Historical and Wider Context

Abstracts and Speaker Bios


Sharon Roseman, “Fathers and Sons: Studying Work Mobilities Over the Life Course”

The pair of assumptions that most people work in one location as well as in relative proximity to their home has dominated both academic and popular understandings of modern labour history. In contrast, as in much of Atlantic Canada, complex commuting, mobile jobs in fields such as seafood harvesting and transportation, and forms of pendular migration have been key elements in the formation of Newfoundland men’s work identities throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. In many communities and families, mobility is a prevalent aspect of work life. This paper outlines how a life course approach can be employed to analyze individuals’ labour histories across distinct forms of employment-related geographical mobility over time. My in-depth life history interviews with a group of Newfoundland men have shown how extensive displacement for commuting or as part of jobs is naturalized as an expected rather than rare part of individuals’ lives. These findings indicate that this process often begins at an early age as a component of family socialization and continues through adulthood as the men employ specific strategies to take care of themselves and co-workers, and to maintain supportive relationships with family members across geographical distances.

Sharon Roseman is an anthropologist who teaches at Memorial University. She has studied complex commuting, pendular migration, and mobility justice activism in Newfoundland and Labrador and northwestern Spain. Her current project involves a study of daily commuting by ferry between Bell Island and mainland Newfoundland.

Katie Mazer, “‘There’s something kind of hush-hush about it all’: The normalization of working away”

Since rising production in the oil sands dramatically increased the demand for workers in Alberta, companies have deliberately recruited workers from depressed regions of Canada, including throughout the distant Atlantic provinces. Through rotational or seasonal employment workers travel to the work site only when they are needed and spend the rest of their time in their home communities. While many workers have experienced (at least short-term) economic benefits, these long-distance labour relations are also characterized by high levels of volatility: regular layoffs and financial uncertainty, family stress, pervasive mental health struggles, a strained social environment at work, long commutes, dangerous work, and a backdrop of politically-charged ecological devastation. Yet, this volatility goes largely unnamed in common accounts of what it means to “work out west.” Drawing on interviews with mobile workers, employment counsellors, politicians, and other stakeholders in Prince Edward Island, this paper examines the contradiction between this silence and the lived experience of mobile work. This silence and other common stories, I argue, obscure the broader economic and political forces that are pushing workers westward and serve to normalize these extreme labour relations and workers’ experiences of volatility and economic uncertainty. 

Katie Mazer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Geography at the University of Toronto. Her research examines the politics of poverty and labour flexibility in Canadian resource extraction. Moving between kitchen tables in the Maritimes, industry offices in Calgary, and government archives in Ottawa, her research asks how, for whom, and to what end, mobile extractive work has become normal in the Maritimes.


Tracy Freidel, Carmen Wells, Danielle Lorenz and Alison Taylor, “McMurray Metis: Impacts of mobility for Metis families, 1930s to 1970s” 

Deriving from a labour as practice approach (Silliman, 2001), this paper draws from oral histories focused on the McMurray Métis community in Northeastern Alberta as a way to understand the impacts of mobility for Métis families in the period 1930’s to 1970’s, as these exist contemporaneously with the advent of the Great Canadian Oil Sands (today known as Suncor). In the years following, the Athabasca oil sands rapidly emerges to become a highly sought after investment site for nations across the globe. But even prior to oil sands development, in the context of colonial repression including stemming from the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement of 1930, Métis men and women strategically entered the capitalist market as itinerant laborers or entrepreneurs while at the same time maintaining a particular Métis cultural ethos (MacDougall, 2006) through perpetuating traditional activities such as hunting, trapping and plant harvesting. As development ramps up in the early days of oil sands expansion, it is evident that environmental impacts begin to translate into economic impacts, as traditional resources previously used as a source of formal income, or for subsistence purposes are rendered more difficult to obtain. For some, this means having to travel increased distances to access resources. For Métis women, the pursuit of wage labourer opportunities during this time period tends to be of the domestic variety; however, underpinning this work are facets of maintaining important kin relations. Our aim in this paper is to discern both the extenuating impacts of colonial capitalism for Métis families in the oil sands region in the early days of oil sands development and to better understand the nuances and adaptations of a distinctive Métis cultural ethos during this time of significant change.

