After the Second World War ended in 1945, Ontario was in a solid economic position. Manufacturing had picked up, largely due the demand for war-time materials; now, the return of soldiers saw an increase in both young families and wages, sustaining the demand for manufactured goods. Canada had the important advantage of being an industrialized nation whose infrastructure was not significantly damaged during the war. By the middle of the 1940s, manufacturing employed almost 25 per cent of the active labour force in the country—about 1 million people.
Increased suburbanization led to increased commuting and, as noted, increased wages, so more families began to purchase cars. The major American automotive companies in Ontario—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—were selling to both domestic and foreign markets, especially to European markets still recovering from the war. However, more urbanization called for more advanced public transportation as well. Quebec firm Canadian Car and Foundry started manufacturing streetcar and trains for municipal public transit in its Thunder Bay facility. Hawker Siddeley Canada also had a Thunder Bay plant, where it produced railway and transit cars.
Other manufacturing industries that had begun to develop in the pre-war years expanded and consolidated in the post-war “boom” years. Such industries included the paper and pulp industry, which, although it was largely centred in Quebec, opened numerous plants in Ontario. Notably, the paper giant Domtar was formed in the mid-1960s, when Brompton Pulp and Paper merged with Dominion Tar and Chemical. Domtar opened facilities across Ontario, from Windsor to Ottawa to Dyrden to Trenton.
Like most aspects of the economy at the time, manufacturing thrived in the post-war years. Along with growing wages and a higher demand for goods, customers experienced more leisure time due to a decrease in the need for farming or labour-intensive work. At its height, manufacturing accounted for an estimated 20 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product. Yet it was not just domestic demand that help drive the industry: foreign demand was growing too. During this time, Canada’s share of global trade went from around 4.5 per cent to 6 per cent.
Check back soon to learn about some of the early trade agreements that helped Ontario manufacturers reach foreign markets.