History Slam Episode 154: War Junk

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By Sean Graham

During the Second World War, Canada, along with all combatant countries engaged in a massive mobilization effort that included shifting industrial production to supply the war efforts. During the six year conflict, Canadian factories transitioned from consumer products to military production. For instance, the Canadian Cycle and Co. Ltd. in Weston, ON, a company that manufactured skates and bikes in the 1930s started to produce items for guns, including tri-pods and pivots. In Quebec, the Liquid Carbonic Canadian Corporation had its soda fountain division build parts for new tanks. Across the country, the total production of war goods was nearly $10 billion.

Once the war ended, though, countries including Canada not only had to shift back towards consumer production, but also had to account for all the military goods they had. While the majority of the 800 ships, 800,000 vehicles, and 4 billion rounds of ammunition were used during the war, there was still a mountain of stuff left over. After the First World War, nations struggled with what to do with the excess material, with some economists and politicians citing that as a contributing factor to the Great Depression. As a result, properly dealing with the excess stuff became a priority.

That effort is the subject of the new book War Junk: Munitions Disposal and Postwar Reconstruction in Canada. In the book Souchen explores how the Canadian government approached its excess of goods in the years after the war. From partnering with organizations to recycling to disposal, a variety of options were considered. An incredibly challenging logistical project further complicated by the fear of deflating markets with excess goods, the book examines how the process was an integral part of Canadian postwar reconstruction.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Alex Souchen about the book. We talk about the amount of goods Canada produced during the war, the influence of the First World War on Canada’s disposal efforts, and the environmental issues that ensued. We also talk about the impact on the economy, the shift in industrial production, and the unintended consequences of disposal.

Sean Graham is a historian with Parks Canada, an Adjunct Professor at Carleton University, and a contributing editor with Activehistory.ca

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