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REMEMBER THIS: Imbalance of power (4 photos)

Did you know that in 1877 it was actually illegal to, as Johnny Paycheck once sang, take this job and shove it?

Who remembers the Johnny Paycheck song from 1977 Take This Job and Shove it? You know the one I mean. We’ve all had jobs that we intensely disliked and often times we simply quit them and walked away.

Did you know that back in 1877, 100 years before this song was written, it was illegal to do so in many cases?

The old newspapers of Barrie regularly printed a Schedule of Returns of Convictions, which was essentially a list of persons recently convicted of offences. It gave the name of the offender, the name of the person pressing charges, the offence, date of conviction, and the sentence or fine.

This market town, with its multitude of taverns, produced long lists of those convicted of assault, disorderly conduct, use of foul language and various liquor-related offences. Not uncommonly, the odd-sounding charge of deserting employment was also included.

In August 1875, Samuel Soules of Big Bay Point in Innisfil had Mary Ann Kelly charged with deserting his employment. Mr. Soules testified in a Barrie courtroom that Miss Kelly had been hired as a domestic servant for his household, but left his employ in July without just cause. She testified that Mr. Soules had been abusive toward her and that she was forced to flee and had, in fact, spent two nights sleeping outdoors.

The judge ruled in favour of Soules. Mary Ann Kelly was ordered to return to her former employer until Oct. 10, when he would no longer require her services, and to pay all court costs. Ouch.

What kind of law won’t allow you to quit your job? This was what was known as the Master and Servant Act which was a law introduced in Canada in 1847 that mirrored a similar English law. It was designed, purportedly, to protect the rights of both employer and employee but, of course, great inequality existed almost from the beginning.

Very few employers were convicted of any employment offences and if they were, they would be allowed some time to come up with the cash whereas employees were directed to heed their sentence immediately.

In 1875, local lumberman-turned-postmaster and MPP Robert Paton successfully prosecuted Will Walker, his former employee. Walker was ordered to pay up $5 “forthwith."

Apprentices, too, were virtual hostages to their masters. If the master mistreated the apprentice, failed to give the proper training, or didn’t provide food, lodgings or other contracted responsibilities, his young protégé often ran away. If he was caught, he would be prosecuted, as would anyone found harbouring him.

This ad from the Oct. 2, 1877 edition of the Northern Advance is a sad testament to the blurred lines between people and property:

“Two smart intelligent boys, ages 6 and 8 years, now in the County Gaol. Farmers or others wishing to adopt, or take them as apprentices, or one or both, please apply to the Mayor of Barrie.”

Another property crime in this vein sounds rather strange to us today. It was the charge of seduction brought by fathers on behalf of their daughters. Often, the alleged seducer was also charged with breaching a promise of marriage.

In many cases, a child was involved and financial support was necessary but the main point of the prosecution was that the father had lost a valuable asset in his daughter. Her services as housekeeper in the home, or a wage earner contributing to his household finances, had been diminished and he required compensation.

Very often, the wronged father won his case but not before his daughter and been well shamed in open court. In some cases, the convicted seducer could avoid fines or jail time if he agreed to marry the young lady.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.

Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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