Social work

School of Social Work researchers launch oral history project – Brighter World

Screenshots of dozens of interviews Canadian social worker Karen Hill conducted with retired pioneers of Canadian social work nearly 40 years ago. A team of McMaster researchers are analyzing the interviews and digitizing Hill’s recordings.

Almost 40 years ago, Canadian social worker Karen Hill began a massive project to record the oral history of Canada’s social work pioneers. For several years, she traveled across Canada to meet retired social workers and document their experiences and knowledge.

The dozens of interviews she collected were archived at Library and Archives Canada, where they remained for years, largely forgotten.

In 2021, a team of McMaster researchers, led by School of Social Work associate professor Tara La Rose, received an Insight grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to conduct historical document analysis, digitize Hill’s recordings and create 50 contemporary oral histories.

Tara La Rose is an associate professor of social work at McMaster University.

“I came across this collection of oral histories while researching for my thesis,” La Rose said. “I found so many interesting and important stories and wanted to do something with them.”

The team uploaded over forty of these oral histories to YouTube for easy access and sharing online. Included is an interview featuring the experiences of Kay Shimizu, who was responsible for some of the advocacy around the federal government’s 1988 apology to Japanese-Canadian survivors of wartime internment.

Shimizu began her graduate degree in social work shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor and eventually completed her field internship while interned in one of the camps in the interior of Colombia. British during World War II.

Other interviews focus on social issues that continue to be discussed today, including affordable housing and the oppression of minority communities.

“Canada experienced a housing crisis in the 1940s, which led to the development of social housing. We also have a housing crisis today, but for better or for worse, we don’t react in the same way, and we can learn from that,” added La Rose.

The possible meaning of these experiences is at the origin of the second part of the La Rose project. His team will repeat Hill’s experiment this fall by interviewing this generation’s list of retired social work leaders to create 50 new videos.

The online nomination process began in September 2022 and will close in December 2022. Members of the public can recommend a potential candidate for an interview by visiting and then submitting contact information for an influential social worker from their region. The candidates will then go before a national selection jury which will make the final decision.

“There have been many changes in the profession in Canada since Hill made his recordings. At the time, many social workers did not have formal qualifications, but today we recognize social work as a profession. The general understanding of social work has changed, and we expect this to be reflected in the stories we collect.