During World War I, 4,000 people, many of them women, assembled eight million fuzes in a building locally known as “La Poudrière.” Given that the job required mounting a detonator cap over a gunpowder relay charge and attaching a safety pin (read more about WWI fuses here), the job was risky and monotonous at the same time.
Who were these people? How can we honour their work?
Recently, I was looking through the records of World War I soldiers and realized that their records may offer us ways to perhaps figure out who some of our homefront heroines are too. I discovered several women who moved to Verdun within walking distance of the armament plant while their husbands or brothers served overseas.
When Ethel Henrietta Murray’s husband Patrick volunteered for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on Wednesday, April 12, 1916, the couple lived at 80 Anderson Street, in downtown Montreal.
According to his military records, by the time he died on October 29, 1917, driving with the 4th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery, her first name was Henrietta and she had moved to 1251 Wellington Street. Later, she lived at 956 Ethel Street.
None of her addresses exist anymore, nor have I yet found any evidence explaining why she moved to Verdun. Based on her address and circumstances, however, I suspect that she—and three other women who lived nearby—worked at “la poudrière.”
La Poudrière is the local colloquial name for a building that currently houses 64 units for senior citizens. The Canadien Slavowic Association (l’Association canadienne slave de Montréal) operates the space.
I also haven’t yet looked into the records of the company to find out if there is a list of employees so that I can see if Ethel or Henrietta Murray appears on their rolls.
Other women I’d like to verify include Marjorie Victoria Stroude Luker, Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, and Mrs. John Sullivan. These three women also lived within walking distance of la poudrière between 1916 and 1919.
Military records include the addresses of these women because all of them received telegrams about loved ones being wounded or killed overseas.
Marjorie’s husband Arthur was wounded in Italy on August 20, 1917, and then died of the flu in Belgium on December 2018. Although the couple lived in Point St. Charles when he signed up, her benefits were sent to her at 714 Ethel Street by the time he died.
Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, the wife of George Winsper who died on November 7, 1917, had moved from Rosemont to 196 St. Charles Street in Pointe St. Charles by the time he died.
Two records mention the grief of Mrs. John Sullivan when Private William Wright, a steamfitter from Scotland, died in action at St. Julien on April 24, 1915. Neither have her first name. One document describes William, who was 21 when he died as the adopted child of Mr. and Mrs. John Sullivan. Another one, and the one I think is more correct, mentions that she is his sister. Her address at the beginning of the war was 9 Farm Street, Point St. Charles, the same as his when he enlisted. His medals were sent to her at 431A Wellington St., Point St. Charles.
If these women worked together, as is possible, they too risked their lives.
Employees with the British Munition Supply Company–which was created by The British Government under the auspices of The Imperial Munitions Board–faced the possibility of accidental explosions. Britain paid $175,000 in 1916 to construct a building that could contain shockwaves. It also included a saw-tooth roof to prevent sunlight from entering.
The IMB had inherited from Sir Samuel Hughes’s Shell Committee orders for artillery shells worth more than $282 million, contracts with over 400 different factories, and supervision of the manufacture of tens of millions of shells and ancillary parts. Its most serious problem was acquiring time and graze, or percussion, fuses for the shells produced by its factories. There was no capacity to create and assemble these precision parts in Canada, and contracts with American companies had proved dismal failures. The problem was given to Gordon to solve. He recommended that fuse manufacturing be done in Canada. The IMB set up its own factory in Verdun (Montreal) to make the delicate time fuses. Skilled workmen and supervisors were quickly brought over from Britain to train Canadian workers. British Munitions Limited, the IMB’s first “national factory,” was open for business by the spring of 1916. The last order from Britain, for 3,000,000 fuses, came in 1917 and the last fuses were shipped in May 1918. British Munitions was then converted by the IMB into a shell-manufacturing facility.
Another source I read said that Dominion Textile Company purchased the site for its textile operations when the war ended in 1919. Two decades later, Defence Industries Limited revived the site for a shell factory during World War II, between 1940 and 1945. David Fennario’s book “Motherhouse” offers a good look at the women’s lives during this second wartime era.
 Attestation Paper, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #347740, Patrick Murray, a derivative copy of the original signed by Patrick.
