During the war, civilians played a critical role in building ships, aircraft, tanks and munitions needed at the front in Europe. As so many young men were serving overseas, women were recruited from all over Canada to fill manufacturing and munitions positions. By the end of the war, nearly a million women were working in these industries.
In and around Toronto, some of the companies were Small Arms Ltd., an arsenal munitions factory in Long Branch; De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd., located in Downsview; the General Engineering Company (Canada) Ltd., or GECO, of Scarborough; and John Inglis and Co., and Massey-Harris Ltd., both of which were situated in downtown Toronto.
Work on the assembly lines was repetitive, difficult, and often very dangerous. In the factories where shells, fuses and bombs were manufactured, safety was of paramount importance. Since high explosives and gunpowder were involved, anything that might cause a spark was banned. Female workers had to remove their hair pins and hold their hair back with bandanas. This attention to safety paid off. At the GECO munitions plant, a staff of 20,000 worked around the clock. During the three years the plant operated (1942-45) there was not a single fatal accident.