War Art Piece 6

Women Operators

1. What aspect of war, or event, does this piece of art depict?

This piece of artwork depicts two major elements of war. These elements are the war on the home front and the role of women in war. The world wars provided economic expansion for Canada mainly due to the high demand of production of materials needed for fighting. Roughly 300,000 Canadian would work in factories during the First World War. Of this number about one in eight were women. During the Second World War the number of full-time working women in Canada doubled from 1939-1945. The war created a massive social change in Canada because of the rise of women doing labour intensive work. This piece essentially depicts that all of Canada was involved in the war and that the war created changes that had nothing to do with the military but on a social level.

2. Who created this piece of art?

George Andrew Reid was the artist of this war piece. He was a Canadian Artist born in Wingham and passed away while in Toronto. He specialized in Genre painting, painting of scenes in everyday life. His studio was in in attic at home, where he created several paintings. He taught art at the Central Ontario School of Art that was later called Ontario College of Art Design. AS a teacher, he got the summer off where he could go to the cottage and paint where he produced his paintings: Tannerville in the Catskills and Dreaming. George A Reid was also known for his murals.

3. Where was this piece of art created?

It was created in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Country – Canada

Province – Ontario

Municipality – Toronto

4. For what purpose was this art created?


5. What does this piece of art tell us about the experience of war?

Women Operators by George Reid demonstrates how the war in Europe affected the Canadian home front. Initially, the outbreak of war threatened Canada economically. Existing manufacturing orders were cancelled, some factories were shut down, and construction was called off on many pre-war civilian projects. However, in this painting the employees are shown working in a munitions factory and handling large artillery shells. This demonstrates the evolution of a Canadian war economy. During the war allied armies were in need of millions of artillery shells and other weapons of war. Canadian manufacturing shifted to fulfill this need and rather than experiencing economic crisis during the war, the demand for supplies, equipment, and shells soon provided economic stimulus and employment. This painting also demonstrates how the role of women in Canada was especially affected by World War I. This painting not only shows what was mainly being produced in factories at this time, but the workers are also female. Almost 300,000 factory workers took part in war production in 1917, and approximately one in eight were female. With men fighting overseas, Canadian women were crucial in filling jobs at factories. With the implementation of Conscription, the need for women workers only intensified. Furthermore, this painting depicts the women as hard working and able by displaying them as productive and hard at work. This encourages the idea that women did well in factories during the war, and that they were efficient in their ability to undertake heavy work. Being productive and driven also demonstrates the idea that women found the war as a liberating experience that made them feel useful in the war effort. Finally, in this painting it is clear that the women workers are not wearing adequate protective clothing. Their skin is exposed to poisonous substances within the factories, and their uniforms are made of simple cloths which would do nothing in the way of protecting women from the dangerous heavy materials that they worked with. This shows that the Canadian government treated women as cheap and easily replaceable labor, and safety precautions were not always taken in factories.

6. How accurate is this depiction of war?

George Andrew Reid’s Women Operators is indeed a very accurate depiction of war. In the scene of the painting, the majority of the factory hands appear to be women. Such a case was true for the experience of war on the home front. During the First War in Canada for example, women were seen as a crucial work force in the face of massive labour shortages as a result of the need for men on the frontlines in Europe. Towards of the end of the war, these labour shortages would increase exponentially with the introduction of the controversial conscription legislation. As such, even more women were needed to enter the workforce in a society where such working positions were predominately occupied by men. Furthermore, the factory scene in Women Operators is also an accurate representation of factory conditions during the time period of the two wars. Women were seen as a crucial, yet also expendable labour force. Thus, in the wartime environment, there was little regard for the safety and well-being of female factory hands. In the scene, the women are lightly clothed even as they are surrounded by possibly dangerous chemicals, fumes and machinery.

Summary Paragraph

Our piece of art furthers our understanding of Canadian History by showing us that the major wars of the 20th century had massive effects on Canada. Not just in terms of global politics and violence but on a social and economic level. Women were major contributors to the war effort as they served both in the military and worked in factories on the home front. This was not something that was common before this time. This also symbolizes other changes that occurred in Canada that changed our outlook on the world. Both of these wars were important in asserting Canada as a global player and helped build national identity. Although the country had a long way to go, the inclusion of women in the war effort was a first step in improving inclusiveness within Canada.

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