 Address card, ibid.
 Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #1054006, Arthur Luker.
 Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #920146, George Winsper.
 Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #26024, William Wright.
 “Usine à munitions pour retraités slaves” by Raphaël Dallaire Ferland, ttps://www.ledevoir.com/societe/354100/usine-a-munitions-pour-retraites-slaves, accessed September 22, 2018.
 Biography – GORDON, SIR CHARLES BLAIR – Volume XVI (1931-1940) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gordon_charles_blair_16F.html, accessed September 22, 2018.
It’s the last week of May and there are tons of events happening in Verdun!
Even if it’s raining, you can enjoy a wonderful spring day during the Cultiver Verdun event at the municipal greenhouses, 7000 boul. LaSalle tomorrow! The event includes a public consultation about what you’d like to see in urban agriculture projects in Verdun. The rest of the Grand Potager members, all of whom specialize in urban agriculture, will have tables set up to tell you what’s happening this season. There’s also a mini farmers’ market and CAUS will be selling our premium compost, seedlings, hanging pots, microgreen seeds, lawn seed, pruners, gloves etc. from our gardening shed in the back. We also have a couple of dozen eggs from Farmer Ed to sell. Urban Seedling’s garden centre will be open, as it is daily from 9 until 5, so you can pick up seedlings and some of their great gardening soil that contains compost and coconut fibre fully-integrated within.
Everything takes place from 10 until 4. Hope to see you there.
Also this week in Verdun, chef Joey d’Alleva, Sophie Bergeron, Frédéric Leblond and Marc-André Paradis announced plans for a new pasta and pizza restaurant called Rita.
Verdun was in the news many times during the last week of March 2018. Our political representatives made announcements about a program to help decontaminate soil and the cancellation of a garbage collection contract. Le Pigor got its first review and Promenade Wellington’s annual sugar shack festival finished with record crowds.
Yesterday, Verdun’s MNA Environment Minister Isabelle Melançon announced a $75 million grant over four years to decontaminate land. This should allow Verdun to finally build social housing on the Gaetan Laberge site, a municipally-owned contaminated site. For some reason, the grant can also be used for private projects. Not sure why. Perhaps this is to aid in private-public partnerships.
On March 19, Verdun Mayor Jean-Francois Parenteau announced the cancellation of a garbage contract on behalf of the City of Montreal. Read the Gazette’s coverage here, CTV’s coverage here and the Global report with Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante’s explanation about the situation here.
Le Pigor, a bistro on Wellington Street in Verdun finally got its first review–three and a half stars from Le Devoir’s Jean-Phillippe Tastet. Read the original review here, and the English Eater brief that brought it my attention here.
Parenteau also thanked the big crowds for making the annual sugar shack festival on Wellington a big success.
This conversation with Brian Perron, the leader behind Verdun’s Church of the Epiphany comes from my archives. We discussed peace, acceptance and being open to connecting with anyone.
This episode is brought to you by Lufa Rooftop Gardens. If you decide to order a basket and use my code, TA50107, we both get $10 off one delivery.
You can also choose baskets from Les Potagers des nues mains If you choose to receive organic vegetables and eggs throughout the summer from Les Potagers des nues mains farm in Sutton using my link, I get $20 worth of vegetables.
Loved Brian’s definition of being Canadian:
Freedom, the chance to do what we want and the chance to make something of ourselves and bring other people along.”
Thanks also to Brian and the Epiphany congregation for donating chairs and tables to the Grand Potager non-profit, which animates Verdun’s municipal greenhouses.
For the latest information, read:
I did a story about a concert at Epiphany in 2014 before Brian was the spiritual leader there.
Here’s the transcript of part of our conversation:
[00:08:04] Maybe on the Internet or just be at peace with the music. The lighting adjustable just so you can feel a little bit of quiet in this busy city. If they want noise, they can go downstairs because it was noisy down there. It’s fun with people but sometimes you need to meet somebody to talk with. Sometimes, you just need to be quiet by yourself or whatever. So that’s what we’d like to do here. This a storage area and that would disappear. There’s a little staircase that goes up there and there’s a little room with windows out onto the street. It’s really just a storage area. But imagine if that space where the windows are in would go into the loft. You could just sit and you could hear people going by on the street and we’d window it all to make it safe. And windows down into the staircase and it would be around the font because we’re not moving the font. And of course, that’s why we would call it the second dip.
