An update to this post can be found here:
Some time after the event I learned that the popular children’s author Eric Walters has written several novels related to history – some dealing with the Second World War – of interest to young readers, as I’ve discussed in a subsequent post.
Rosie the Riveter Revisited: Women, the War, and Social Change (1987), based on oral histories, helps to contextualize the role of North American women in weapons production during the Second World war. It’s a valuable book. Such first-person accounts help to bring a particular era, and the things that ordinary people experienced, to life in a way that some other accounts of wartime events may not be able to do.
That said, the more generalized, abstract studies are also of tremendous value, in my view. Many means are available for the study of war; they all have value.
A Jan. 23, 2018 BBC article is entitled: “Naomi Parker Fraley, the real Rosie the Riveter, dies aged 96.”
At the Sept. 28, 2013 Small Arms event at Dixie and Lakeshore Road East, I met many interesting people.
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Sten Guns, Bren Guns, and Enfield Rifles
This time around, thanks to research related to previous posts, I was able to identify the Sten Guns and Enfield Rifles manufactured at the Small Arms plant, and the Bren Guns manufactured at the John Inglis plant in Toronto. At times, I would ask one of the re-enactors, to ensure I correctly identified the weapons.
M4 Sherman Tank
I had observed the Sherman Tank last year, set up at the north-west corner of Dixie Road and Lakeshore Road East, but this time had a closer look.
Before the event got under way at 10:00 am, I helped a local cyclist record this unusual encounter, photographed from many angles, with the treads of the vehicle. I also learned, from the cyclist, of handles at the front of the tank that I hadn’t noticed before.
Climbing aboard the tank looked like fun, and many families enjoyed the climb. Often a family member would stand beside the tank to record the scene on a smartphone.
I also learned, from a re-enactor, that wartime tank drivers were required to take a course in tank driving before they were permitted to operate the vehicle, which has the capacity to “turn on a dime,” in the words of the re-enactor.
The re-enactor who explained this wore a vintage helmet, the sight of which brought back memories for some Doors Open visitors.
Honorary Colonel Gerald Haddon
I had first heard Honorary Colonel Gerald Haddon speak at the first Small Arms event in 2011, and was equally impressed with the twenty-minute talk that he gave at 11:30 am. on Sept. 28, 2013. He repeated the talk to other audiences at scheduled intervals.
The colonel demonstrates an inspiring capacity to bring Canada’s early aviation history to life in a manner that ensures the audience is emotionally engaged and closely attentive. The fact that he spent a career in the broadcast industry may help to account for his facility as a presenter.
Hon. Col. Haddon produced a vivid word picture of the first airplane flight in Canada, as he quoted from the account of the flight that his grandfather J. A. D. McCurdy had recorded. He also described his grandfather’s close involvement with the Long Branch Aerodrome on the adjoining property to the west of Small Arms Ltd.
Hon. Col. Haddon also described a memorable commemorative re-enactment of McCurdy’s flight a century after the original event. The re-enactment involved a replica of the original Silver Dart airplane.
He described, as well, how his grandfather had demonstrated, for the first time in history, the feasibility of dropping a bomb from an airplane to strike a ground-level target. For the feasibility demonstrations, McCurdy threw oranges from an airplane at a white cloth serving as a target on the ground.
Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl
I was also delighted to meet Julie Guerrette, daughter of Veronica Foster – that is, Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl. I was pleased as well to learn more about the American Rosie the Riveter Association. As I had learned earlier, Olga Cutmore, who worked at the Small Arms plant, is an honorary member of the latter association.
As well, I met Carolyn Ingram who flew in from Los Angeles with the autographed SAL – I assume the acronym is for Small Arms Ltd. – lunchbox of Angeline ‘Lina’ Grawbarger.
The story of Carolyn Ingram’s family is fascinating. Her parents met at the Small Arms plant in the 1940s.
Several of the family members were at the Doors Open event. I attended the first of Hon. Col. Gerald Haddon’s presentations with them.
Along the Shore (2013)
I arrived at the event early, before the 10:00 am opening, to set up a display table promoting the May 3 and 4, 2014 Jane’s Walk in Long Branch. Each walk – which serves as a walking conversation – begins at 10:30 am at the East Parking Lot at Marie Curtis Park.
Jane Fairburn, author of Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage (2013), which is now in its second printing, set up a display across the aisle from the Jane’s Walk table, with information and copies about her book, which focuses on the communities along the Lake Ontario shoreline in the Greater Toronto Area. Her book, which is selling well, has a section devoted to Small Arms Ltd. Along the Shore (2013) is well-researched and beautifully written – with great photographs.
