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Dec. 19, 2022


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Catharine Wilson - Being Neighbours: Cooperative Work and Rural Culture, 1830–1960

I have a fascination with Canadian history and more specifically, rural Canadian history. I have a keen interest in what life was like in rural Canada many years ago but I have a passion for discovering the voices that we are missing.

Consulting the oracle or Google, to dig up some rural Canadian history, I came across the Rural Diary Archive and its Founder and Director, Catharine Wilson.

Catharine Wilson is the author of Being Neighbours: Cooperative Work and Rural Culture, 1830–1960

Throughout history, farm families have shared work and equipment with their neighbours to complete labour-intensive, time-sensitive, and time-consuming tasks. They benefitted materially and socially from these voluntary, flexible, loosely structured networks of reciprocal assistance, making neighbourliness a vital but overlooked aspect of agricultural change. 


Being Neighbours takes us into the heart of the neighbourhood - the set of people near and surrounding the family - through an examination of work bees in southern Ontario from 1830 to 1960. The bee was a special event where people gathered to work on a neighbour’s farm like bees in a hive for a wide variety of purposes, including barn raising, logging, threshing, quilting, turkey plucking, and apple paring. Drawing on the diaries of over one hundred men and women, Catharine Wilson takes readers into families’ daily lives, the intricacies of their labour exchange, and their workways, feasts, and hospitality.


Catharine's interest in history began while growing up in Grenville County in a rural area. To celebrate 1967, her parents built a log cabin in their basement. Inspired by the family heirlooms displayed there, she's been fascinated with the history of daily life ever since. She teaches Canadian History, Social History, and Rural History to undergraduates and graduates at the University of Guelph. She is the Redelmeier Professor in Rural History, Coordinator of the speakers’ series The Rural History Roundtable, Founder and Director of the Rural Diary Archive website, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.  


Being Neighbours is Catharine's third book. 


The first was A New Lease on Life: Landlords, tenants and Immigrants in Ireland and Canadaand her second was Tenants in Time: Family Strategies, Land, and Liberalism in Upper Canada, 1799-1871