Description of Historic Place
Canadian Car & Foundry National Historic Site of Canada is located in the southwestern part of the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Set within the Bombardier Transportation facility, the site is bordered by Montreal Street to the south; Mountdale Avenue to the east; Neebing Avenue to the west; and the CN railway tracks to the north. The site consists of the existing elements from the Second World War period, including a low-rise two-storey steel-frame metal-clad structure that is divided into Building 1, comprised of Production Bays A, B, and C; Buildings 2, 6 and 8; Building 7 to the south and Building 3 to the north. Official recognition refers to the area of the site encompassing 55,127.36 square metres.
Canadian Car & Foundry was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2008 because:
- here, at the main plant of Canada's largest aircraft manufacturer during the Second World War, thousands of men and women expertly constructed 1, 451 Hawker Hurricanes for the British Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, and 835 Curtiss Helldivers for the American Navy, thereby expanding the Allied forces' air strength; ten percent of the world's production of the reliable and long-serving Hurricane, an aircraft that played a pivotal role in winning the Battle of Britain, were built here;
- this aircraft production facility is representative of the wartime contributions made by thousands of women, some newly arrived from other regions of Canada, who quickly and effectively demonstrated that women could do non-traditional jobs such as riveting, welding, precision drilling and much more, guided in part by the technical leadership of pioneer aeronautical engineer Elsie MacGill;
- "Can Car" speaks eloquently to a watershed period in which thousands of women gained new skills, confidence and workplace alliances that would carry them into a changing postwar workplace and society, bringing issues of equality in pay and conditions to the attention of industry, government and unions;
- this complex, which retains many elements from the first half of the 20th century behind its current exterior, has played an important role in the mass-transit manufacturing industry, its products ranging from railway cars to buses and subway cars.
The Canadian Car & Foundry was created in 1909 following the merger of the Rhodes Curry Company of Amherst, the Canadian Car Company of Turcot and the Dominion Car and Foundry of Montréal. With a qualified and enthusiastic production team, the foundry quickly established an exceptional track record. In 1938, the company was hired to supply the British Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force with Hawker Hurricanes, which played a pivotal role in winning the Battle of Britain. The company became the largest aircraft manufacturer during the Second World War, producing more than 2,300 fighters. In 1942, it was contracted to produce SB2C Curtiss Helldivers, which were used by the United States Navy during the War in the Pacific.
As male enlistment increased during the war, the Canadian Car & Foundry hired and trained a greater number of female employees. Representing the wartime contributions of women who left traditional ‘female’ occupations to work in the public sphere, the female workers in the factory took on welding, precision drilling, riveting, sub-assembly of instruments and inspection. These technical contributions and changes in labour trends were guided in part by the aeronautical engineer Elizabeth Muriel Gregory ‘Elsie’ MacGill, a person of national historic significance, who oversaw the company’s first original design for the Hawker Hurricane. The period saw women gain valuable skills and confidence, earn financial independence, and helped to demonstrate that women could do non-traditional jobs.
After the war, the demand for aircraft dropped exponentially. The Canadian Car & Foundry eventually found a niche in the manufacturing of large transportation equipment, including logging equipment, buses and highway trailers. In 1955, it began producing subway cars for customers around the world, which it continues to do under the current ownership of Bombardier Transportation of Montréal.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 2008.
Key elements the contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its location within the Bombardier Transportation facility in an industrial neighbourhood of Thunder Bay, Ontario;
- the polygonal massing of the low-rise two-storey steel-frame metal-clad complex divided into Building 1 consisting of Bays A, B, and C; and Buildings 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8;
- the original brick walls, the side windows and the clerestory windows in the roof;
- the three original and visible Production Bays, ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’;
- the original girders, support and cross beams on the partial walls separating Production Bays ‘A’ and ‘B’ and Bays ‘B’ and ‘C’;
- the original large walkway toward the east end that connects Production Bays ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’;
- the three original large rolling doors at the east end of each Production Bay;
- the manually operated ten-ton overhead crane used during the Second World War in Production Bay ‘C’;
- the original staircases in Building 8;
- the integrity of any surviving interior or exterior materials from the Second World War period;
- viewscapes from the site to the Canadian National railway tracks, the Kaministiquia River and the surrounding industrial buildings.