Small Arms Limited | The Canadian Encyclopedia

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Small Arms Limited

Small Arms Limited (SAL) was a Canadian not-for-profit crown corporation established in 1940 to manufacture weapons for the Canadian military during the Second World War. It was housed in a sprawling, purpose-built factory, which quickly grew to 19,695 square metres, at Long Branch, just west of Toronto, Ontario.

Small Arms Limited factory floor

Background

On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Canada did not have a military small arms manufacturing capability; however, the country needed to arm thousands of volunteers streaming into the military. In May 1940, an earlier proposal to build a production facility finally came to fruition. The following month, the government gave the Department of National Defence (DND) approval to build it. DND chose a location next to existing 300- and 600-yard (about 275 and 550 m) rifle ranges at Long Branch. The area was also close to potential employees and a streetcar line for ease of transportation.

Construction

Although DND was initially responsible for the design and construction of the factory, this proved to be unworkable in practice and the Department of Munitions and Supply took over the project in August 1940. Construction began two weeks later and, after only 10 months, the new factory delivered its first weapons in late June 1941: five Lee-Enfield rifles for trials by the Canadian Army. SAL was managed by a Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps officer, Malcolm Jolley, who proved to be an effective leader.

Production

SAL initially had trouble finding workers, as many men were in the armed services. As a result, the company advertised across the country to hire young single women or married women without children and with a husband in the forces. SAL offered good-paying jobs at up to $20 to $30 a week, when work as a maid paid about $5 per week. The women were housed in private homes or a new dormitory. In 1943, about 3,500 of SAL’s 5,500 employees were women. (See Women in the Labour Force.)

Agnes Wong assembling a Sten gun at SAL

Between 1941 and 1945, more than 810,000 (perhaps as many as 1.58 million) Lee-Enfields and 100,000 Sten submachine guns were manufactured at SAL. The plant also manufactured a unique non-firing training rifle and parts for other small arms.

Canadian Arsenals Limited

On 31 December 1945, after the end of the war, the Small Arms Division of Canadian Arsenals Limited (CAL) took over SAL. Wartime production stopped and all but essential employees needed to close various accounts were let go. SAL’s charter was officially revoked on 31 March 1946. CAL kept the facility until 1974 when most of the buildings were demolished. (See also: FN C1 Self-Loading Rifle; C1 Submachine Gun.) Since then, much of the land has been converted to other uses, such as a park.

Legacy

The men who built the SAL facilities as well as the men and women who worked there between 1941 and 1945 contributed directly to the Canadian war effort. Without sufficient small arms from other Allied countries, their herculean efforts helped to ensure that Canada’s armed forces were properly equipped to carry out their part in defeating the Axis powers. (See Wartime Home Front.)