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Chronicle 17-18 Issue 07

10 The

10 The Chronicle February 27 - March 5, 2018 Community Ajax: A town built on bombs Defence Industries Limited key in Second World War Tracy Wright The Chronicle When the opportunity came for Louise Johnson to work at Defence Industries Limited (DIL), she took it, with the blessing in the only letter she ever received from her father saying, “Go for it, it sounds like a great opportunity.” This was a historical moment. In 1942, almost all jobs for women were in the home, taking care of the family. “Back then,” says Johnson, “you worked the farm and married the boy down the road.” But the Second World War changed that. Men had been recruited to go to the Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. There was a shortage of workers, so women were needed to fill the jobs men would normally do. Defence Industries Limited (DIL) was a shell filling plant, says author and historian Lynn Hodgson. Its main purpose was to build shells with explosives and have them crated, then transported by cargo, then rail and finally shipped to England to the men in field, according to Hodgson. Louise Johnson was 21 years old, living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She was single and working at Saskatoon City Hospital in the nurse’s residence. Louise said she was lucky to have been at home when the call came from Civil Services (now known as Human Resources) about working at DIL. DIL opened in the summer of 1941. It had 9,000 employees and 75 per cent of those employees were women, explains Brenda Kriz, Records and FOI coordinator for the Town of Ajax. The women came to Ajax from across Canada, as far away as Northern Alberta and Nova Scotia. Before the Second World War, Ajax was not a city. It was all farmland. “It became Ajax, after the war,” says Hodgson, who wrote Ajax Arsenal of Democracy. The women at DIL were called "Bombgirls". Johnson, like the other women, did not know what to expect when she arrived in Pickering Township. When she was recruited, she was told the job was dangerous. She was assured she and the other 9,000 employees would be taken care of; they would receive housing and meals along with a uniform, and if they did not like it there, they would get a train ticket back home. Defence Industries Limited was built in 1941 on 2,800 acres of land. “The land was expropriated from Pickering Township to create Defence Industries Limited,” says Kriz. This was the largest shell plant during the British Commonwealth, according to Kriz. The Photograph courtesy of Ajax Archives Female assembly line at Defence Industries Limited. Photograph by Tracy Wright Louise Johnson, 96, made bombs in the Second World War. township of Pickering set up the factory to build bombs for the Second World War. Pickering Township, now Ajax, was considered the perfect location. It was away from residential areas and water supplies, which was very important because it required a million gallons a day to support the site, says Kriz. There were 600 wartime homes built as temporary residences close to the plant. “There was a community hall, movie theatre and a convenience store and a post office so you didn’t have to go outside,” according to Hodgson, who goes on to explain that “loose lips sink ships” and this is why DIL didn’t want workers speaking to the public about their job. When the plant closed, the idea was the homes would be broken down and sent to Britain to help with the housing shortage there, but instead a town was established. Ajax was named after a battleship called HMS Ajax. Naming of the town came after the post office in Pickering Village could not handle the loads of mail sent there. For a post office to be in a town, the town had to have a name. A vote was held to choose between Dilco, Powder City and Ajax, after the mythological Greek hero. DIL had been in operation for about five years before Ajax got its name. To get access to the plant, you would walk across the Bayly Bridge which is no longer there but you would have crossed over the 401 at Harwood and Bayly. This is how you’d enter the gates to DIL. From there you would take a bus that would bring you to the line where you worked. “At the end of your shift, you’d take the bus back over the bridge and then walk back to your residence,” explains Hodgson. “There were four lines each line produce a different kind of shell,” says Kriz. There was heavy security at DIL, Johnson recalls. “If you did not have a badge, you could not pass through the gates,” says Johnson. The whole facility was surrounded by barbed wire fence. Hodgson explains, “Security was very tight; the guards were armed veterans from the First World War.” For safety reasons, no matches were allowed on the property. If you were caught with matches, you would go to jail. One guy served 30 days in Whitby jail for smoking behind the line, says Hodgson. Johnson worked on line 3. Here she measured cordite, which is another form of gunpowder. Her job was to weigh it on a scale and she had to be very precise. If not filled properly, the ammunition could either explode in transport or not detonate in the field. Work was in rotating shifts each week: eight hours a day six days a week. Each shift was represented by a different colour bandana: blue, red and white. Johnson’s was blue. The only day off was Sunday and Christmas day. “On Sundays, you just watch the walls and cook dinner,” says Johnson. Life at DIL was not just about work. Relationships were built there. “I met my husband at work,” laughs Johnson. “He was the cordite deliverer.” Russell and Louise were married in 1944 and had one child, a daughter named Lynda. Russell died in 1965. “He worked hard, but was not a well man,” Johnson said. With the end of the war, the need for shells ended too. The lines at the factory were shut down one by one. When it came to Johnson, she was called to the office and asked if she knew how to type. She said, “I could look for keys,” she said, “and make a stab at it.” Johnson was assigned the task of typing quit slips. She placed her slip at the bottom of the pile and when the time came typed her own quit slip. She was the last production employee at DIL. Johnson then went to Selective Services, now Employment Insurance, to receive her compensation. Johnson asked the lady behind the desk if she should comeback after her EI ran out. She was advised to not come back as there was no work for women.Men were coming back from war. “It was a two-sided coin,” Johnson says. “The men left work to go to war and they came back.” Not only were the jobs few, Johnson’s husband did not want her to work. She stayed home and took care of her daughter, who was eight years old. She did start working again and was able to work from home. Johnson now aged 96, lives on her own in the same wartime bungalow she purchased with her husband. Comparing the workforce for women from 1942 to now in 2018 Johnson says, “Hasn’t changed.” As for DIL, “few buildings remain. But not many,” says Kriz. The original DIL hospital became Ajax-Pickering hospital. The original building was demolished in the late 60s, according to Kriz. The Ajax Town Hall sits in the same place the DIL administration office was. “The heart of the community has always been on this site,” says Kriz. Without DIL, “There would be no Ajax, a town born overnight,” says Hodgson.

