An Interview with History

An Interview with History

Posted on October 14 by Barbara Dickson in Interview
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When I first learned there were over four kilometres of inter-connected tunnels running under my neighbourhood, my curiosity didn’t just pique, it exploded. Who builds a labyrinth under a city? In Scarborough, Ontario? I’d been born, raised and lived in the community for over fifty years. If there’d been tunnels, I’d have heard about them (and figured out a way to get down into them.)

Turns out, these tunnels were secret. Top secret.

Bomb Girls of Scarborough

With a little more “digging” I discovered this intricate tunnel system belonged to a classified munitions facility that operated during the Second World War. Over 170 temporary, wooden buildings were built on the 346-acre site with munitions-filling carried out around the clock from mid-1941 to the war’s end. Courageous Canadians — over 21,000 souls — risked their lives daily handling high explosives to help the Allied forces.

"I was struck with a disturbing reality: when this hard-working generation of strong, vibrant women passes away, who will remember their sacrifice?"

This was all very cool. An actual World War Two story only a few minutes’ walk from my house. However, the plant was about to reveal something much more spectacular than the thrill of hunting down long-forgotten underground passageways and a washed-up war factory. In my search to learn more, I met women — real-life women who had worked at the plant! These bold, plucky older ladies, mostly teenagers or twenty-somethings seventy years ago, filled over 256 million units of munitions. They left their homes, some from as far away as British Columbia, to do their part for the Canadian war effort on the home front. How brave were they? Thousands worked with tetryl powder, a deadly, toxic substance that stained their hair, face, and hands yellow and for some, caused a horrific rash. Worse, they filled detonators with the deadly substance. Make no mistake. These munitions were meant to kill. If they dropped the delicate thumbnail-sized component, an explosion with potentially catastrophic consequences would ensue.

I listened to their stories, some now centenarians, others nearing the golden milestone. With fond memories and nostalgia still intact, they wanted to share, to tell their incredible stories of survival, love, comradery, and of fierce Canadian pride. Awestruck, I realized I was interviewing history. More so, with my heart tugging tighter with each new story, I was struck with a disturbing reality: when this hard-working generation of strong, vibrant women passes away, who will remember their sacrifice? Who will tell their stories? Who will teach our daughters, sisters, granddaughters, and the generations of women yet to be born what their forebears did for their country so long ago?

It is an incredible honour to write Bomb Girls to tell the heart-stirring stories of these amazing, brave women.

Lest we forget.