Friday, September 30, 2011

Rosies of the North (1999)

Rosies of the North doesn't exactly soar above the heavens.

But it is a solid documentary about Canadian women who made airplanes during the Second World War.


As many as 3,000 women worked in the Canadian Car and Foundry factory in Fort William, now part of Thunder Bay, Ont.

The ladies manufactured Hurricane fighter planes and Hell Diver bombers.

"They [the planes] brought us together," one woman remarks near the start of the 48-minute documentary.

For many, the work marked their first jobs and, while not paid the same amount as their male counterparts, they earned good money. It was a definite step-up from a limited number of other available jobs, including cleaning homes.


Director Kelly Saxberg (Letters from Karelia, In Security) includes interviews with about two dozen people, many of them former female employees of the Canadian Car and Foundry plant.

The women, likely in their late 70s when they talked about their experiences for this National Film Board documentary, describe how they were treated, good and bad, by their male co-workers, on-the-job romances, and the importance the cash from their jobs meant for their families just coming out of the Great Depression.

England needed the fighters badly in 1940 when an invasion by Germany appeared imminent and dogfights filled the skies. British fighters were being destroyed as quickly as they were being built.


Rosies of the North introduces audiences to Elsie MacGill, Queen of the Hurricanes. The Vancouver native, described by her niece as "an unconventional woman," was named the factory's chief aeronautical engineer at 33.

It's interesting to learn how she acted among workers, how she was depicted in the media, and what led to her being turfed from her job.

Given how much time Rosies of the North dedicates to MacGill, a file interview with her should have been included. Audiences don't even know if she was still alive or deceased when the documentary was filmed. Robert Lower's script grates at times. Narrator Martine Friesen has to deliver some pretty hackneyed lines.

A daughter of one of the workers describes how proud she is of her mother's work at the factory. To meet these women in Rosies of the North is a true pleasure.

RATING: 8/10

The film is not available at, but it can be purchased at

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