This Week in History


Off to Work We Go!

For the week of Monday, April 6, 2015

On April 9, 1940, the Munitions and Supply Act came into effect. Under this Act, the munitions industry not only became one of Canada’s major contributors to the Second World War effort, but also provided a vital source of income and opportunity for Canadian women.

During the First World War only unmarried women were allowed in factories, but married women worked too under C. D. Howe’s Munitions and Supply Act
© National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / no. 3196964

The Department of Munitions and Supply, led by C.D. Howe, was responsible for the management of scarce supplies, natural resources, and specialized labour during wartime. As men left their factory jobs for deployment overseas, there was a growing concern that production on the home front would stall. To temporarily fill job vacancies, the 1942 Selective Service policy registered all women between the ages of 20 and 24 as eligible to be placed in a war-industry job.

Thousands of women put their best foot forward to help the war industry. Single women were able to move into better paying jobs that taught them new skills. When married women joined the ranks later in the war, they didn’t step out of their domestic roles, however. They were still expected to maintain households and care for children, and they often had to contend with criticism from those who saw their work as ‘unladylike.’ Even with childcare offered at some factories and employee newsletters offering housekeeping tips for the working mother, keeping responsibilities balanced was no easy task!

Many women had already taken jobs to support their families through the Great Depression, but war industries provided an opportunity for large-scale employment of Canadian women
© National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / C-075211

Female employees were often paid less than their male counterparts, and received far less training. Treated as temporary workers, they were often reminded that they were only filling in for the men fighting overseas. Even though women made up more than a third of the 6, 760 employees at Canadian Car and Foundry (Can-Car), Canada’s largest wartime aircraft manufacturer, only three remained on the shop floor at war’s end.

For his contributions to the war industry, C. D. Howe was designated a Person of National Historic Significance. Women Workers in Canada's Military Munitions Industry and Entry of Women the Military Service in the Second World War are national historic events. Canadian Car and Foundry’s Thunder Bay factory is a national historic site.

It’s the 75th anniversary of the Second World War! To learn more, check out the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations page and Calling Out the Reserves. For more on the valuable contributions of women to Canada’s war effort, read We're in the Navy Now, Making Waves: Women in Uniform, and Queen of the Hurricanes! in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada! Click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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