Canada's in­dus­tries gear up for war

Sherbrooke Record - - REMEMBRANCE DAY -

When the Sec­ond World War be­gan, Cana­dian in­dus­try was still strug­gling in the midst of a bumpy and un­cer­tain re­cov­ery from the Great De­pres­sion. The mo­bi­liza­tion of our coun­try's in­dus­trial po­ten­tial dur­ing the war was noth­ing less than rev­o­lu­tion­ary and led to sig­nif­i­cant changes in the con­di­tions ex­pe­ri­enced by work­ers in Canada. With the com­ing of the war, the gov­ern­ment would sud­denly find it­self ac­tively in­volved in build­ing pro­duc­tion plants, train­ing a work force, con­trol­ling wages and prices, man­ag­ing labour dis­putes, and reg­u­lat­ing the move­ment of em­ploy­ees seek­ing to change jobs.

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, Cana­dian in­dus­tries man­u­fac­tured war ma­te­ri­als and other sup­plies for Canada, the United States, Bri­tain, and other Al­lied coun­tries. The to­tal value of Cana­dian war pro­duc­tion was al­most $10 bil­lion - ap­prox­i­mately $100 bil­lion in to­day's dol­lars.

In 1940, the Honourable C.D. Howe be­came the Min­is­ter of the newly-cre­ated De­part­ment of Mu­ni­tions and Sup­ply. This gov­ern­ment de­part­ment con­trolled and co­or­di­nated all as­pects of war pro­duc­tion.

This de­part­ment was, in a sense, one of the big­gest busi­nesses in the world. It co­or­di­nated all pur­chases made in Canada by Bri­tish and other Al­lied gov­ern­ments for things like mil­i­tary trans­port ve­hi­cles, tanks, cargo and mil­i­tary ships, air­craft, guns and small arms, am­mu­ni­tion as well as uni­forms, minesweep­ing equip­ment, parachutes, fire­fight­ing equip­ment, and hos­pi­tal sup­plies. It also cre­ated 28 Crown cor­po­ra­tions to pro­duce ev­ery­thing from ri­fles to syn­thetic rub­ber.

The Ge­nius of "Bits and Pieces"

Though much was in­vested in new plants, plant ex­pan­sions and tech­no­log­i­cal up­grad­ing, in­dus­try showed a re­mark­able tal­ent for adapt­ing ex­ist­ing space and tech­nol­ogy to fit the needs of wartime pro­duc­tion. Harry J. Carmichael - a Vice Pres­i­dent of Gen­eral Mo­tors who had been loaned to the De­part­ment of Mu­ni­tions and Sup­ply for one dol­lar a year - brought with him a ge­nius for sub-con­tract­ing. Called the "bits and pieces pro­gram" by C.D. Howe, Mr. Carmichael's ini­tia­tive brought scores of small, un­pro­duc­tive fac­to­ries into pro­duc­tion even though the Bri­tish had rated them as lit­tle bet­ter than garages at the start of the war.

For ex­am­ple, the Cana­dian Cy­cle and Mo­tor Co. Ltd. of We­ston, On­tario, which had made bi­cy­cles and hockey skates be­fore the war, took over the man­u­fac­ture of ar­ma­ments in­clud­ing gun parts, tripods for Bren guns, and cra­dles and piv­ots for anti-tank guns.

There were spin off in­dus­tries born of wartime con­di­tions. For ex­am­ple, In­dus­trial En­gi­neer­ing Ltd. of Van­cou­ver pro­duced a much-im­proved chain­saw. This de­vel­op­ment in­creased the ef­fi­ciency of lum­ber­jacks and also al­lowed some peo­ple to cut wood who oth­er­wise would not be phys­i­cally able to do the job. In these ways, the new chain­saw helped fill the gap cre­ated by the lum­ber in­dus­try's loss of per­son­nel to mil­i­tary ser­vice.

