The Way We Worked: Child Labourers Given a Voice by Early Royal Commission

When I was 16, I worked at Dairy Queen and wore a brown polyester uniform. The euphoria I felt when I finished a shift was tempered by my malodorous smell, a curious admixture of garbage and vanilla ice cream. Customers were often impatient and obnoxious. I lasted about three months – about three months more than anyone ought to be subjected to the pin-prick indignities of a minimum-wage job.

Child labour persists. The young still work on the family farm. And the retail and fast-food industries keep labour costs to a minimum by relying on the employment of teenagers. Of course, the work is supposed to be transitory and in addition to a formal education that stretches, for some, into at least the early twenties – part of a prolonged adolescence and preparation for the demands of “adult” work life.

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WRITTEN BY
Michael Dufresne
Michael Dufresne is freelance writer and archivist in Ottawa.