“Bomb Girls: Trading Aprons for Ammo” is available for purchase at your favourite book store (including Chapters and Indigo.) Copies can be found at Amazon or Dundurn as well.
The vast majority of people who live in Ontario are unaware that an extensive abandoned tunnel system runs under the city of Toronto. During the Second World War, the Canadian government built a sprawling top secret munitions plant outside the city limits in the rural community of Scarborough. The plant, called GECO, comprised 346 acres, over four kilometres of tunnels, and 172 buildings (built in five months!)
Bomb Girls:Trading Aprons for Ammo is a comprehensive, historical record of Canada’s biggest WWII munitions plant employing over 21,000 citizens, predominantly women, who courageously worked with high explosives around the clock over its four year history. The book offers a unique, intimate, and extraordinary glimpse into the lives and hearts of these dedicated Canadians. In-person interviews with the women who risked their lives every time they stepped onto the “cleanside” of the plant lend a personal, distinctive perspective to the book. Their stories reveal tenacity, dedication, patriotism, and resolve in a time when the concept of women working outside the home was a cultural anomaly. Bomb Girls captures, in a dramatic way, the dangerous work these brave young women performed. It’s imperative to pass along their enduring legacy to the generations to come. Bomb Girls can be purchased at Amazon and Dundurn or at a book store near you.
History of Scarborough’s Bomb Girls
The story of General Engineering Company (Canada) Limited, locally known as “GECO” (pronounced “Gee-ko”), was set against the backdrop of a world at war. On September 10, 1939, a mere two decades after the “War to End All Wars” ended, Canada once again was thrust into a growing global conflict.
Canadians knew if they had any hope to beat Hitler and his belligerent bullies, the Allied Forces would need not only every able-bodied man Canada could muster to fight, but a steady stream of ammunition as well. With countless thousands fighting overseas, countless more men and women worked tirelessly in Canadian war plants, producing everything from planes and tanks to ammo and bandages. GECO personnel often referred to their workers as the “Fourth Arm of the Service” or the “Girls behind the Guns.”
On January 27, 1941, His Majesty, King George expropriated land from seven landowners in Scarboro, Ontario. On February 6, 1941, without pomp or circumstance, without a single speech or a silver shovel, the frozen ground to the future GECO plant was broken. Just three months later, the first shipment of “empties” arrived, and production was under way. By September, 1941, 172 buildings were built with GECO becoming a “mini-city” encompassing 346 acres amid the gently rolling farmland of Scarboro. GECO would become the largest fuze-filling plant in Canada’s history.
By the time Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 7, 1945, GECO had filled over 256 million munitions, enabling, by far, the greatest amount of heavy ammunition produced in Canada from 1940 to 1945.Incredibly, GECO would suffer no fatal accidents, despite over 21,000 employees—predominately women—handling high explosives and gunpowder twenty-four hours a day, six days a week, for four years. Truly, a rare accomplishment in global arsenal practice.
In the words of General Gordon Sullivan, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, “World War II was the largest and most violent armed conflict in the history of mankind.”
Over seventy years have passed, and while the events of World War II continue to stir the interest of military scholars and veterans, historians, and students, a generation of the global community has grown up mostly unaware of “the political, social, and military implications of a war that, more than any other, united us as a people.
These pages are dedicated, not only to the men and women who worked at GECO during the Second World War, but to the millions who gave their lives so that we, as a nation, can live in freedom.
Lest we forget.