Until recently, almost no one knew that there had been a Women's Land Army in British Columbia, operational between 1943-1948. In fact, it is only mentioned in passing in any book on agriculture during the Second World War. This all changed when I heard about the Ontario Women's Land Army and read Bonnie Sitter and Shirleyan English's book "Onion Skins and Peach Fuzz" and realized that my grandmother had done an incredibly similar thing during the Second World War, only in B.C., not Ontario. However, when I looked for such a program, I couldn't find any proof of its existence!
Armed with the stories of my grandmother and high speed internet, I searched large online Newspaper archives, hoping to find something of substance. Finally, I hit the jackpot! An article in the Vancouver Sun about a Women's Land Army being proposed in B.C. Using that as my reference point, I dug deeper and found a wealth of articles spanning from 1942-1946 and knew that there was a story to be told. I approached the University of Regina with my idea, and a Masters thesis was born.
Since beginning this journey, I have come across the stories of many brave, hard working young women who travelled to remote, interior regions of British Columbia to fill farm labour shortages caused by a boom in wartime industry employment and a high enlistment rate in BC. Using oral history, archival material (digitized and in person at the BC and Saskatchewan provincial archives), advertisements, and secondary literature, I have started to unraveled the complex history of labour in BC, stigmas about gender, racist ideologies, wartime propaganda, and the way women responded to the war effort in different rural communities across Western Canada.
When my masters degree is published, it will be the first academic work on the topic of B.C.'s Women's Land Army. However, this is just the beginning, and I look forward to preserving, documenting, and commemorating further stories of women agricultural labourers across Canada.