Michael Haan and Phyllis Rippey, “Exploring the Gendered Dimensions of Extreme Commuting”

Commuting time has received little attention in the literature on gender, work, and family, despite the fact that the globalized economy has brought with it the necessity of increasing geographical mobility in the labor force (Casinowsky 2013). In Canada, according to data from the 2011 National Household Survey, roughly 15 million Canadians (nearly half of the entire population) commute to work on a daily basis (Statistics Canada 2013). Although commuters spend an average of 25.4 minutes traveling to work, approximately 2.7 percent of Canadians age 15-66 engage in “extreme commuting”, defined here as traveling more than 200 kilometers one way, as the crow flies. Although this population represents a small fraction of workers overall in Canada, research shows that the numbers of such commuters increased 95% between 1990 and 2000 in the United States (Marion and Horner 2013). Considering that Canadian cities have been on a path of expanding urban sprawl since the 1950s (Maoh and Tang 2012), extreme commutes are likely increasing here as well. Understanding the impacts of such work patterns are important for the study of family life, as research indicates that long commutes have negative impacts on the ability of workers to fulfill their family responsibilities (Turcotte, 2011) and increase the risk of relationship dissolution (Sandow 2013). In this presentation, we explore how long-distance commutes are gendered and the relationship between such commutes and the relative share of housework and childcare allocated between partners. Using data from the 2006 Canadian Census, we carry out a series of seemingly unrelated bivariate probit models which provide clear evidence that although men1 are more likely to commute long distances, they are compensated within the household with reduced childcare and housework responsibilities. For women, expectations around household responsibilities remain the same, regardless of whether they extreme commute or not.

Michael Haan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario, Canada Research Chair in Migration and Ethnic Relations, and Academic Director, Statistics Canada Research Data Centre at Western. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Toronto, a Masters of Arts in Sociology from the University of Windsor and his B.A., in Sociology at Dordt College. Dr. Haan’s research interests intersect the areas of demography, immigrant settlement, labour market integration, and data development. He is widely consulted by provincial and federal governments for policy advice in the areas of immigration, settlement services, the Canadian labour market, and population aging. 

Lachlan Barber and Barb Neis, “Mobility as a family strategy on the Burin Peninsula: Findings from the construction component of On the Move”

This presentation will draw on findings from the construction component of the On the Move Partnership to discuss how families on the Burin Peninsula experience and engage with employment-related geographical mobility (E-RGM). Narratives from in-depth interviews will be placed within the context of regional industrial restructuring and shifts in employment availability, including the decline of fishing and fish-processing, and the transformation from ship-building to offshore services construction. The presentation will also consider the impact of developments in the industrial construction sector within the province and in Alberta, including the rise of Fly-in Fly-out work, intra-provincial commuting, and major projects close to home, since the early 2000s. Preliminary findings suggest that, taken together, these contextual factors have shaped engagements among many Burin Peninsula families with E-RGM as a factor in decision-making about where and how to live. Several themes will be discussed, including training, return migration, housing, the gendered division of labour, care, planning for the future, and major household purchases. The presentation will also invite reflection on the implications of the findings for rural population retention, community cohesion, and social service delivery.

J. Adam Perry, “No white picket fences: How complex inter-scalar immigration systems affect migrant families in Canada”

In this presentation I will explore migrant families’ mobile trajectories related to their plans for achieving permanent residence in Canada. By migrant families, I am referring to workers who are employed through Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) who are in Canada with spouses (who are also temporary foreign workers) and/or children. This presentation will be grounded in an analysis of interviews that I conducted with TFW’s in low-skilled streams of Canada’s TFWP residing in several Canadian provinces as well as worker advocates and government. I will examine in particular how federal immigration policies that reinforce workers’ temporariness clash with various provincial and regional policies aimed at offering potential pathways to permanency. In this presentation I will offer an analysis of workers’ own practices of navigating this complexity as a way of tracing migrant families’ continuously shifting relationship to the state and the labour market. This paper will demonstrate how Canada’s macro-level politics of managed labour migration are played out at the micro-level of family decisions and practices.

J. Adam Perry is a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Social Work at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The way in which restrictive immigration policies and employment practices both constrain and animate migrants’ life trajectories and mobility, primarily as these intersect with precarious work and citizenship is the primary focus of his research agenda.