Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water

A biblical term (Joshua 9:21)1 that the Oxford Dictionary defines as “menial drudges; labourers”. For Canada, it has been pejorative shorthand for the country’s historic reliance on natural resources – versus “value-added” manufacturing – for economic growth. The biblical phrase was first used by Minister of Finance Leonard Tilley2 in 1879: “The time has arrived when we are to decide whether we will be simply hewers of wood and drawers of water…or will rise to the position, which, I believe Providence has destined us to occupy.”

By the last decades of the 20th Century, Canadian manufacturing exports were actually eclipsing resource exports. While international impressions of Canada being a commodity-based economy continued, the reality was something different; by 2002, manufactured products accounted for 54% of the country’s exports. However, through the combined impacts of globalization, lower labour costs in developing economies, a higher Canadian dollar, and growing demand for Canadian resources – especially energy – by 2014, the percentage for manufactured goods had shrunk to 36%.

Once again, Canada is back to its historic role as “hewers of wood and drawers of water” – and clearly oil – to the world.

Image Source: davebloggs007, Flickr


  1. Joshua 9:21. King James Version. Bible Gateway.
  2. Canadian Confederation. Library & Archives Canada.

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