Cumberland County Museum & Archives

Aerial Amherst

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Amherst, Nova Scotia has a long history in the aerial industry. The area began producing aircrafts due to demand during World War II (1939-1945), with shells, clothing, and other products of the war.

Rhodes and Curry, which later became the Canadian Car Company & Foundry, was largely responsible for the production of airplanes in Amherst. The first planes that came out of Rhodes and Curry were Avro Ansons, that had been shipped over to Canada from England and were reassembled on Canadian soil. The parts of the planes that would arrive would often be in poor condition or damaged and it was up to the factory workers to get these planes once again off the ground. Repairs and replacement parts were made in Amherst as well as certain parts, such as the wooden wings, would be made in Montreal and shipped to Amherst for construction. Hawker Hurricanes were also repaired in Amherst.

Aerial View of the Plant

 

Light Plane, could have belonged to Can. Car

The plant found much success in the assembly and maintenance of aircrafts. Many of the planes coming out of Amherst were used as bomber trainers. These planes helped create hundreds of jobs for Cumberland citizens. The plant was so successful, that they even produced their own magazine, Slipstream, which focused on the workings inside the factory as well as the lives of their employers and their interests in employment, sports clubs, etc. The magazine praised its employees and all the innovations and hard work they put into making the different aircrafts.

Unknown Woman with Plane

One of the most important things I learned about the development of aircrafts in Amherst, was the number of jobs they created for women. Two women in particular had a large influence on the development of aircrafts. Roberta Jane Taylor, an artist in Amherst, designed different components for the Anson aircrafts. She was the only female draughts woman working at the Canada Car plant during WWII.

Another woman who created a large impact, internationally, was Elsie MacGill. MacGill was the first Canadian woman to graduate from the University of Toronto at age 22 with a degree in electrical engineering in 1927. She also obtained a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan where she completed her final exams while hospitalized with polio. In 1939, MacGill worked as the Chief engineer at the CC&F plant and worked on designing and building Hawker Hurricanes, a single seat fighter aircraft. She was the first female aircraft designer. She later went on to write the International Air Worthiness Regulations for the design and production of commercial aircrafts for the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is still used today.

Elsie MacGill

The role women held during the war years was largely seen as the domestic housewife. Working at the plant and the independence that these jobs gave allowed women to find a different role fulfilling. Women were paid less than men, at a rate of 25-75 cents and hour compared to a man’s wage at 75-90 cents an hour, but the experience and independence received from the positions in the plants helped further develop the position of women in the workforce.

L.S.

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