Since 1890, Ontario mining legislation had prohibited the employment of women in mines. Using its powers under the War Measures Act, the federal government issues an order-in-council on August 13, 1942 allowing women to be employed, but only in surface operations. On September 23, 1942, a second order-in-council was issued to allow women into the Port Colborne refinery.
Over 1,400 women were hired for productions and maintenance jobs for the duration of the war. They performed a variety of jobs such as operating ore distributors, repairing cell flotation equipment, piloting ore trains and working in the machine shop.
Twenty-one year old Elizabeth “Lisa” Dumencu, a resident of Lively, a Sudbury suburb, answered the call. “Women didn’t normally do this type of work, but we had to do our part,” she recalls. “It was really remarkable, but my husband Peter, worked even harder underground at Creighton mine.” She ran a 14 ore-car train and later became the first women to work in the machine and blacksmith shop, running a steam hammer. Lisa recalls that “the fellows in the shop treated me beautifully,” but adds that she often looks back on those days and asks herself, “However did I do this?”
Commenting about the role played by women in a 1946 speech, International Nickel Vice-President R.L. Beattie said, “Production of nickel and copper in sufficient quantities to assure an Allied victory would have been impossible had the women not stepped into the employment breach early in 1942, when labour was critically short, and the need for our products on the battlefronts steadily increasing.”
At the end of the war, the federal Canadian government rescinded the Order-in-Council allowing the employment of women in the company’s surface operations. International Nickel had a policy to save the positions for all former employees who joined the armed services so most of the returning men came back to work for the company. Nearly 500 soldiers, sailors and airmen from the region died on the battlefronts across the world.
American and British Rolling Mills and Refineries Played Critical Role
Like Falconbridge, French nickel producer Le Nickel was unable to refine its New Caledonian matte at its European refinery in Le Havre, France. International Nickel built a new facility at the Huntington, West Virginia rolling mills to process New Caledonian nickel.
The Huntington facility was among the most important in metal fabrication in the United States. Increased production pressures resulted in a strike in August 1944. Under an executive order of the President Roosevelt control of the plant was passed into the hands of the U.S. Army on August 29th and was not returned to the company until October 14th once all labour issues were resolved.
The Huntington works received many honours from the Army and Navy for excellence of performance in meeting war time manufacturing. This plant was one of 14 to be awarded an “E” flag when the honor was first established. By the end of the war, this strategic rolling mill was honored six times for the high quality and efficiency in producing ordnance equipment and special nickel alloys like Monel, Inconel and others. These specialty alloys, most invented at this facility, played an essential role in defense production.
During one of the award presentations, Rear Admiral W.H.P. Blandy, Chief of the Naval Ordnance Bureau, told the plant personnel that they “are in the Navy on shore duty.” In fact, all of International Nickel’s global facilities were mobilized for military production. The company strictly monitored the movement of nickel supplies to ensure none was diverted to unnecessary civilian production or smuggled to the enemy.
Rolling mills in Birmingham and Glasgow and refineries at Clydach and Acton, all in Britain were also an integral part of the war effort.