[00:08:56] Because because you’ve got the door right where they can actually come up off the street if they want or they can go..
[00:09:06] Exactly. We have to front doors and we have wheelchair access on this side to go up and down. We’re also able to sit and be quiet and of course, we need resources because you can’t just leave people. Right. Well, this is enough of a space especially once this is cleaned out. I saw a picture of it and they were not there because I’ve always seen that there. And even after the service will just sit there talking about me.
[00:09:52] There’s a fellow that I interviewed for the Montrealer and he’s into philanthropy and he gives to mental health research. They have a new program where they’re bringing something that happens in Australia which is these little cafés, but they have health people in them so that they can identify youth with mental health problems when it’s early enough to actually get healing. It’s called Access and there’s going to be one opening up in Dorval and there’s one opening up in the Douglas. You may want to connect with them and see if that can be part of your program because it’s just a wonderful idea by having open easy space for people to come and you yet having just enough resources so that there’s someone who recognizes signs of trouble before it’s actually a problem. He thinks his son would be still alive if he’d had that kind of a resource.
[00:10:37] If it starts at noon I’m usually like 45 minutes ahead of time because you walk in and you see people someone just sitting quietly. And it’s again recognizing the need and to be open to recognizing the need. Very often it’s by the shoulder or by their eyes. So if you can connect with the eyes and you get a sense of what’s happening with them. When I used to do clinical pastoral training in the hospital, I walk up and down the halls and I looked into the various rooms and I could connect with their eyes. One person, I looked at their eyes and they look straight at me. And I looked at the porter and he said, that he didn’t want anything to do with any clergy. Well I was drawn. I walked into the room twice just to make sure.
[00:03:36] I went in and I said hi I’m here to see so and so, do you know where he is. Which was true and he said well he’s off on tests and I said how are you doing today? He said fine. Can I come in? Yes, he said it’s a special day today. Two years ago today, my wife died of cancer. He said, “you may have heard,” and this is a tough story.
[00:12:56] It just shows right about being aware, which was such a lesson to me to listen to that still small voice.
[00:13:03] You may have heard three weeks ago they found a boy inert in the swimming pool. That was my son. I remember hearing it again and I’m thinking who am I who can offer any kind of advice or help to this person? So we start to talk a little bit about and then he says “my two girls, they’re with my mother right now. So when I get better I’ll be able to take them–my little girl wants my wife’s Harley Davidson
[00:13:31] So you drive Harley’s?
[00:13:31] My wife and I always drove Harleys. My brother drives Harleys. I came this close to getting a Harley, but instead, I bought an Audi TT Roadster.
[00:13:42] He says “really. I have a BMW z 4.
[00:13:45] Oh I love European cars. I used to drive SAUBs.
[00:14:47] Really he says. I had a 1993.
[00:14:50] Not a 9000?
[00:14:52] Yeah black with dark tan.
[00:04:53] Yeah me too. I traded it for a 96 dark green with light tan.
[00:14:57] And then we talked about his Corvette. I said I have a Corvette – -a 76 Corvette bright Red. LA2 I said yeah.
[00:15:02] We went through all this. I said “you’re getting tired. Can we pray?
[00:15:08] He says yes. So I closed my eyes and I looked at my hand and he grabs my hand and holds tight and we prayed. What a lesson about connecting.
[00:15:27] And there are so many people that had walked by that room. I’ve heard of other people walking past pastoral trainers etc. So how can we be open when somebody comes in? Indeed they don’t even know how to express their need, whether it’s for food, whether it’s for education or for love or just a place where they can speak to someone.
[00:15:48] I used to get this…I used to be in financial planning. We used to do reports for people and they’d create a powerful bond. Especially after a big project, clients would call me. It’s time for the lunch Bryan. So I’d take them out for lunch and within five minutes they’d start talking about their personal life reaching out and that’s one of the things that led me to become a priest, a minister, a pastor. I was working with Welcome Home Mission thinking wow this would be good to do would I retire. I retired at 52. I quit. And I thought I could go on a mission. Amazing how I went from running a Mission to working in a hospital to working in parishes to compel them to work in missions. Now I’m at a church that is a Mission. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
[00:16:39] How old are you?