Liq­uid Car­bonic Cana­dian Cor­po­ra­tion, a Que­bec com­pany, had a soda foun­tain di­vi­sion which was turned over to build­ing tank parts.

A Coun­try Gets to Work

On the heels of the crip­pling de­pres­sion and stag­ger­ing lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment of the 1930s, the com­ing of war meant Canada sud­denly needed ev­ery worker it could get. To set up for the new in­dus­trial growth and help smooth the way for ef­fi­cient pro­duc­tion, sev­eral re­lated is­sues also had to be ad­dressed.

To meet the needs of work­ers who had to re­lo­cate in or­der to work in the new mu­ni­tions plants and other in­dus­tries, the De­part­ment of Mu­ni­tions and Sup­ply es­tab­lished a Crown cor­po­ra­tion called Wartime Hous­ing Ltd. Though the orig­i­nal plan was to build tem­po­rary hous­ing, it soon be­came ap­par­ent that the hous­ing would have to be of ad­e­quate qual­ity in or­der to en­sure that the build­ings would be hab­it­able for decades. This cor­po­ra­tion pro­duced two ba­sic house mod­els: a two-bed­room res­i­dence that sold for $1,982 and a four-bed­room res­i­dence that went for $2,680.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment en­tered into agree­ments with the prov­inces to share the cost of day-care fa­cil­i­ties re­quired by many work­ing moth­ers en­gaged in wartime in­dus­tries (although, most com­monly, the im­por­tant task of child care fell to other fam­ily mem­bers or com­mu­nity vol­un­teers).

Out of Canada's pop­u­la­tion of 11.3 mil­lion, the to­tal num­ber of work­ers en­gaged in es­sen­tial war in­dus­tries

was 1,049,876, with ap­prox­i­mately 2,100,000 more en­gaged full-time in what was called "es­sen­tial civil­ian em­ploy­ment", which in­cluded agri­cul­ture, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and food pro­cess­ing.

To en­sure that wages re­mained un­der con­trol and to curb in­fla­tion, the gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished the Na­tional Se­lec­tive Ser­vice Reg­u­la­tions, pro­hibit­ing em­ploy­ers from ad­ver­tis­ing for work­ers ex­cept through Na­tional Se­lec­tive Ser­vice of­fices. As well, em­ploy­ees were pro­hib­ited from seek­ing other em­ploy­ment with­out a per­mit.

The Af­ter­math

Per­haps most re­mark­ably, Cana­dian in­dus­try, which had "geared up" for war, did not gear down greatly in its af­ter­math. Some jobs dis­ap­peared, cer­tainly, but they were re­placed by other em­ploy­ment. C.D. Howe was again in­volved, this time in charge of the new De­part­ment of Re­con­struc­tion, which over­came a po­ten­tial eco­nomic cri­sis by or­ches­trat­ing the tran­si­tion from a wartime econ­omy to a peace­time one. In 1948, un­em­ploy­ment was still at a min­i­mum; steel mills were ex­ceed­ing their wartime ca­pac­ity while the de­mand for alu­minum held. Canada had be­come the third largest trad­ing na­tion in the world. Best of all, the war seemed to have taught Canada the value of our "hu­man cap­i­tal" and things would never again be the same for Cana­dian work­ers.

The Le­gacy

The col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ences and sto­ries of all the Cana­di­ans, in­clud­ing those who worked in in­dus­try, who con­trib­uted to the na­tional ef­fort dur­ing the Sec­ond World War pro­vided our coun­try with a proud and last­ing le­gacy that will con­tinue into the fu­ture.

Canada Re­mem­bers Pro­gram

The Canada Re­mem­bers Pro­gram of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Canada en­cour­ages all Cana­di­ans to learn about the sac­ri­fices and achieve­ments made by those who have served—and con­tinue to serve—dur­ing times of war and peace. As well, it in­vites Cana­di­ans to be­come in­volved in re­mem­brance ac­tiv­i­ties that will help pre­serve their le­gacy for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

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