Part 9: Second World War and the Beginnings of the Aerospace Industry

The Second World War, like the First, created demand for large-scale industrial production, and Ontario’s economy benefited immensely. The province’s major auto manufacturers were commissioned to produce tanks and armoured vehicles to be used on the front lines, and steel producers increased their output to accommodate demand. The aerospace industry in Ontario began to develop with the increased need for warplanes. British company de Havilland Aircraft formed its Canadian subsidiary in Toronto in 1928, and the firm was quickly turned into a Crown corporation during the war to make both training and frontline planes. The first Canadian-designed airplane engine was made in Toronto by Turbo Research Ltd, formed by the Canadian government’s National Research Council in 1944. Such developments helped to push Canada into the global aerospace industry in the decades following World War II.

Manufacturers of unrelated goods also altered their business to support the war effort. For example, Canadian Cycle and Motor Co. Ltd. of Weston, Ontario largely made bicycles before the 1940s, but both firms manufactured weapons and artillery during World War II. Twenty-eight new Crown corporations were created by the Department of Munitions and Supply, which oversaw all purchases of Canadian-made war-related goods. These new companies produced materials, weapons, and many other products for the war, employing many Canadians.

Canadian manufactures produced 800,000 military transport vehicles, 50,000 tanks, 40,000 field, naval, and anti-aircraft guns, and 1.7 million small arms, with a significant amount of these being made in Ontario. For example, in Oshawa, General Motors produced 4,000 heavy utility vehicle bodies and Toronto’s de Havilland assembled 1,100 Mosquito fighter-bomber planes. War materials produced in Canada during the Second World War helped to carry the nation out of the Great Depression, even as the war caused incalculable devastation in many other respects. Even as late as 1948, production capacity for steel mills was higher than it was during the war, and unemployment remained very low.

This period also saw a number of Ontarian inventions that would shape different manufacturing sectors around the world. For instance, 1870 saw the design of the rotary snowplow by J.W. Elliot, which enabled trains to travel in even the snowiest of environments. In 1913, the zipper was invented by Gideon Sundback in St. Catharines, changing the manufacturing of clothing forever. Perhaps most importantly, Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and John James Rickard Macleod invented synthetic insulin in 1921, later giving away their patent on the drug for a single dollar to allow the mass production and distribution of this life-saving product.

The years following World War II saw even more Canadian innovations in science and technology, and an increase in both the country’s economy and population. Check back here shortly for the next chapter in the history of Ontario manufacturing.


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