Employers hired domestic servants to confirm middle-class status as well as to obtain needed help. The private employment conditions and general devaluation of housework made domestic service unpopular. Objections to low social status, unregulated hours, isolation and lack of independence remained unchanged over time. A shortage of Canadian domestic servants led to the employment of immigrant women from Britain, Scandinavia, central Europe and, after WWII, the West Indies and the Philippines. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, British child-emigration societies as well as Canadian orphanages placed girls in service (see CHILD LABOUR).
The policy of welcoming immigrant domestics as permanent residents and future wives changed in the 1970s when the government introduced temporary employment visas allowing domestics to stay in Canada only for a limited period and only on condition that they retain domestic employment. Charges that the government condones the racial exploitation of West Indian and Filipino women on employment authorizations produced a policy amendment in 1981 that enabled domestic workers to apply for landed immigrant status from within Canada on condition that they upgraded their skills to show "self-sufficiency." The change restored the function of domestic service as a bridge to Canada but continued to devalue the worth of domestic employment.
The vulnerability of immigrants augmented the difficulty of improving conditions for workers in isolated, usually temporary, employment. The domestic science movement in the early 20th century unsuccessfully tried to professionalize domestic service by raising standards. Early domestic worker organizations in Vancouver and Toronto were short-lived, but beginning in the 1970s INTERCEDE (International Coalition to End Domestics' Exploitation) has monitored conditions and achieved some legislative control of employment standards.
Author MARILYN BARBER
Marilyn Barber, Immigrant Domestic Servants in Canada (Canadian Historical Booklet No. 16, 1991); Patricia Daenzer, Regulating Class Privilege: Immigrant Servants in Canada, 1940s-1990s (1993); B.D. Palmer, Working-Class Experience (1983).
Links to Other Sites
PASSAGES TO CANADA
Immigrants to Canada from around the world have encountered many hardships, opportunities, and successes as they set out to establish a better life for themselves and their families in their adopted country. Listen to some of their personal stories at the "Passages to Canada" website. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Old and New Ways in the Home
An online feature about the history of improvements in technology used for domestic chores and their impact on the role of women in society. From the Canada Science and Technology Museum.