First In, Last Out (2010)
Another table was set up by Gladysann Bryce, who was promoting her book, First in, Last Out: The RCAF, Women’s Division and Nursing Sisters in World War II (2010). I look forward to reading the book. At one point Hon. Col. Haddon sat down at the display table for an extended conversation with Gladysann Bryce.
This year I had the opportunity to visit the north end and second floor of the Small Arms building, as this year the rooms were devoted to the work of over twenty artists working in a wide range of media.
Over twenty artists participated
As Bob Cutmore has explained in an earlier blog post, the artists were invited so that Doors Open attendees would get a sense of the future uses of the building that a display of conceptual panels would not be able to communicate.
I look forward to visiting more of the artist displays next year.
I also had the opportunity to observe the outside of the building. Both inside and outside, with a little imagination you can picture how this setting would have appeared during the Second World War.
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Aerial photo of Small Arms Ltd., Lakeview
Next to the Along the Shore (2013) display table, on the wall, was an enormous aerial photo of Small Arms Ltd. The building where the Doors Open event was held has been saved from demolition, thanks to the efforts of Jim Tovey and other Lakeview residents. The water tower remains in place as well.
The building had – in 2008, if I understand correctly – been slated for demolition. As Bob Cutmore has described in a previous post, the building was subsequently designated as a heritage building under the Ontario Heritage Act – a significant and noteworthy achievement of strong benefit to the local communities.
The building, which is currently undergoing renovations, and the surrounding grounds evoke a strong sense of the years in which the Small Arms Ltd. was manufacturing weapons in support of the Allied war effort. The renovated building will serve as a centre for arts, culture, heritage, and science as outlined by Councillor Tovey in an Aug. 11, 2013 interview.
Text for the photo immediately above reads:
- An aerial view of Canadian Arsenals Limited taken in the mid-1960s.
- In 1946 Small Arms ceased to exist and its assets were either transferred to Canadian Arsenals Limited or disposed of via the War Assets Corporation.
- The building you are standing in originally housed the Inspection Board of United Kingdom and Canada.
- It was from this facility that all No. 4 rifles and Sten guns were tested.
Bren Gun carrier used in postwar construction
I’ve learned (Henn Kurvits, personal communication, Sept. 30, 2013) that the building contractor who stored construction equipment on the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead site in Long Branch, in the late 1940s before the Smith house was demolished in 1955, used a Bren Gun carrier for transportation of construction-related materials.
The carrier would likely (although I do not have verification of this) have been built at the John Inglis plant in Toronto where Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl was employed.
The Kurvits family rented accommodations at the Smith house in the late 1940s, after fleeing Estonia as refugees in 1944 in response to the second Soviet occupation during the Second World War. They later lived in New Toronto.
My parents fled from Estonia in 1944, along with my older brother and several other family members. Many Estonians who had access to sea routes out of the country fled at that time.
Lakeshore Waterfront Connection & Hanlan Feedermain Projects
Details about the projects are available elsewhere at this website, including in a blog post devoted to an August 11, 2013 interview with Jim Tovey.
A model historic railway also had a table-top train set in operation, and other display tables were dedicated to Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl and to the American Rosie the Riveter Association. A Cadets organization also had a display table. In the event I’ve forgotten to mention a display topic, please let me know. There were many conversations about many things, in an inviting historic setting.
The conversations continued outside, around a BBQ and an array of vintage military vehicles – including artillery pieces, small arms weapons, a mini motorcycle, bicycles, and much more besides – including demonstrations of teamwork in the use of machine guns. The setting, which served to bring an important time in Canadian history to life, was a treat for people of all ages.
While I was taking photos of artillery equipment, a gentleman told me of his brothers who had served in artillery units, and who had made it back alive. Too young to enlist for duty at the time, the man I spoke with had joined the Cadets during the war.
He mentioned that one of his artillery-unit brothers had picked up the nickname “Boomer,” a tribute to his line of military work during those years.
I was very impressed with a local Mississauga singer – Heather Brissenden – who came with her piano player and did Hits of the Blitz. Wonderful to have such well-chosen live music inside the main building – it really helped to set the scene. So many great things came together at this Doors Open event.
I enjoy attending well-organized local events that work really out well – where everybody has a great time and enjoys learning new things. Such events are a source of inspiration and motivation. The Sept 28, 2013 Doors Open at Small Arms Ltd. was very much in that category.