Index » World War II » Content

The Canadian War Industry

War Economy
Valentine tanks on flatbeds for shipment to Russia. Nov. 1941, Montréal, Quebec.
The Canadian government took full control of the economy, and turned it into a war-winning weapon.
During the Second World War, Canadian industries manufactured war materials and other supplies for Canada, the United States, Britain, and other Allied countries. The total value of Canadian war production was almost $10 billion - approximately $100 billion in today’s dollars.
The Canadian contribution began early and made a crucial difference to the winning of the war. For a nation of 11 million people it was an incredible accomplishment.
Canadian Production
Canadian industrial production during the Second World war.
  • 11 billion dollars of munitions
  • 1.7 million small arms
  • 43,000 heavy guns
  • 16,000 aircraft
  • 2 million tonnes of explosives
  • 815,000 military vehicles, 50,000 tanks and armoured gun carriers
  • 9,000 boats and ships
  • Anti-tank and field artillery
  • Naval guns
  • Small arms and automatic weapons
  • Radar sets and Electronics
  • Synthetic rubber
  • Uranium for the ’Manhattan Project’

Canada was faced with the challenge of creating - practically from scratch - a strong industrial base to produce weapons and war materials for the war effort. Canadian industry and the workforce of our country stepped up with an amazing response to this situation and helped contribute to the Allied victory in the war.

  • It established C. D. Howe’s Department of Munitions and Supply and the Wartime Industries Control Board, both in the spring of 1940, and applied tough wage and price controls in 1941.
  • It lent money to Britain interest-free, gave it a gift of war supplies in January 1942 and then donated surplus production to Canada’s allies through the Canadian Mutual Aid Board.

Canada was making war production available to the Allied countries which could not afford to buy it.

The country was wealthy. Everyone who wanted to work could. There were, it was true, limits on wages and restrictions in the choosing and changing of jobs. There were also some shortages and rationing of food and other products. Income taxes, an invention of the First World War, went up. And the government pushed workers to put their money into Victory loans and savings schemes. But what a difference it was from the awful, ragtag, Depression-hounded Dirty Thirties.

Canada - Arsenal to the War Effort
Canadian war factories were safe from bombing. Canada became an arsenal, and was Britain’s chief overseas supplier of war materiel.
Canada did not accept American Lend-Lease aid. Actually Canada ran its own lend-lease program for its allies called "Mutual Aid", supplying its allies with four billion dollars worth of war materiel. A further credit of a billion dollars was given to Britain.
Weapons & Munitions
28 ton Valentine tanks in the final stages of preparation after their assembly at the Angus shops. A workforce of 3,500 produces the tanks from 40,000 parts at a cost of $90,000 per tank. Tanks top speed is 25 mph. Jan. 1942 / Montreal, Quebec.
The federal government established the Department of Munitions and Supply in April 1940 to control the production of munitions for Canada and its allies.
Clarence Decatur Howe (1886-1960) and his department not only equipped Canada’s armed forces but also got orders from outside the country, chiefly from Britain, controlled the raw materials needed to make munitions, and even created out of nothing whole new industries to manufacture them.
By 1945 Canada’s war production was fourth among the Allied nations, less only than that of the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Only some 30% of this was needed for Canada’s armed forces: the remainder went overseas.
Another of the most important was the mass production of 815,729 military vehicles, including 45,710 armoured vehicles. Canadian-made vehicles were crucial in equipping the British Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy. Canada also produced rifles, submachine guns, light machine guns, antitank guns and antiaircraft guns, as well as the multipurpose 25-pounder artillery piece.
  • Britain had entered the war with 80,000 military vehicles of all types; however, 75,000 of these British vehicles were left behind in the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. Virtually defenceless on the ground, Britain turned to Canada - and particularly the Canadian auto industry - to replace what had been lost. Canada not only replaced these losses, it did much more.
  • Canadian industry produced over 800,000 military transport vehicles, 50,000 tanks, 40,000 field, naval, and anti-aircraft guns, and 1,700,000 small arms.
  • Of the 800,000 military vehicles of all types built in Canada, 168,000 were issued to Canadian forces. Thirty-eight percent of the total Canadian production went to the British. The remainder of the vehicles went to the other Allies. This meant that the Canadian Army ’in the field’ had a ratio of one vehicle for every three soldiers, making it the most mechanized field force in the war.
  • The Bombardier company of Valcourt, Quebec, built over 150 military snowmobiles. General Motors developed a frame for another snowmobile, of which 300 were built.
  • Canadian Pacific Railway constructed 788 Valentine tanks in its Angus shop in Montreal; its engine was built by General Motors. 5,200 tanks had been built at C.P. Angus and Montreal Locomotive Company shops by the end of the war.
  • 2,150 twenty-five pounder "Sexton" self-propelled guns were built by Montreal Locomotive Works.
  • A heavy utility vehicle body was developed in Canada. Four-thousand such vehicles were manufactured by General Motors in Oshawa. This vehicle body could be mounted on a 4x4 chassis and could, with slight modifications, be used as a personnel carrier, ambulance, light wireless, truck or machinery truck.

