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Exhibit Dates: January 17 to March 30, 2019

Women's Work

The Lakeshore during Wartime

October 17 to December 20, 2019

Women's Work postcard

About the Exhibit

Women’s Work was born of a series of exploratory conversations rising from ponderings about the Lakeshore community’s function during war time, specifically the Small Arms Limited munitions factory. From there, the conversations developed more specifically into the role of women during this time. The majority of men enlisted for overseas service, and women were needed to step into the numerous jobs left vacant, jobs traditionally considered to be “men’s work.” 

Interpretive Centre team:
Jennifer Bazar, Curator
Nadine Finlay, Assistant Curator
Phillip Goodchild, Curatorial Intern
Jim Tate, Hardcore Volunteer

The curatorial team sourced local factory newsletters from the Small Arms Limited and the Goodyear factories, discovering in the process that up to two thirds of the Small Arms workforce were women. Central to the exhibition is the focus on the multiple roles women were expected to fill. Not only were women needed to work the factory jobs to sustain the war effort, but also to maintain the roles of homemakers, mothers, and responsible stewards of scarce resources to support victory in the war. All while upholding social expectations of dress, decorum, and beauty of the time. These roles were particularly evident in the publicity given to “Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl” the real-life original Canadian icon of Veronica Foster used to inspire the growing female workforce. The Canadian Ronnie was so popular, she became the inspiration for the fictional American icon Rosie the Riveter.

Photo of Veronica Foster

The exhibit featured copies of Canadian propaganda posters from World War Two, and recreated materials from a variety of sources including the Toronto Public Library, Library and Archives Canada, Museums of Mississauga, and several other archival and heritage institutions. Breaking from a traditional exhibition, “Women’s Work” was more of a personal exploration. Visitors were encouraged to stay as long as they pleased – the couch was very cozy – and casually follow what interests them.

Knitting Circle Poster

Drop-In Knitting Circle


As part of the exhibition, the Interpretive Centre hosted a drop-in knitting circle on Wednesday evenings from 4:30pm to 6:30pm for the duration of the exhibition. The knitting circle was a social opportunity to enjoy working with your hands (and needles and yarn) and step away from the hustle of school/life. Copies were provided of World War II patterns that would have been followed by the women of the time to create materials to be sent to keep soldiers warm and dry overseas.


A bring-your-own-needles event, we also provided tea, cookies, and fun (if a little nerdy) company. Participants are encouraged to donate completed materials to local Out of The Cold programs in the area.

Want to give knitting a try? Download the instructions below for army socks and a scarf!


Learn more about the history:


Does this exhibit exemplify the comment “Canada will have to launch a national effort similar to the one we did in fighting World War II”?


Similarities can be drawn between the efforts to reduce consumption during wartime, and the messaging of today. The types of things that were done in the 1940s, like the aggressive recycling, victory gardens, and the reduction of consumer spending are all the type of actions that would go a long way to reducing our impact on climate change in 2019.


Who is Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl? What’s her significance?


Veronica Foster was a female worker at John Inglis plant – now where the CNE grounds are today. In the early days of World War II, she was adopted as a propaganda tool to show that young women were capable of working in the factories. She could be considered an “influencer” of her day. Photos of her feature (heavily posed) day-to-day activities of a female worker, showing everything from steps to being hired in a factory, to doing up your hair bandana, to working with the machines, to having a fun social life after-hours. Ronnie was such a popular icon in Canada, the Americas created a copy-cat persona to fill the same role: Rosie the Riveter.

What is a Bren gun?


The Bren was a modified version of Czechoslovak-designed light machine guns and used as a section automatic/light machine gun.


Note: Machine gun is loosely defined as any firearm that fires fully automatically (continues to fire as long as you press the trigger). In modern military circles it is more narrowly defined as follows:

  • Sub-machine guns - are small pistol caliber rifles e.g. Sten and Thomson guns

  • Light machine guns – can be belt or magazine fed heavy barreled rifles issued at a section level. e.g. Bren and FN C2A1.

  • General purpose machine guns – belt fed guns with heavy quick-change barrels. Small enough to be carried and are issued at a platoon level. They could also be used on vehicles and defensive fortifications.

  • Heavy machine guns – belt fed guns some mounted in armored vehicles, ships and aircraft.  A few and issued to ground forces in specific roles.


The name Bren was derived from Brno, Moravia, the Czechoslovak city where guns originally designed, and Enfield, site of the British Royal Small Arms Factory. Together Br and En to make “Bren.”

Why were bones and fats among the things that people were required to save?


Bones and fats were required to support military initiatives, strange as it may sound. Bones were used to make glue for airplane construction, so citizens were encouraged to save their leftover bones from dinner and return them to their local collectors – usually the butcher, rather than giving them to the dog or throwing them away.


Fats from cooking were also useful to be saved for the production of dynamite. Approximately one pound of fat could be made into one pound of dynamite. There are instructions on the shelf for families on how to save their fats from cooking. There were several steps needed to be taken to preserve it, and return it for collection – usually to the local butcher.


What were the needle nose pliers used for?


The pliers on display in the glass case, on loan from Museums of Mississauga, were used to assembling the Lee Enfield N04 rifles. Most likely this pair was used to install small parts like the sling swivels and bending pins used to retain the safety selector.


What country are these posters from?


All posters in the exhibit, on the doors, and outside the main space are selected Canadian propaganda posters from World War II. The “Patriotic Canadians Will Not Hoard Food” poster outside the office door is a Canadian poster from World War I, but displays the similar messaging at the time. The posters are in the public domain, and high-quality scans were retrieved, and copies printed from the Toronto Public Library, and Library and Archives Canada.


What are the clippings on the bulletin boards?


The clippings on both bulletin boards are articles from Goodyear and Small Arms Limited employee newsletters. The board on the East Wall (by the front door) is specific to the Goodyear, the board on the West Wall (by the office) is specific to the “Foresight” newsletter of the Small Arms Munitions factory. Content on both boards is specific to newsletters from the World War II era. Selected articles have content that speaks to the many directions people were pulled in to support the war efforts, and give a snapshot of what life was like during the wartime on the Lakeshore.


Where is the Small Arms factory?


The Small Arms Factory is still standing at the foot of Dixie Road at Lakeshore Blvd in Mississauga, just on the West side of Marie Curtis Park. It has since been repurposed by the City of Mississauga to be an art gallery that features contemporary art in its spaces. It currently shows works from the Toronto Art Biennale, 2019.


Fun Fact – The Long Branch TTC loop was extended in 1941 to service the Plant.


Fun Fact – The Water Front Trail cuts through the old shooting or proving range. All rifles and sub-machine guns manufactured were “proofed,” meaning they were test fired for functionality and accuracy. The large barriers can still be seen in the park today.


Fun Fact – The wooden baffles that can be seen from the trail were to dampen the sound of the gun fire.

What did the Small Arms factory do?


The Small Arms factory (Later to be called Canadian Arsenals Limited after 1946) produced the firearms listed below as well as miscellaneous items such as wooded bullets for training purposes to magazines for the US. The also had engineering and technical capabilities that they used to proto-type different rifle designs in the mid to late 40’s. The factory stayed open on a reduced scale after the war, closing officially in the late 1970s.

Exhibit Launch