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Associate Professor in the School of Social Work, Tara La Rose

School of Social Work researchers launch oral history project

Researchers led by social work professor Tara La Rose will interview social workers across Canada with the aim of preserving the history of the field.

Sep 28, 2022


Almost 40 years ago, Canadian social worker Karen Hill began a comprehensive project to record the oral history of the pioneers of Canadian social work. For several years, she travelled across Canada to meet with 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 Associate Professor in the School of Social Work, Tara La Rose received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant to conduct an analysis of the historic materials, digitalize Hill’s recordings and create 50 contemporary oral histories.

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

The team has uploaded over forty of these oral histories to YouTube to facilitate online access and sharing. 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 the Japanese Canadian survivors of wartime internment. Shimizu began her graduate degree in social work shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbour and eventually completed her field placement while interned in one of the British Columbia interior camps during WWII. Other interviews feature social issues that continue to be discussed today, including affordable housing and the oppression of minority communities. 

 “Canada had a housing crisis in the 1940s, which spawned the development of public housing. We also have a housing crisis today, but for better or worse, we’re not responding in the same way, and we can learn from that,” added La Rose.

The possible significance of these experiences is behind the second component of La Rose’s project. Her team will redo Hill’s experiment this fall by interviewing this generation’s slate of retired social work leaders to create 50 new videos.

The online nominations process began in September 2022 and will close in December 2022. Members of the public can recommend a potential interview candidate by visiting and then submitting the details of an influential social worker from their area. Nominees will then go before a national selection panel that will make the final decision.

 “There have been many changes in the profession in Canada since Hill made her recordings. Back then, many social workers didn’t have formal qualifications, but today, we recognize social work as a profession. The general understanding of social work has changed, and we expect that to be reflected in the stories we collect.”