PRESENZA - When Work Becomes a Trade

Photo: Steven Darby, CMC CD2004-0245 D2004-6105

Materials, a pair of hands and, between them, just the tools needed to facilitate the work, without removing the human being from the picture. When you have that, work becomes a trade, an encounter and a dialogue through which ideas are formed, solutions emerge, skills are developed, and techniques are refined and perfected. The materials become an object; the person, an artisan. And it is impossible to tell from which of the two the work emerges.

Many of the Italians who came to Canada practised one of the trades that were characteristic of their native peasant society. They were masons, mosaicists, shoemakers, lacemakers, blacksmiths, cabinetmakers, bakers . . . and few of them were able to earn a living from these trades in an industrialized labour market. Like many of us, they reaped the benefits of industrialized work, which offered greater stability and higher wages. But a number of them also experienced the disadvantages of work that was often automated, and divided into simple and repetitive tasks - work that too often did not allow workers to reach their full potential.

Whether they earned a living from their trade, transformed it into a hobby or retained it only in memory, Italian-Canadian immigrants clearly loved what they did. They show us that work can also be a source of vitality and creativity.