Mining towns and domineering corporations

PROFile: Judith Harris, Associate Professor, Urban and Inner-City Studies, U of W

Supplied photo

From her experience of growing up in a mining town, Judith Harris, an associate professor for the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) Urban and Inner-City Studies program, knows firsthand the oppressive nature of corporate-run communities. 

“That’s always influenced me,” she says. “I’ve always felt as if a corporation should not run a community.” 

The power the mine had over Sudbury, Ont. was evident. Harris observed many members of her community going into debt, in addition to the severe inequalities for those who lived on the outskirts. 

“Ownership of homes was restricted to certain people,” she says. “There were many Métis people who lived in Happy Valley, which was outside of the boundaries of the mine, and they really suffered.

“So all of this made me feel as if living in a company town was not the right thing to do.” 

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Harris’ family worked for the mine, many people from different walks of life travelled to her town. Through talking with them, Harris became inspired to explore the world beyond her town.

“There were engineers from different parts of the world, and people who had (a) much wider experience than my family. It exposed me to things, like going to university.”

She thought, “they can do it, so I can do it.” 

Once Harris left her hometown, she travelled abroad to attend school. For a time afterward, she just kept travelling. 

But despite her feelings toward the corporate nature of her hometown, in some ways, it is still home for her.

“Where you grow up is where you feel happy,” she says. “Winnipeg and the Prairies (are) growing on me, in many ways, but the Shield is always where I feel healthiest.”

What is something you’ve learned from your students?

“I’ve learned just how much knowledge they have.”

What do you like to do in your free time?

“I like to sew. I taught my daughter how to sew. I enjoy that.” 

What was your worst grade in university?

“University was a shock to me, because I did well in high school,” she says. “I can’t give you a specific grade. I made it through, and I’m happy with that.”

What’s the best place you’ve ever travelled to?

“What first comes to mind is being in the mountains in Nepal, how fresh the air was.” 

Published in Volume 75, Number 04 of The Uniter (October 1, 2020)

Related Reads