Arts & Culture

War Women — New exhibit features mothers, grandmothers, & great-grandmothers

Stephen Quick, the new director-general of the Canadian War Museum, teared up as he addressed a group of journalists during the unveiling of the current exhibition World War Women.

Lillian Grant, at 23 years of age, was the only woman in the world to sport the Pipe Major’s insignia on her uniform sleeve during the Second World War. An experienced piper, Grant was asked to recruit, train and lead the Canadian Women Army Corps’ Pipe Band. Library and Archives Canada / e010785939

Quick was talking about a length of hand-made lace that had been sent to Minnie Jarvis of London, Ontario from her fiancé fighting in Europe during the First World War. Alas, the soldier was killed in battle shortly after mailing the lace. Jarvis kept the lace for 62 years before donating it to the war museum, where it is now on display as part of the World War Women exhibition.

A 4512422
Sergeant Eva May Roy worked in a Halifax military restaurant during the Second World War. Initially, only certain jobs were considered socially acceptable for women. By performing non-combat duties such as cleaning, driving, clerical tasks and food service, women freed up men to fight. This painting is the work of Molly Lamb Bobak, the only female Canadian official war artist. Molly Lamb Bobak. Private Roy, Canadian Women’s Army Corps (1946). CWM 19710261-1626. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. Canadian War Museum

The exhibition is, indeed, moving. This is a display about our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers. About 50,000 of them joined the military. Many more stayed at home, working in munitions factories and harvesting the crops to feed our soldiers and allies.

Agnes Wong, shown here assembling a Sten gun, worked at the Small Arms Limited plant in Mississauga, Ontario. By 1943, just under two-thirds of the plant’s workforce was female. Library and Archives Canada, PA-108043

Artifacts in the exhibition include hand-knitted socks by women on the home front, red aprons used by hundreds of teenage girls who went door to door as Miss Canadas selling war bond stamps, paintings by pioneering war artist Molly Lamb Bobak and the personal stories of the likes of Lorida Landry, a munitions worker fired from her job at St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec simply because she got married.

World War Women continues at the Canadian War Museum until April 3. More info, here.

(Cropped image, top: Young women, known as Miss Canadas, sold War Savings Stamps to Canadians on behalf of the government during the Second World War. Barbara McNutt was only eleven when she signed up to canvass in her home town of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. This small Miss Canada apron was her uniform. Barbara McNutt’s Miss Canada uniform, 1945. CWM 20070060-002. Canadian War Museum)