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Dear Canada: Days of Toil and Tears

Dear Canada: Days of Toil and Tears


The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, Almonte, Ontario, 1887

Flora has lived in an orphanage for six years, ever since her parents died when she was five. At last, however, Auntie Janet says that she and Uncle James are earning enough to have Flora live with them in Almonte.Both work at the woollen mill where Flora also gets a job as a doffer (replacing full bobbins) and piecer (mending broken threads).

During the year 1887, Flora's life is touched by child labour legislation, labour activism and an accident that maims Uncle James. It's also a year that sees her learn about part of a family, a friendship and a community of labourers.Flora writes with an innocent, cheerful voice, but with an authentic child-like knack of finding just the right words to give a strong sense of character.

"She had a way of speaking that is like the Bible," Flora says of a Temperance activist. Of herself, Flora says, "When you're so sad that you think you cannot bear it and somebody is kind to you, you just turn into a wet thing."

Humour shines in the tiniest of anecdotes – two ladies dismiss the sheep in their house by remarking with aplomb, "Polly is very fond of the vestibule". Not surprisingly, along with all the character and colour author Ellis conjures, her character also describes the workings of the mill with exceptional clarity and folds contemporary issues into the story intelligently and succinctly.

Time Line~Factory Labour, late 19th century

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