Days of Toil and Tears:The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, Almonte, Ontario, 1887 by Sarah Ellis-book review

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by Trish Dyer

As a Toronto high school student studying Canadian history, I was fascinated by William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion of Upper Canada in 1837.

Part of my enthusiasm was rooted in adolescence: working class struggles against oppression dovetailed nicely with the ethos of  the sixties, the era I came of age. Several decades later, however, what I remember most is a trip I took- alone, by subway – to the site of Montgomery’s Tavern on Yonge Street, where I closed my eyes and imagined myself amongst the rebels. Later in life I would do the same with my own family in the museum which houses Mackenzie’s first printing press. And again at Black Creek Pioneer Village where I purchased a replica of the ‘wanted’ a thousand pound reward to anyone who could ‘apprehend and deliver’ Mackenzie or his co-horts David Gibson, Samuel Lount, Jesse Lloyd and Silas Fletcher which yet hangs on my office wall.

In short, I love seeing, reading, immersing myself in real people, place and things.

is the story of a 12 year old retrieved from an orphan’s home in Kingston by an Aunt and Uncle, to come live and work with them in Almonte at the Rosamund Mill in 1887.

 Flora, a fictious, finely drawn character lives in a world reassembled through detailed historical research. She brings familiar downtown Almonte streets and historical buildings to life in a way that is impossible to resist.

Author Sarah Ellis was inspired to write this book (her second for Scholastic) after visiting the Mississipi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte.

Almonte  was the site of Canada’s biggest textile mills and children laboured in those mills well into the 1900’s. In fact, Almonte mill owners opposed and defied laws which prohibited full-time employment of boys under the age of 12 and girls under fourteen well into the 1900’s.

. It is a must-read for any Almonte resident interested in knowing more about the stone buildings lining downtown streets. It would make an ideal gift for the senior ‘who has everything’ and students from mid-elementary through high school.

Days of Toil and Tears includes a handful of historical black and white photographs, a diagram of the Rosamund Mill (Millfall/Museum) and moving portraits of young children employed in textile mills in the United States