Community February 27- March 5, 2018 The Chronicle 11 Revitalization at Hotel Genosha Photograph by Austin Andru 1930 advertisement of Hotel Genosha (left) courtesy of Oshawa Museum and the building owner, Richard Summers, looking out of a window at the Genosha. Austin Andru The Chronicle “Instead of my mom cooking Christmas dinner, my dad used to take his mom and stepdad and my mom’s mom and all his kids and my mom and we’d go to the Genosh to have Christmas dinner,” said John Henry, the mayor of Oshawa. “It goes back to a memory that I have over 40 years.” Hotel Genosha was Oshawa’s first and only luxury hotel. It was built in 1929 in Oshawa’s downtown core as it was becoming known as “Canada’s Motor City.” It was advertised as, “One of the finest hotels in Central Ontario.” The name Genosha was made by combining the words “General Motors” and “Oshawa”. During the 1930s, Hotel Genosha was a common place for social events and weddings in Oshawa. Jennifer Weymark, the archivist for the Oshawa Museum said, “It was the major hub for business people travelling in and out of Oshawa.” “It was where the upper management of General Motors met,” said Weymark. “When the Genosh was built it was, high end, high class, it was where the wealthy wanted to go.” Genosha’s most prestigious visitor was Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI in 1939. Henry, who has been the mayor of Oshawa for almost eight years, says the people who visited the Genosha play a big role in the history. Henry says Canada’s military involvement in the Second World War makes him wonder, “who might have stayed there and who might not have stayed there?” When Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, trained at Camp-X in 1942, the camp was at capacity, according to the official Camp X website. He was encouraged to visit the Genosha in Oshawa. It is not clear if Fleming ever stayed as a guest overnight at the Genosha, but he did visit for the entertainment. The only way to access parking when mayor Henry visited was through Bond street. “Did James Bond get his start in Oshawa?” Henry asks. After training elite spies in the Camp-X facility in Whitby, Fleming went on to create the famous James Bond series. The Genosha didn’t face difficulties until the early 1980s when industry started moving away from the city centre. When General Motors started changing its operations, there was a lot less people downtown, says Henry. “As the downtown declines, you saw the Genosh declining,” Weymark said. “They’re tied in together.” A strip club called “The Million Dollar Saloon,” opened in the basement. It was eventually closed in 2003, leaving the building empty. In 2005 it was designated a heritage site, and 5 years later the sign was taken down. Many people attempted to revitalize the building. Student housing was proposed, as well as 66 apartment units. These ideas never went through. Richard Summers, the current owner of the building, who has already purchased the property once before, says maintaining this property this was made possible by Durham Region council approving a funding assistance of over $500,000. The old building hasn’t retained much of its original self. It has undergone a partial interior demolition and the only remains of the original hotel is the Juliet fixtures on some of the windows and the painted “Hotel Genosha” sign on the exterior. One of the marble staircases that was fitted in the lobby was severely damaged. Summers said this was because, “construction workers were sliding stoves down the stairs.” Summers has ambitious plans to turn the building into 102 luxury micro apartments with commercial space in the main floor. The focus will be on bachelor units. The roof currently houses a flock of pigeons. Summers said he would’ve liked to have a rooftop lounge. “Something you’d see in Toronto,” he says. Summers says it’s something he wouldn’t be able to do because of the way the Genosha is built. Weymark says that while the new developments won’t be like the original hotel, downtown Oshawa is in need of proper housing rather than a luxury hotel. “Now we see a resurgence and a revitalization in the downtown and you’re seeing that with the Genosh as well,” said Weymark, referring to the developments by Summers. “Along with the Regent Theatre, those two large buildings represent the evolution of downtown.” It is estimated the residences will be completed by 2019. Mayor Henry said, “It will never be the hotel it was, but it has a great future.”

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