Our department during the Second World War

Canadians pay tribute to the men and women who risked and gave their lives in the Second World War overseas. Learn how our department helped contribute to their efforts from home.

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A great national enterprise

Canada responded to the war by mobilizing its human and economic resources. The army, navy and air forces prepared to join our allies on overseas battlefronts.

To support the military efforts, Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s government created the Department of Munitions and Supply. C.D. Howe was appointed to run the new organization.

Nicknamed “the minister of everything” due to his ability to get things done, Howe brought the country’s most brilliant and innovative private sector leaders to Ottawa. He convinced their companies to continue paying their salaries and offered them an annual sum of one dollar for their labour.

These leaders became known as the “dollar-a-year-men” and, under Howe’s leadership, the department readied Canada’s economy for war: producing, mobilizing and allocating resources to support the war effort.

Dynamic leadership

With 28 Crown corporations to lead the various sectors of the economy, the new department quickly became one of the world’s largest businesses. The department’s war efforts served to regulate scarce materials, generate war supplies, buy supplies and create goods. More specifically, some of its functions during the war included:

Word war too

During the war, Translation Bureau employees also made an essential contribution to the Allied war effort.

In 1942, the Translation Bureau assigned 12 translators to the Canadian Army’s Bureau of Bilingual Publications. It was later renamed the Army Language Bureau when it began to translate foreign languages, especially Russian.

In the same year, the Translation Bureau lent 18 translators to the American army’s Language Bureau in New York to assist with translating 500 manuals for the French forces in Africa.

The team worked with the general staff of the Canadian Army and the War Department of the United States to compile an English-French, French-English Military Dictionary. A preliminary edition of 15,000 terms appeared in 1943 while the final edition, published 2 years later, contained 100,000 terms.

To develop the dictionary, the team created words in the other official language for new weapons or the most recent innovations in military strategy. Even with common military terms, exact equivalents were not always possible in French and English.

The English-French, French-English Military Dictionary represents the first major achievement by the Translation Bureau in the field of terminology.

A proud place in Canadian history

The resources and services provided by the Department of Munitions and Supply and the Translation Bureau played a vital role in the Second World War. The department embodied the country’s capacity to respond quickly and efficiently. These contributions endure as a proud moment in Public Services and Procurement Canada’s history.

Fast facts

The infrastructure created and managed by the Department of Munitions and Supply produced $10 billion worth of assets during the war. Did you know that this is equivalent to $100 billion in today’s money? In fact, Canada was the fourth economic contributor to the Allied effort after the U.S., the U.K. and the Soviet Union.

About a third of the supplies produced by the department were used to support Canadian forces while two-thirds went to Britain and other allies. Under the department’s leadership Canada provided many resources including:

  • 95% of the nickel
  • 12% of the copper
  • 40% of the aluminum

The Translation Bureau has played an important role in the development of terminology in many areas, and especially in the field of administration. Bureau translators are responsible for French terms like “dotation en personnel” (staffing), “temporisation” (sunset law) and “profil de poste” (job outlook, which later became job profile under the influence of the French translation).

In November 1979, the Translation Bureau inaugurated a sign-language interpretation service so around 200,000 hearing-impaired Canadians could communicate with the Government of Canada.

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