Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Women's Voluntary Services (WVS) Canada

Women's Voluntary Services (WVS) Canada

Data current to 10 Feb 2021.

Women's Voluntary Services (WVS) Canada.  The WVS  was an organization instituted in 1938 and dedicated to providing much-needed war time relief efforts for civilian victims who had been evacuated or lost their homes. Based on a British model, the WVS served from 1938 to 1966 as a voluntary organisation concerned with helping people in need and to help in the event of War.   The WVS collected and distributed clothing from all over the world.  In total over twenty million garments were distributed.  The organization worked with the American and Canadian Red Cross to provide this relief.  Between 1941 and 1945 the WVS collected three million garments, 85,000 sheets and bedding, 86,000 blankets, 350,000 quilts, 16,000 boots and shoes and 262 tons of jam from generous Canadians through the Canadian Red Cross.  In addition, the WVS’s 12,000 volunteers collected money to purchase clothing and other garments.

 ( Photo)

Women's Volunteer Services Canada pin.

When Canada declared war in 1939, women felt obligated to help the fight.  In October 1938, the Women’s Volunteer Service was established in Victoria, British Columbia.  A recruitment event was held in hopes of gaining around 20 new volunteers; over 100 women arrived to join the efforts.  Shortly after, more British Columbian women felt the need to do their part, and when the 13 corps joined together the BC Women’s Service Corps was created.  Soon after, all the other Canadian provinces and territories followed suit and similar volunteer groups emerged.  

In addition to the Red Cross, several volunteer corps had designed themselves after auxiliary groups from Britain.  These corps had uniforms, marching drills and a few had rifle training.  It soon became clear, that a unified governing system would be beneficial to the corps.  The volunteers in British Columbia donated $2 each to pay the expenses so a representative could talk to politicians in Ottawa.  Although all of the politicians appeared sympathetic to the cause, it remained 'premature' in terms of national necessity.

Canada was later in granting this permission than the rest of the Commonwealth.  The British Mechanized Transport Corps had begun to see the women of Canada as a great asset to the war effort and began to look into the recruitment of these women for their purposes.  In June 1941, they were officially given permission to recruit women in Canada for overseas duty.  It quickly became apparent that it would look very odd for the British to be recruiting in Canada when there was no corresponding Canadian service.  However, many of the women who were active in the various volunteer corps did not meet the requirements to be enlisted women.  The majority of these women were older than the accepted age, would not pass the fitness test, or had physical or medical impairments.  It was quickly realized that the women needed had jobs and were not free to join.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3382383)

Women's Voluntary Service assistant helping children with pasting at day nursery in the Givens Street School, Toronto, Ontario, February 1943.  Not the armband.

Women's participation on the home front was essential to the war effort.  The largest contribution by the majority of Canadian women was through unpaid volunteer work, through their domestic abilities and skills; women were able to support the nation and the war effort.  The government called upon women to participate in volunteer programs.  Women began collecting recycled items such as paper, metal, fat, bones, rags, rubber, and glass.  Clothing was also collected by Canadian women for free distribution overseas.  They also prepared care packages to send to the men and women overseas. Canadian women were responsible for maintaining the morale of the nation.  All over Canada, women responded to demands made upon them by not only selling war savings stamps and certificates but purchasing them as well, and collecting money to buy bombers and mobile canteens.

 (Legion Magazine Photo)

Women on their way to work at a factory in Edmonton, September 1943.

When men left their factory jobs to fight overseas, women stepped up to fill their positions en mass.  These jobs became essential during the war when munitions supplies became vital to the war effort.  Women excelled in these historically male-dominated roles.  Some conservative protesters rallied against women leaving the home, arguing this would hurt the traditional family ideals.  This was especially true in Quebec, where the strong-arm of the Catholic Church kept many women from working outside the home.  The government supported this new essential workforce by creating the first government run daycares.  Though women shone in these positions and were even recruited in industrial communities, the jobs remained extremely gendered and women were expected to leave the factories when veterans returned home. Women's work in factory during the second war is the most important role played by women on the home front.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3196045)

Woman worker assembles instrument panels for cruiser tanks at the Montreal Locomotive Works plant. 

Women in the workforce meant that working mothers needed access to childcare.  In anticipation of mothers in the workforce, the Federal Minister of Labour was empowered to enter into agreements for the establishment of daycare facilities for the children of mothers working in war industries.  From 1942 to 1946, the Dominion-Provincial Wartime Agreement allowed for subsidized day nursery care for mothers working in essential wartime industries.  Provinces that were most industrialized, such as Ontario and Quebec, saw a growing demand for this type of service and took advantage of this agreement to establish their own standards and regulations.  This program provided aid to mothers working in war industries; however, it placed strict limitations similar services for women with young children in other work sectors.  These wartime day nurseries boasted organized play, frequent outings and other features that would become early childhood education.  In June 1946, with the war in Europe over, Federal funding for day nurseries was pulled and the majority of day nurseries were closed.  However, some municipalities continued offering day care services and made up the shortfall.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3197919)

Women workers operating a giant crane at a Vancouver, B.C. shipyard, May 1943.

At the beginning of the war 600,000 women in Canada held permanent jobs in the private sector, by the peak in 1943 1.2 million women had jobs.  Women quickly gained a good reputation for their mechanical dexterity and fine precision due to their smaller stature.  At home a woman could work as: Cafeteria workers, Loggers or lumberjills, Shipbuilders, Scientists, and Munitions workers.

 (Legion Magazine Photo)

A welder works on a Bren gun at John Inglis Company Ltd., 1942.

Sources: Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Canadiana.