Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Research Vol. 20 No. 2, 2010


Copyright © 2010 by the Center for Great Plains Studies. University of Nebraska-Lincoln


The contribution of pioneer children (aged 4–16) to the economic survival of Canadian prairie farms is little known. Heavy Burdens examines the self-reported labor of 260 children in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba between 1871 and 1913. A typology of labor (subcategorized by age and gender) helpfully structures the narrative data used to flesh out this work. The importance and invisibility of child labor during the settlement of the West broadly mirrors that of women. The five core chapters of the book examine children’s work in establishing farms, commodity production, waged labor, domestic tasks, and household subsistence activities. Each chapter examines the prevalence of such activity by children, including age and gender breakdowns of reports. The nature and value of such tasks are considered through extremely readable excerpting and summarizing of firsthand accounts. It is difficult to convey how truly engaging this approach is—the work, its circumstance, meaning, and effect are vivid and poignant.