Industrial Relations / Industrial Relations Centre

[group photo of graduating class]
Group photo of graduating class 1945-46

As Canada became an increasingly urban and industrial nation in the early 1920s, the need for a new profession arose. Corporations sought to maximize the output of their labour force and workers fought for fair treatment and compensation, often leading to conflict between the two sides. The discipline of “industrial relations” was thus born, and Queen’s became the first university in the country to respond to the need for trained industrial relations negotiators.

The roots of the Industrial Relations Centre stretch back to 1936, when future Principal W.A. Mackintosh, then head of Queen's Department of Political and Economic Science, organized a conference on industrial relations at Queen's for academics, government, and industry leaders. This was the first conference of its kind ever held in Canada.

Inspired by its success, Mackintosh lobbied for the creation of an "Industrial Relations Section" to be linked to the Commerce program in his department (see School of Business). Backed by prominent businessmen such as Queen’s chancellor James Richardson and former professor-turned-federal-deputy-minister of finance Clifford Clark, Queen’s launched its own Industrial Relations (IR) Section in 1937.

The IR Section was dedicated to gathering labour market data, providing training in the skills of negotiation, sponsoring relevant research and disseminating findings through publications and conferences. More than 700 companies and unions contributed labour market information to Queen’s, which in turn discerned trends that were shared through statistical reports and hands-on seminars.

In 1944, the IR Section became the fully-fledged Department of Industrial Relations and a year later, as the national economy entered into peace, began offering a one-year diploma course in industrial relations. Queen’s IR graduates, well versed in such topics as labour law and personnel administration, soon worked their way into the ranks of corporate and governmental management.

In 1960, as the immediate post-war demand for IR specialists diminished, the renamed Industrial Relations Centre refocused its energies on research, the building up of a comprehensive library on industrial relations, maintaining policy-oriented relationships with industry, government and labour.

The 1960s saw a blossoming of interest in managing the national economy through applied economics and management science. Queen’s business school, for instance, launched its MBA program. This pressure for more focused graduate degrees often encompassed the study of labour law and labour negotiation. Ultimately, this resulted in the Senate’s 1982 approval of a multi-disciplinary master’s program in industrial relations (MIR) and the creation of a School of Industrial Relations. This now operates under the the Faculty of Arts and Science as Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre. 

Today's Centre has since achieved an international reputation for its policy-oriented research, extensive publication program, and the continuous learning programs it offers professionals in the field. 

Learn more about the Industrial Relations Centre...