Riveting Rosies: Ephemera and Photographs of Canadian Women in the Second World War

November 6, 2018 | Raya

Comments (4)

Crews of Canadian girls commute each day by special train to one of Canada's great war plants
 Canadian women commute by train to arms and ammunition plants, 1940

Below are ephemera (items only meant to be used for a short time) and photographs from Toronto Public Library's Baldwin Collection and Toronto Star Photograph Archive, respectively. All are available on the library's site, Digital Archive Ontario.

When Canada went to war in 1939, women were called upon to do their part. Before the war conventional thinking was that a married woman belonged in the home. But with a diminishing male workforce, that role quickly changed. Women raised money for hospitals, volunteered in a variety of organizations and preserved food by planting "Victory gardens" of fruits and vegetables for their families and communities. Women and girls — some as young as 11 years — sold 25-cent War Savings Stamps for the federal government. By the end of the program, they had raised $318 million.



Advertisements like these appeared everywhere. Some used the imagery of women in danger to persuade citizens to finance war efforts in the form of Victory Bonds. Other campaigns asked women to do their bit by collecting materials that could be recycled into munitions and other war material. 


Housewives! Wage war on Hitler

Your aid is vital



Thousands of women volunteers also made their own clothes, knitted socks, scarves and mittens for the men overseas, and assembled packages of chocolate, sewing kits and razor blades for the troops. 

These women work at war plants during the day and knit at night.


As the war dragged on and the labour shortage grew, women were called upon to fill  jobs left vacant by men. And although employers were at first reluctant to hire women to work in heavy industry, it was clear that women were desperately needed to win the war. At the start of the war 600,000 women held permanent jobs in the private sector. By 1943 that number had doubled with more than 300,000 involved in the production of war goods such as guns, bullets and airplanes. 

Final touches are applied to a completed fuselage
Final touches are applied to a fuselage, 1943
Georgina Ogilvie rivetting on a bomber
Worker Georgina Oglivie working on riveting a bomber aircraft, 1942
Women working at the John Inglis Co. plant
 Ten workers at the John Inglis and Co (now Whirlpool Canada) pose with Bren firearms, 1944
Valida Igle and Jean Neil are rivetting main piping
Workers Valida Igle and Jean Neil rivet a fuselage, 1942

After the war most women returned to their former roles in the home, but gender barriers had been forever broken. Women had proved themselves capable of working in non-traditional jobs and this opened the door to future advances.