In recent years I’ve written several blog posts about the history dating back to the 1940s, that is connected with the Small Arms Building, located at 1352 Lakeshore Road East at the foot of Dixie Road.
Originally dedicated to the inspection of small arms manufactured at a nearby munitions plant during the Second World War, the building was saved from demolition in 2009. After renovations, it will serve as a community centre for arts, heritage, culture, and science.
A Small Arms Garden Group is currently adding perennials to several raised planters located on the building’s grounds.
Small Arms Garden Group
At a December 14, 2014 post about the building, entitled Military history mural at Dixie Road and Lakeshore Road East contends with gusts of wind and forces of gravity, Diane LaPointe-Kay has today (May 23, 2015) written a comment, which I read with interest:
“Jaan, thanks for sharing all of the wonderful stories about the Small Arms Building. It was good to see you and so many others at the site today planting flowers and cleaning up the property.”
Perennials for flower beds at Small Arms Building
I wrote in turn:
“Wonderful to read your message, Diane. Pleased you enjoy the stories about the Small Arms Building. I was so pleased to be able to visit today, and to bring some perennials from our own backyard. The work that’s being done is so beautiful to see, in such a great, historic setting. People bring so much enthusiasm and energy to the work.
“I also noted that one gardener had a clipboard. All of the work that I’ve seen around the building, including the April 6, 2015 Sledgehammer Ceremony and all of the other events and projects I’ve seen over the years have all been well-organized.
“I much enjoy the overview of the current project that a gardener has shared with me:
“ ‘Basically the garden group is planting five of the raised planters with perennials. We are doing our best to use hardy, native plants, but the plants are being donated by members of the gardening group from our own gardens so we will use what we have to fill them in. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority is donating mulch and Peel Region the water. This is a small project, but we think it will look much nicer than the weeds currently there.’ ”
Veronica Foster and the National Film Board
I’ve been reading books related to the story of the young women who found employment at the Small Arms Ltd. munitions plant in Lakeview during the Second World War. Sten guns and Lee-Enfield rifles were manufactured at the Small Arms plant and Bren guns were manufactured at the John Inglis plant in what is now Liberty Village in Toronto.
One of the narratives that I recall hearing, at the April 6, 2015 Sledgehammer Ceremony that I attended at the Small Arms Building, is that the women who worked at the Small Arms munitions plant found employment – and continuing pride in their paid work – during the postwar years, rather than being relegated back to the kitchen. I’m reading about the topic of women’s wartime and postwar employment because I want to gain a better understanding of what the evidence indicates, with regard to the topic.
I’m aware that the story is certainly true for Veronica Foster, who was given the persona of Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl during the Second World War. She was a key player, in this regard, in the wartime work of Canada’s National Film Board.
After the war she became a model and a big band singer. Her husband was also an entertainer in the same band. Veronica Foster continued to support her family after her husband passed away. She passed away in 2000.
Veronica Foster was a non-smoker
Despite the image associated with her “Ronnie” persona, Veronica Foster was a non-smoker. At a Doors Open event at the Small Arms Building, her daughter Julie Guerrette informed me that Veronica Foster only smoked when she was asked to, during the National Film Board photo session that established her persona as Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl.
Her story underlines the fact that things may or may not be what they appear to be.
The NFB photos of Veronica Foster are characterized by elements of mood-setting low-key lighting familiar to viewers of film-noir movies associated with the gangster genre of prewar and postwar fiction.
National Film Board films compared to films by the Maysles brothers: Vastly differing approaches to documentary making
The above-noted posts include a reference to how the widely cited Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman learned about the National Film Board approach to documentary making when he worked at an NFB office during the 1940s.
The posts also refer to the distinction between the NFB approach to documentary making and a vastly different approach developed by the Maysles brothers in the United States.
When the Doves Disappeared (2015)
I’ve been reading about the wartime and postwar roles of women in a wide variety of contexts – including in fiction related to the country, Estonia, from which my parents and older brother escaped in 1944 as refugees during the Second World War as described in a previous post.
Among the books I am reading is When the Doves Disappeared (2015). This is among the many works of fiction and non-fiction related to military history that a person can read, in order to gain a better understanding of the past and the present.
The available evidence indicate that, while progress has been made since the 1940s, much more progress remains to be achieved with regard to how women fare in the military workforce and in the wider society as the following articles, chosen by way of illustration, attest:
A May 2, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Military has ‘endemic’ sexual misconduct problem.”
A May 6, 2015 openDemocracy.com article is entitled: “The feminist parties redefining Scandinavian politics.”
A May 15, 2015 CBC The Current article is entitled: “Former Canadian soldier says complaints of sexual harassment ignored.”
A May 25, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Julie Lalonde sees backlash after complaint about Royal Military College cadets.”
A June 17, 2015 CBC article is entitled: ” ‘Biological wiring’ remark on military sexual misconduct prompts strong MP reaction.”
A June 19, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Military sexual misconduct: Is there any hope for real change?: ‘You need to change the culture before the behaviour changes,’ expert says.”
A Dec. 14, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Canadian Forces face human rights complaint over sexual harassment allegations: ‘Like walking into a 17-year-old boys’ clubhouse,’ says former soldier of her experience in military.”
Eastern Europe during the Second World War and postwar years
A blurb at the Toronto Public Library website for the When the Doves Disappeared (2015) notes:
“From the internationally acclaimed author of Purge comes a chillingly suspenseful, deftly woven new novel that opens up a little-known yet still controversial chapter of history: the occupation, resistance, and collaboration in Estonia during and after World War II.
“1941: In Communist-ruled, war-ravaged Estonia, two men are fleeing from the Red Army – Roland, a fiercely principled freedom fighter, and his slippery cousin Edgar. When the Germans arrive, Roland goes into hiding; Edgar abandons his unhappy wife, Juudit, and takes on a new identity as a loyal supporter of the Nazi regime . . . 1963: Estonia is again under Communist control, independence even further out of reach behind the Iron Curtain. Edgar is now a Soviet apparatchik, desperate to hide the secrets of his past life and stay close to those in power. But his fate remains entangled with Roland’s, and with Juudit, who may hold the key to uncovering the truth . . .
“In a masterfully told story that moves between the tumult of these two brutally repressive eras – a story of surveillance, deception, passion, and betrayal – Sofi Oksanen brings to life both the frailty, and the resilience, of humanity under the shadow of tyranny.”
The above-noted blurb brings to mind a May 23, 2015 New York Times article entitled: “Can the Islamic State Survive?”
The larger context, that interests me in particular, is what we can learn about military history – and current affairs – from the vantage point of neuroscience research and evolutionary biology, a topic that I’ve discussed in previous posts:
An Aug. 15, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’: Brunhilde Pomsel worked at the heart of the Nazis’ propaganda machine. As a film about her life is released, she discusses her lack of remorse and the private side of her monstrous boss.”
A Feb. 7, 2019 Unwritten Histories article is entitled: “Guest Post: Rosie the Riveter and Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl: Exploring the Historical Roots of a Gendered Visual Symbol.”
Topics of related interest are discussed at a post entitled:
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