[00:16:39] 61. I started seminary at 52 it was five full-time, Sunday included. And I’m a CEGEP dropout. And I did okay at McGill. When I was in high school, we knew the guys going to McGill. Me and my buddies. When I graduated, I went and bought myself a hat and I even wore it in today. I wear that McGill cap because boy I had to work hard for it.
[00:17:05] The last question I have which is the question I ask everyone is do you consider yourself a Canadian?
[00:17:18] And what does it mean to you?
[00:17:24] Freedom. A chance to do anything we want to make something of ourselves and to bring other people along the way. Thank you so much.
If you prefer to read, here is a transcript
[00:00:14] Today I am speaking to one of the leaders behind Southwest United Mission Church and the mission downtown. Also somebody who is on Anglo family council and an alround a great guy.
[00:00:32] Here he is. I'm David Lefneski and I came to Verdun when there was Verdun United Church and Crawford Park United churches in 1998 looking for a bilingual minister because they wanted someone to both serve the congregations English speaking but serve their French neighbors. And it's the only church advertisement I saw that wanted a bilingual person which I was so I came to Verdun. I came from a fundamentalist background. I was raised in a more Pentecostal Baptist model of church and evolved towards the reform and reformation Protestant more mainline church. I was coming out of a French Presbyterian Church in Rosemont. I was coming out of the closet slowly and feeling that my orientation was an issue for some.
[00:01:27] And I really felt when I said here and Verdun "who's not welcome" and they said "What? Everyone's welcome. I thought there might be hope for me to simply be David in this context.
[00:01:42] And that was in 1988 to 1998. I've been here 18 years so I came for a ministry to what was existing at the time a large building on Woodland for Verdun United. Crawford was a smaller building but 225 in regular worship. Between those two congregations.
[00:02:03] Vibrant outreach. Alive to neighborhood a sense of not United Church affiliation as much as just "we serve our neighbors however we can." Marriages. Baptisms. At that time there were efforts at collective kitchen and Christmas baskets but it really was a clear sense that neighbour was at the at the heart of what ministry was about.
[00:02:30] And since then maybe in 18 years the evolution is pretty incredible. We're actually standing in a space in Verdun Elementary where just yesterday there was there was a community lunch. There was a what do you call the Good food family And there was a mini market all in one day.
[00:02:56] And then there was teen cuisine after that in a big long day. So it's a funny it's a crazy evolution actually. It's it's kind of when your heart has to choose the contractions of decline whether you let contractions become.
[00:03:16] How do you call that after the contraction then it's the growth of the heart. It expands. And as painful as the process is we went through many years of questions looking at our ministry at money and building and thinking God's given us with an inheritance from our forefathers and mothers and faith. They've invested in building and we said you know we can do better than just heat a building. We can be more active in our community. It took many years. But in 2007 two congregations joined together, agree to sell the bigger building which costs about thirty seven thousand dollars to heat a year and we felt it was just too too much for a one hour or a limited use. And it wasn't the building that could have adapted easily to community use at that time. So we sold we took money we invested that money and we were without a home for the office and outreach and the principal of the local school said hey we have room. And we went to Lester B. Pearson who said we'll make a partnership with a rental space that you pay. But the partnership will include working with our youth and food needs and clothing needs. We're in a spot that is disadvantaged. The school is like an inner city school with lots of needs of needs at various various levels. And we said yeah we can handle that. So it really we were defining to come into this space by the community. And what are the needs of the community.
[00:04:52] And this is now 2007. This is 2016. So nine years. We gave up an address. We came to a school in the corner of Melrose and redone our official addresses through the school to reach our office with mail. But last week the mailman tried to deliver mail at 6 3 1 which is a totally illegal address so hopefully no one from Polk County is listening you know because that's our number.
[00:05:20] So a taxi could pick up a senior or get something delivered but it's not a real number because there's no address. And what a good model. I like that.
[00:05:36] We kept our smaller of the two churches so Crawford park became a Southwest church building. And this became the mission. And so we're still two locations which has kind of been our tradition for decades.
