LumberJills: Women in Civilian Work

Women left their traditional areas of work to enter the war industries where they received higher pay. One result was a rising shortage of labour in the service industries, hospitals, restaurants, and hotels. The NSS responded with an aggressive campaign to recruit women intot he work force. Young, single women were the prime target of the campaign, then married childless women, then married women with children.


Four hundred thousand Canadian women (400,000) entered the civilian workforce. They took over the retail, banking, and office jobs of men. These jobs were mostly in ones' own hometown. This too provided both the single and married women of the area an opportunity to contribute to the family finances and learn the ways of the business world. For the first time in Canadian history, women were employed en masse in jobs typically held by men. This included loggers, affectionally referred to as ‘lumberjils’, shipbuilders or scientific technical workers. With men being called up daily to fight the war the number of farm workers was growing smaller.


Farmers were considered essential but often their sons could not receive an exemption from war service. This created a serious crisis as agriculture was still labour intensive and the farms of Canada were feeding not only civilians, and the military troops, but also civilians in England. Canadian women were again called upon to fill the shortage. Seven hundred sixty thousand (760,000) women tilled the soil and harvested the crops. For many of them it was nothing new. They simply took over the roles of their husbands or brothers along with their own chores, but for the women who came to the farms from the city it was hard work. The WIs used their agricultural connections to cooperate with the government to establish farm labour bureaus to encourage city women to volunteer to help harvest crops .

In the countryside Women’s Institutes helped farmers’ wives and daughters who took over work on the land in the absence of husbands and fathers. These women drove tractors, made hay, picked fruit, raised gardens and increased the country’s poultry and egg production. Mothers and children worked side-by-side on the farm to ensure it survived and prospered, with responsibilities like planting, harvesting, caring for livestock, milking cows and managing the finances being added to women’s normal farm chores. Women adjusted well to this shift in roles and, when the men returned after the war, many women continued helping on the farm in these new ways.

LumberJills: Women in Civilian Work