Elizabeth Wallace Dornan, born in 1924, lied about her age and joined 20,000 other workers, predominantly women, at Scarborough’s General Engineering Company Munitions factory. These women were pioneers in recognizing the importance of women’s work in society. During the Second World War, these women filled more than 256 million munitions, making the General Engineering Company site Canada’s most industrious wartime parcel of land. As men increasingly enlisted to the armed services and the war industry grew simultaneously, women in Toronto found themselves called upon to fill the gap in production on the home front. Across Canada, the number of women involved in war production increased from 6,000 to 261,000 during the war.
Grandma the Bomb Girl
Sandra Vais, Toronto MFRC Finance
Elizabeth was seventeen years old when her fiancé enlisted with the armed forces and left for Europe. With only a grade eight education, she was working at the local grocer to help her family make ends meet. News came that there was a job opportunity in Scarborough to work at the General Engineering Company Munitions factory. The necessity of the work was reflected in their high wages and generous benefits: pay was set at a base rate of $19.60 per week with an annual cost of living bonus of 17 per cent. So, lying about her age, and lying to her parents, she jumped on the bus and registered with the Munitions Workers Association. Every employee belonged to the association, which acted like a union, bargaining for improvement to work conditions and bonuses. One of the benefits provided, was a non-profit cafeteria that operated to provide nutritious and healthy meals for the employees. There was also a nursery for children of the workers. Workers paid 35 cents per day for the care of one child and 50 cents per day for two.
In 1945, when the factory was no longer a requirement, and with Elizabeth’s fiancé having returned, Elizabeth faced a decision. Continue to forge ahead working in a man’s world. Or settle down, get married and raise her family. Elizabeth choose both. Married and with three children, Elizabeth continued working and improving her knowledge. She retired at the age of 67 as an X-ray technician.
Elizabeth, my grandmother, passed away at the age of 89 with 10 grandchildren and so far, 4 great-grandchildren. She was the pillar of strength for our family and an inspiration to us all.