[00:05:50] The offices out of the school in the former nurse's office. Breakfast Club was one of the first things that happened with the school because the needs of children eating every morning. So it's a tri-partnership Breakfast Clubs in Quebec which is now Breakfast Clubs in Canada the school and the mission so our volunteers who put a kitchen in the Mission Space at our expense. About $30,000 dollars that we put that money in. Always with the blessing of the bschool board and have felt really a good relationship overall with the board because of this and of the Lester B, which is the furthest east the school in their whole territory. And of all the schools I would say as I said earlier kind of an inner city school. So it's not quite the norm of what West Islands about and it's recognized that we better do this together in a community model.
[00:06:46] Right now one of the things you had mentioned is when I've talked to you in previous times that you have a vision for taking this forward to combine the two.
[00:06:58] The two communities because you really have a worship community and a community you serve which includes many of the volunteers actually come from the community you serve. I mean it's I guess it's a really unique. Collection of people. And and you were talking about how moving forward your vision was much more united which is really kind of interesting. That's the name of the organization you work for. And that's both the challenge and the strength. So how do you as one individual one leader. Encompass those two very distinct missions. I mean you could be two organizations if you wanted to
[00:07:44] We could be I mean when we put up two stained glass windows in the school at the mission the Good Samaritan and the lost sheep we kept those because we felt their message was kind of an inclusive message. I mean who's my neighbor? Who is the other in that story of the Good Samaritan helping caring for the lost sheep you know. Who's who's not included who's on the edge of society or who can't read the invitation you're sending. Who's not eating well because he can't get out of their apartment and get to the healthy food choices. Who alone when they die?
[00:08:22] So when we put those stained glass in this building in a public building we are very conscious of it's kind of a juxtoposition of church and people of faith and what social justice or outreach and how those are almost in some way there are paradoxes and yet they are our motivation is to transform. I mean I want to convert everyone to healthy eating to healthy living to healthy choices to a healthy lifestyle. I don't have to speak of that as a religious conversion but yes we want to bring change and transformation of a message that we have lived as transformed formative. So our sense of faith in God and Jesus when we follow as Christians has never prevented us from having the Qur'an on our communion table at the church when people were bashing Muslim brothers and sisters we said hey come to the imam.
[00:09:21] We read from the Qur'an from the Bible we exchanged Qur'an and Bible and we kept our eyes on our communion table and fact when it was stolen last year from someone who said probably what's it doing to the Christian church because Christians have fundamentalists like everywhere else. And our response was to buy a new one through a Muslim family and rededicate it and put it back to remind us we don't possess truth. We're seeking after truth and unless we try to transform our community together with school with CLSC, with mosque with Christian church. Any group and every group willing to take the risk of a generous love and use space for community without it being contingent on faith adhesion or allegiance or adherence. So ours is a very alive faith. Maybe one day we have a church mission in one spot. It could maybe be really some headaches. But in other ways how exciting can you get to be probably the only as we hear it the only school in Canada where a public school has a faith group. That is committed to transformational models and community models working together. That's amazing. So in one sense. Maybe. It's still a good place to be because the energy is there. We have respect of others. Kids today going to manoir 250 Christmas cards homemade recycled singing and giving out those cards and they're looked at me and the kids said 'how do I call you?' And I said Well I'm a minister and Reverend David. I'm a community leader. So I'm David O. He said I'll call you Mr. Davis he said.
[00:11:06] I guess that's what they called teachers. I realize I just thought I was kind of cute right there that you know what do you call leadership. Well if it's transformative leadership it's probably going to change its name over a period of time which has been true for me.
[00:11:23] Well the fact I came as Reverend David and then we opened ourselves to more French ministry. And when I came out as a gay man when I took a Verdun nine year old as a foster son and the mother accused me of being a pedophile and I'm Gay and I guess I better talk to the elders and leaders of the church. I don't want them to hear that at IGA on Barrentine. Right. And I did and the elder ship said "oh you are a minister and we called you here. We believe in your ministry. You're our leader. So you stay. And when 15 people left that's about 2001. So it's quite a few years ago they left for various reasons but the majority of the congregation and to this day has simply been supportive. And I'm just David including my sexual orientation, and including being a foster parent, a musician, a gardener and yes I'm the minister and community leader. So it's the evolution of what kind of adaptive leadership over time. You know we can't stay the same and if our title's the same and same job district for the last 20 years I might be a little worried whether that's a teacher administrator preacher parent--because we should be evolving. We should be changing and growing and rising to new challenges.
