War Industry in St. Catharines
St.Catharines experienced an economic and manufacturing boom during the war years. A range of companies across the city had a role in providing much needed supplies and products to the war effort. Between 1938 and 1943, the number of those employed in the manufacturing industry increased from 5,500 to over 11,000.
McKinnon Industries – A Division of General Motors
As war broke out in 1939, McKinnon Industries placed it’s entire production facilities at the disposal of the Canadian Government and so began the shift from producing automotive parts to full-time war productions. McKinnon’s produced percussion fuses, front axles for army trucks, transmission cases, gyro gun sight motors and torpedo drives. The plant was expanded to increase production, and employee numbers soared from 1,800 to over 4,200 by 1942. Women workers at the plant also experienced a big increase, jumping from 8% to 25% during the war years.
Thompson Products was know for its ability to produce forged and cast parts. During the war they produced brass fuses, six pound anti-tank shells and parts for the trainer planes of the British Command Air Training Plane. At the height of production the shell output per day reached 10,000. Thompson Products employees went from 200 to over 1,400, with over half being women. Despite the war and the difficult times at home, Thompson Products didn’t stop its company-wide social activities. The Santa Claus party, the annual picnic, bowling, basketball and softball leagues continued throughout the war years, as well, the park between the plant and St. Paul Street was built to provide green space for its employees to enjoy.
Hayes-Dana and its 1,500 mostly women employees produced aircraft, tank, gun and army truck parts. Like many other companies, Hayes-Dana held regular blood clinics, Victory Bond drives and gathered and shipped parcels overseas.
In its plant on Eastchester, FW produced boilers for corvettes and, once peace was declared, it converted back to producing and developing power-generating units.
In peacetime Grout’s made high quality fabrics for lingerie and coat linings, for the war effort it produced parachutes with its almost all skilled women workers.
Conroy Manufacturing – Kelsey Hayes
From its expanded plant on Catherine St., Conroy Manufacturing produced drums and machine gun components and increased its workforce to 100.
St.Catharines Brass Works
While St.Catharines Brass Works was noted for its specialized production of aluminum, copper, bronze and Monelmetal (trademark for nickel-copper alloy resistant to corrosion), it is most notable for the fact that it had a woman president. Esther Riffer Clemis took over the company after the death of her father J.F. Riffer in 1941 and remained president until 1946.
Photo credits – St. Catharines – Canada’s Canal City –
reprinted April, 1993 – John N. Jackson/Sheila M. Wilson