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ARCHIVED - Canada and the First World War

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We Were There

Lois Allan

Women's Work

In 1918, Lois Allan was 18 years old. Eager to contribute to the Canadian war effort, she enrolled in the Farm Service Corps, an initiative of the Government of Ontario to replace the men who had left the farms for the Front.

Agriculture is just one facet of women's contribution to the war. The increase in industrial production gave women the opportunity to work in factories. The needs of the soldiers, their families and of the victims of war were met in part by charitable work, such as that of the Ottawa Women's Canadian Club. Some women, including Julia Grace Wales, who actively promoted pacifism, were known above all for the strength of their convictions. Women's contribution to the war effort was evident even within their own homes. As soldiers on the home front, their housekeeping talents were valued and they were encouraged to be frugal, to save and recycle food and various materials.

Women and Industrial Work

With the Canadian Expeditionary Force being sent to Europe, the mass production of weapons, ammunition and various equipment was required. Industrial production in Canada increased dramatically and companies had to employ women to fill new positions and the positions left vacant by men who had gone to the Front.

In some cases, women's work was orchestrated by the state. Their work in munitions factories was directed by the Imperial Munitions Board. In other cases, the women themselves showed an interest in becoming involved. Inspired by the efforts of British women, the members of the National Council of Women of Canada decided to ask the federal government to encourage the inclusion of women workers in naval shipyards. Women's work in industry was crucial to the organization and operations of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Europe.

Charitable Work

For many families, contributing to the war effort meant performing charitable work. During the four years of the war, the ladies of the Ottawa Women's Canadian Club, and other similar committees, knit, sewed, baked, organized and packaged impressive quantities of comforts and then sent them to Canadian soldiers that were either wounded or taken prisoner in Europe. Their efforts were appreciated by the soldiers, as seen in the letters from soldiers Nuttall, Lubotsky and Sénécal. The ladies also raised funds to help the victims of war, through the charitable efforts of the British Lady Lugard Hospitality Committee, a gesture recognized by the Belgian Crown.

Women Pacifists

The war effort of Julia Grace Wales, originally from Montreal, a brilliant graduate of McGill University and professor at Madison University in the United States, took the form of ideas. A resolute pacifist, she drafted a plan called Continuous Mediation without Armistice, intended to facilitate communication among those at war and find peaceful solutions to their conflicts.

Her plan gained some recognition in America, catching the attention of industrialist Henry Ford, who lent his name and provided funding for an expedition designed to promote this idea in Europe. As a member of this expedition, Julia Grace Wales gave numerous speeches and drafted several articles, and continued her pacifist endeavours long after the end of hostilities.