[00:12:51] What do you think of when you hear the word Canadian?
[00:12:54] Oh my lord. I'm in Quebec. I came more than 30 years ago from Ontario my first 18 years are all French. Then I went into more bilingual I'd say I use my French here. Probably half of my work is now in French. Anything relating to the public is done in French. Anything we do, we do bilingually in our paperwork and our invitations. We try to do as much in our worship, weddings and baptism still in language of choice. For me I won't tell you how I voted in certain referendums but I would have stayed. No matter the decision as my roots here of these decades are not relating to Quebec Quebec versus Canada but rather I mean I'm a convert. I learned my French I'm Francofile I understand minority status. I understand that as a gay man there was a single parent or a single foster parent and I I understand the fight that it takes and the courage it takes to have a vibrant culture in a sea of English in North America and to be disconnected from Europe sort of its origins. And yet to have such a vibrant rich and different history. So I celebrate it and I think the common language where I live in Quebec is French. So the common language should be always Bpnjour to everyone and then you switch into whatever language including English you might want to speak. And even now I would say in our recent election in Verdun.
[00:14:38] In our recent election that we're done redone the candidates all kind of came by the mission and I'm Anglo family council president so I know they were kind of looking for some English inroads in votes.
[00:14:52] So you talk to everyone and I'm fairly apolitical and I know the 26 for the turkey meal that our new Deputy Liberal deputy just won the election provincially will be coming Mr longlais who is the PQ candidate is probably going to bring some desserts and maybe Veronique who was Quebec Solidaire.
[00:15:36] With English now sitting as the minority in Britain there's a lot of needs and you see us in Quebec. There's so many needs and changes but what's fundamental I feel is we serve we work together we build bridges towards each other we cross pollinate where we can and we don't stand on some political agenda. So my long response is to say I'm Canadian. I'm not even a monarchist. So the queen if that's going to throw up certain people I'm thinking I'm not even a monarchist so I'm kind of going for me being Canadian is the generosity I believe in as a Canadian. As being a Quebecois adopted, I feel such a privileged place really in Quebec very integrated and I want I want the English experience to be integrated into a dynamic Quebed, not excluded from it right but included within. So that's a lot of work and I would say that's probably where I'm at. I don't question.
[00:16:49] You answered with a definition of what you think Canadian is let's get it.
[00:16:54] And I have to think of it more because how I vote really is determined by that.
[00:16:59] The interesting thing is I don't think I mean one of the things I don't think of myself as a Canadian based on how I vote. For me it's because I believe in Canada as a big idea in federalism and the fact that diversity connects and the fact that you actually...Canada is stronger when every separate part of it is stronger. So moving to Quebec was very easy for me because it's not just where my roots are from but for me the idea of a strong Quebec with a strong Canada and a strong Ontario Ontario Northern Ontario would love to separate from Southern Ontario like there's separation movements all over the country and I just don't think it separates anything from the fact that we can all be Canadian anyway.
[00:17:44] I agree with you because fundamentally what I hear you say and that's what we're trying to live in a strong community--a communite de base if the base community is healthy respected alive doing well feeling engaged even if they're not in agreement with policies politics, but if they're feeling invited to the table they're able to eat, find jobs get to school, learn, educate their kids, be bilingual trilingual or hovever many languages, a strong Newfoundland Labrador a strong Quebec strong West. I agree with that that that creates a stronger whole.
[00:18:23] I would still affirm in the history of founding peoples, the First Nation, of British and French. There is something very unique in that history when you look across the country, but when you come into Quebec, you can't deny it. You know that we have some aspects of that history that are very particular and so they should be and just recognize them, celebrate them keep it flowing towards a generosity. And when you have to make a decision if I ever had to make a decision I would be.
[00:18:57] Well we do have to occasionally, but that's a different thing. Anyway thank you very much David we appreciate your time. You're welcome.
[00:19:10] Thank you for listening to unapologetically Canadian.
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