1993-437 | Box of primer caps, about 1919

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Box of primer caps, about 1919
Gift of Joseph (Joe) Allain
This artefact belongs to : © Musée acadien of the Université de Moncton
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Keys to History

After almost two decades of uninterrupted growth, the Canadian economy slumped into depression in 1913. When global demand for Canadian commodities dropped, industrial demand at home soon slackened. Unemployment rose and investment slowed. War in 1914 therefore came as an economic tonic. The expectation that the war would be short was quickly displaced by the reality of "total war" - a war that would depend as much on the factory worker as the soldier.

From 1914 to 1918 Canadian factories converted their metal and chemical-making capacity to the production of shells, explosives and armaments. At first private enterprise was expected to meet the challenge, but scandals over poor quality and alleged profiteering led to the creation in 1915 of the Imperial Munitions Board (IMB) to oversee all munitions production. By 1920 it would have spent $1,250 million on 65 million shells, 49 million cartridge cases, 88 ships, 2,900 aircraft and a mountain of explosives.

  • What

    A primer cap was a small explosive charge used to trigger a larger explosion in a shell or bomb.

  • Where

    A high percentage of Canadian munitions-making was undertaken in central Canada. Canadian Industries Limited was a Montreal-based chemicals conglomerate jointly owned by DuPont in the United States and the British Imperial Chemicals Ltd. During the war it operated as Canadian Explosives Limited.

  • When

    In 1915 the Imperial Munitions Board was accepted as a necessary government incursion into the marketplace that would end when the war did. It would control profits and ensure efficiency. The IMB pioneered new Canadian products; its "national factories" built Canada's first mass-produced aircraft - Curtis JN-4 "Jennies."

  • Who

    Toronto pork packer Joseph Flavelle (1858-1939) was appointed to head the IMB. Despite unproved charges that he was a profiteer, Flavelle ensured that Canadian munitions flowed to the troops in Europe. Flavelle was knighted in 1917; his critics dubbed him "his lardship."