© McCord Museum
Women at tables, International Manufacturing Co., Montreal, QC, 1914-8
Black & Bennett
1914-1918, 20th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on linen - Gelatin silver process
17 x 24 cm
From Anglin-Norcross Limited
© McCord Museum
Keys to History:
By the end of 1918 over half a million Canadians, mostly men, were in military uniform, a staggering achievement for a nation of 8.1 million. Every soldier, however, represented one less factory worker. By 1915 the war economy's demand for labour obliged employers to recruit women into jobs traditionally occupied by men. Women quickly displaced men in clerical positions in offices and banks, and took over in other service jobs such as streetcar conductors. They were then brought into manufacturing jobs. By 1917 over 35,000 women were working in central Canadian munitions plants.
Women were generally employed in "busy hands" jobs that involved speed and dexterity, such as putting fuses into shells or putting primer caps into cartridges.
While women in the western provinces took on farm jobs, most paid female employment in the war was in central Canada. Most workers were young single women. In Ontario, the Young Women's Christian Association arranged chaperoning of working "girls," opening canteens and hostels for them.
Women's appearance in non-traditional wartime occupations coincided with first-wave feminism, the movement of women out of the domestic realm into the workaday world. If women could make munitions, they should also be able to vote. Ontario became the fifth province to accord this right in 1917.
Many Canadian women participated in an informal wartime economy through such organizations as the Red Cross and the War Council of Women, by knitting clothing and preparing bandages and food parcels for the "boys at the front." A few women donned uniforms as nurses and ambulance drivers.