving both the terrain and themselves forever changed.
To use their own description, in these pages Canadian historian Ken Coates and Bill Morrison, "explore the realities of the experience of northern workers" of the time. They aim to record the uncommon efforts of the common people so often left out of history texts, and they incorporate the workers' own recollections and documents as well as the official records scattered throughout archives in the North and in the national capitals of Canada and the United States. Thus Working in the North captures an intimacy and level of anecdotal experience rarely found in scholarly studies of the period.
The realities of experience meant more than just learning to cope with bitter cold in winter, endless mud and mosquitoes in summer. What could the workers do for recreation? How could they organize? What happened in the old villages invaded by thousands of newcomers? The authors pursue questions rarely discussed in histories of the North, giving special attention to the important role of the military labor battalions and their often-strained relations with their civilian counterparts. They also present important information about the role of women in the work force and the participation of the resident Native people.
The workers were a unique group from across the continent who responded in a variety of ways to the subarctic conditions they encountered. Working in the North tells the story of their experiences in the North and recognizes the significance of their contribution in the broader pattern of early twentieth-century labor history.