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The 20th century was a revolutionary time period for Canadian women. Many dramatic changes involving women in the workplace and changes in their home-life occurred during this era. Canadian women have played a huge role in the past 100 years, changing our society and shaping it into the world we live in today. Women used to just be seen as wives who cleaned, cooked and raised their children, while the father or males, went off to work. Now women are seen as strong, empowered people who can work in any field they want, without being judged. The hardship women suffered in the past, has allowed women to not only grow, but to take on new tasks, without fear. Specifically during World War One, World War Two and the 1950s and 1960s, women rose to the challenge, and took on new roles that changed many of their lives. Women played many significant roles throughout Canadian history. During the course of the 20th century, women were faced with many difficult tasks, most of which they never thought they would be able to overcome, or gain the rights to, but because they were able to achieve their goals and accept new roles, we are able to recognize and reflect on these great accomplishments.

World War One allowed women to step up, and take on new roles to provide assistance with the war, without actually fighting. One role of women during the war was becoming a nurse. Over 3000 Canadian women enlisted as nurses in the Canadian Army Medical Corps (Canadian Encyclopedia). As a nurse their job was to treat injured or wounded soldiers; but their main job was to help comfort the soldiers as they died. Working as nurse near the front lines was very dangerous and many women were killed (Morrison, 43). Women experienced the risk of infection, disease, pain and death daily just as the soldiers would have. Another role of Canadian women during the first world war, was working in munition factories. It is estimated that about 800,000 women, all throughout Canada eventually became employed in all aspects of the munitions industry (http://socialistalternative.ca/posts/1106). The conditions of the munitions factories were very poor. Women worked very long hours under the harsh work environment. Working in the factories was very dangerous as the women were exposed to poisonous chemicals. These chemicals eventually resulted in the women’s skin turning yellow which earned the workers the nickname ‘Canary Girls’ (Women and War). Other effects of working in these factories was suffering from stomach pains, drowsiness, swelling of the hands and feet and of course, jaundice (http://socialistalternative.ca/posts/1106). During World War One, women also worked on farms. They had many responsibilities such as planting and harvesting crops, caring for livestock, milking cows and managing the finances. All of these responsibilities were on top of their normal chores. Many Canadian women felt pressured to meet the growing need for food for the war effort, while also losing many of their young male workers to military service (Canada Remembers Women on the Home Front). Many farm women were faced with the reality that they had to maintain the family farm themselves, as well as raise the children, while the husbands, sons and hired labourers were off at war. With all of these roles that women had taken on, they adjusted well to this shift in roles and, when the men returned after the war, many women continued helping on the farm in these new ways (Woman and the War). Overall, during World War One women quickly adapted to the men being away and took on many new roles and jobs without much hesitation, proving women are capable of doing ‘male jobs’. 

Again in World War Two, many Canadian women signed up to provide support in the war effort. During the second world war, women were still not allowed to participate in combat roles, but they could assume roles in the armed forces and they were also still allowed to become nurses (Morrison, 37). All three arms of the military created women’s divisions. The Canadian Women Auxiliary Air Force was the first to do this, then the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval soon followed. This allowed women to provide assistance in ways other than nursing, and also play a bigger role in the armed forces (Canada Remembers Women at War). In total, the armed forces had about 50,000 women serve for them during the second world war. The Canadian Women Auxiliary Air Force was initially formed to fill postings as clerks, kitchen orderlies, equipment assistants, balloon fabric workers and drivers. By 1945, fifteen officer categories were attained by women and 59 aircrew trades were occupied by CWAAF personnel. Over 20,000 women served in the Canadian Women Auxiliary Air Force (Women in the Airforce). The Canadian Women’s Army Corps had approximately 21,600 members and the Women’s Royal Canadian Navy had roughly 7,100 members (Veteran’s Affairs Canada). Women played many roles in World War Two, in addition to serving overseas, they also took on many responsibilities at home as well. Once again, the women worked as teachers, munition factory workers and nurses, but not only that, they also took on new jobs such as secretaries, telephone operators and clerks (Morrison,37). Women were taking new opportunities in the work force and proving themselves in way, were not thought to be possible before this.

Throughout the 1950s and the 1960s the roles of Canadian women changes from helping out the war effort, to standing up for gender equality. In 1951, two new laws were passed in Ontario: The Fair Employment Practices Act and the Female Employee’s Fair Remuneration Act. The Fair Employment Practices Act targets discrimination in hiring practices and the work place by establishing fines as well as a procedure for complaints. The Female Employee’s Fair Remuneration Act addresses the common practice in some work places of paying women less than their male colleagues – the act seeks to provide women with equal pay for work of equal value (The Nellie McClung Foundation). Women were seeking equality in the workplace, not only in hiring but also with wages.