Laborem Ex Machina: A History of Operating Engineers and Heavy Machinery in Canada's Construction Industry

Funder: International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 793

Principal Investigator: Gilberto Fernandes (Visiting Professor, History)

Description:
The Laborem Ex Machina is a research and public history project launched in January 2020 and funded by the International Union of Operating Engineers' Local 793. Its goals are divided into three major parts: to 1) preserve, 2) learn, and 3) share the fascinating labour, social, cultural and technological history of operating engineers and heavy construction equipment in Canada and deliver policy-focused research findings and learning opportunities of interest to the industry and the overall community.

Workers posing around a steam shovel on the Grand Trunk Pacific railroad construction project at Glengarry County, Ontario. Bartle Brothers. 1895-1910. Archives of Ontario, C 2-0-0-0-1784.

1. PRESERVE (Archive): We will offer professional archiving recommendations on historical records management practices; process Local 793's historical records and facilitate their transfer to the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University, where they will be preserved under optimal conditions and accessed by researchers; and digitize a selection of these records for enhanced searchability and accessibility.

2. LEARN (Research): Through archival research, statistical analysis, and oral interviews we will gather information and produce both general interest knowledge outputs and policy-focused recommendations on topics of relevance to the construction industry and its building trades unions, including Indigenous-settler relations in the Canadian labour movement; racial and gender diversity in the construction workforce; the impact of technological advancements in the de/skilling of operating engineers and its implications for skills training and occupational health and safety; the representation of operating engineers and construction unions in popular culture, among others.

3. SHARE (Public engagement): We will educate the public about the important contributions made by operating engineers and their unions in the history of Canada by producing a variety of public history outputs, including a podcast series, history websites, a Heritage Toronto commemorative plaque, and a book.