A Mi’kmaw mother and her co-workers were trailblazers in breaking gender barriers in the shipbuilding industry in Canada during the Second World War.
Mrs. Martin (or Malti, the Mi’kmaw name for Martin) and other female workers were praised for their tenacity and work ethic in all weather conditions. But they also faced numerous challenges, including gender biases, lower wages than their male colleagues and a pressing need for childcare.
An archive photo of Mrs. Martin tightening bolts at the shipyard in Pictou, N.S., in 1943 with a toddler strapped to her back is a small glimpse into the lives of the 4,000 women who helped build Canada’s naval and merchant vessels during the war.
Information about Mrs. Martin, like many other women involved in the war effort, is sparse, and her first name is unknown. Very little information was collected about the women who worked behind the scenes during the war.
Roughly one million women were employed in Canadian industry during the Second World War. As war production increased and more men enlisted for military service, women filled the labour shortage by entering traditionally male-dominated jobs – including in Canada’s shipyards on both coasts and along the St. Lawrence River.
The yard in Pictou was the first in North America to employ women. Hundreds of women shipbuilders like Mrs. Martin laboured alongside their male counterparts, building 24 Park-class cargo ships for Canada’s Merchant Navy.
At peak production in…