Canadian Department of Munitions & Supply

  • This department was, in a sense, one of the biggest businesses in the world. It coordinated all purchases made in Canada by British and other Allied governments for things like military transport vehicles, tanks, cargo and military ships, aircraft, guns and small arms, ammunition as well as uniforms, minesweeping equipment, parachutes, firefighting equipment, and hospital supplies. It also created 28 Crown corporations to produce everything from rifles to synthetic rubber.
Shipping & Ship Building
After the fall of France in May 1940, it became a priority to enlarge the Allies merchant shipping fleet, to replace ships lost, and to make sure that there were naval escort vessels to guard convoys against German submarines. Britain was highly vulnerable, and North American arms and supplies were a lifeline.
Canada in 1940 had just started to build patrol vessels for the protection of its own coasts, but Britain soon placed orders for 26 ten-thousand-tonne cargo ships and soon after orders for naval escorts and minesweepers. This was just the beginning, as Britain made clear it needed Canada to build as many naval and merchant ships as it possibly could. The practically non-existent Canadian interwar shipbuilding industry - three shipyards employing fewer than 4,000 men - expanded to 90 plants on the East and West Coasts, the Great Lakes and even inland. More than 126,000 men and women were employed.
  • Canadian shipyards built 4,047 naval vessels
  • Built 300 anti-submarine warships
  • 4 Tribal class destroyers
  • 410 cargo ships

At its wartime peak in September 1943, the industry was able to deliver the ten-thousand-tonne SS Fort Romaine in a stunning 58 days from the start of construction.

There were 348, ten thousand-ton, merchant ships built in Canada during the war. Large and relatively slow, but reliable and easily adapted to a variety of cargoes, these ships and those who sailed on them ensured the delivery of much of Canada’s war production.

  • During 1941, the first of the large 10,000 ton merchant ships were taking an average of 307 days to build (and up to 426 days in one case). One year later, average production time had dropped to 163 days (with one ship being produced in a record 112 days).
  • Some 57,000 individuals were employed in merchant shipbuilding and a further 27,000 worked in naval shipbuilding, which included building vessels like destroyers, frigates, corvettes, and minesweepers.
Aircraft Production
During the Second World War, the Canadian aircraft industry grew to employ nearly 120,000 workers, 30,000 of whom were women.
  • It delivered 16,418 aircraft to fill Allied orders, chiefly from Britain and the United States, but also for use by the RCAF and BCATP.
  • Before the war, there had been only eight small plants in the entire country, making about forty aeroplanes annually.
  • The famous Avro Lancaster bomber rolled off the assembly line at Malton, Ont., now the site of Lester B. Pearson International Airport.

Canadian aviation industries manufactured parts for huge bombers and fighter aircraft like the Wasp, Mosquito, and Hawker Hurricane (whose laminated fuselages were made of wood harvested from the forests of British Columbia).

  • Production in the aircraft industry went from extremely low levels before the war to 4,000 military aircraft a year by the end of the war.
  • Canadian factory space for the production of aircraft increased from 500,000 square feet before the war to a high of 14,000,000 square feet at its peak during the war.
  • Canadian industry pulled together to a great degree in many different ways and cooperated a great deal to produce vitally-needed war materials. For example, the contract to produce 1,100 Mosquito fighter-bombers was awarded to De Havilland, but they only did the final assembly. General Motors made the fuselages, Massey Ferguson made the wings, Boeing made the tailplanes, the flaps were made by Canadian Power Boat Company, and the undercarriages were built by Otaco. Numerous other smaller companies were also involved in producing other parts for this aircraft as well.

Sources: Canadian War Museum, Veterans Affairs Canada, "Jonny Canucks" Wartime History of Canada, Canada at War: Volume II

Last updated on Sep 17, 2007 14:21. Page viewed 177491 times.