A CANADIAN LEGACY
Most people have heard of Rosie the Riveter, the American icon of World War II. Millions of American women joined the workforce between 1940 and 1945, many working in defence-related industries, and they’ve been celebrated in art, on film and in the feminist movement in the 1980s.
However, few people know that about 1 million Canadian women did exactly the same thing during the war, with one-quarter of them working in munitions industries, according to the Canadian War Museum. And there is an example right here in Durham Region. Defence Industries Limited (DIL), the largest munitions plant in the Commonwealth, opened in 1941 in what would later be called Ajax, and of its 9,000 employees, 7,000 were women.
They were mostly single and came from farms and communities across Canada. Recreational facilities soon cropped up so the employees would have something to do in their free time, including dances, bowling and a baseball team almost like in the movie A League of Their Own.
Unlike their American counterparts, the Ajax Bomb Girls have gone largely unrecognized. A legacy campaign has been working since 2012 to erect a permanent monument to honour the thousands of women who worked at DIL during World War II. After raising more than $170,000 in the fundraising campaign, the group is now seeking a grant from the federal government and will then begin the process of commissioning an artist to create the statue. It will be placed in a public square at Harwood and Bayly in Ajax.
Despite round-the-clock shifts, dangerous work and living far from home, the women interviewed by the legacy campaign were proud of what they did. The Commando of Defence Industries Limited published this in 1942: “There are more likely to be sinners than saints among us, but deep down we are thinking of the boy behind that gun. Somebody’s father, husband, son or sweetheart – that boy who wants the tools, which we can give him. To do the jobs that are vital to victory is, indeed, a privilege, and to be a woman war worker is a decided honour.”
One Woman’s Story
Hughena Kennedy (nee MacDonald) is from Waterford, N.S, and worked for Defence Industries Limited (DIL) after responding to an advertisement in the newspaper. Here is what she said to the Ajax Bomb Girls Legacy Campaign.
“Working there was one of the best experiences of my life. There was always something for us to do to boost our spirits. There were dances, a softball team, and many things for us to do together. I was the only girl from New Waterford, but I got to know everyone easily at lunchtime and during social events. Even though there was plenty of fun, we knew why we were there. There was a job to be done and for me, I realized that what I was doing was for my brothers, too. I had five brothers overseas during the war, and all five came back. I would go back tomorrow and do it all again.”
for more information, visit honourajaxbombgirls.ca