Secret Life of Canada

Who are the women who've looked after Canada's children?

The Secret Life of Canada looks at the changing face of caregivers in Canada.

The Secret Life of Canada looks at the changing face of caregivers in Canada.

A group of French-speaking women from Guadalupe in 1911, photographed on Ellis Island while on their way to domestic jobs in Montreal. (National Park Service, Ellis Island National Monument)

In their final episode of the season, The Secret Life of Canada takes on the history of Canada's nannies and caregivers, asking "does Canada have a class system? From Ireland to Finland to the Caribbean to the Philippines, the faces of the women have changed — but has central story? 

Co-hosts Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson explore the stories of Indigenous girls and women from all over the world, from the 1940s on, who were tasked with caring for Canada's children and families.

Two domestics pose among their employers, the Malkin family, and their children on the steps of the family home at 1406 Davie Street in Vancouver. (Wadds Bros/Vancouver Archives)

What you'll hear this episode

  • How Indigenous and Black women who were enslaved became some of the first nannies in Upper Canada.
  • The history behind early Irish Immigration in Canada and the discrimination many Irish Catholics met when they got here.
  • The competition to find a nanny when they were scarce.
  • Why Finnish and Scandinavian women were preferred as domestics.
  • How residential schools turned care giving into an industry, fuelled by the labour of Indigenous girls and women.
  • A brief history of the West Indian Domestic Scheme and discriminatory practices of the Canadian Government in regards to West Indian Immigration.
  • The concept of a racialized labour hierarchy. 
  • How Caribbean and Filipina women fought the system to push for better working conditions.
  • An interview with Dr.Ethel Tungohan the Canada Research Chair in Canadian Migration Policy, Impacts and Activism.