After the war the DIL facility housed the engineering faculty of the University of Toronto—7000 young engineers trained there—and when the UofT decamped, the CMHC’s George Finley had a vision to transform Ajax into a planned model community. Today the town that helped win World War II is an integral part of one of the fastest growing regions in the GTA, and its coming-of-age will be shortly symbolized with the opening of Pat Bayly Square, a multi-faceted gathering place in the heart of Ajax’s “new” downtown, and named after its first mayor, a former wartime spymaster.
Modeled on Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, Bayly Square will incorporate an exciting new artwork honouring the thousands of DIL women who played such a vital role in the war effort. With its unveiling the town created for Canada’s “Rosies” will have come full circle—and ready for its dynamic and, yes, rosy future.
The Bomb Girls’ Memorial
An ambitious plan to create a memorial for the thousands of women who “manned” Defence Industries Limited’s shell-filling plant during the Second World War was guaranteed when local MP Mark Holland last May announced the federal government’s $232,000 contribution to the half-million dollar project. The city kicked in $100,000 and $170,000 was raised from private donors. The Bomb Girls’ Memorial will have pride of place in the soon-to-be built Pat Bayly Square, downtown Ajax’s new centerpiece, and it will be a fitting tribute for the 7,000 women from across Canada who valiantly worked at the largest munitions factory in the British Empire, and in doing so laid the groundwork for the new Town of Ajax.
Among the great unsung heroes, or is that heroines, of the Second World War was Rosie the Riveter, those plucky gals making munitions after the men went off to war. On this side of the border such “Rosies” were more or less single-handedly responsible for the founding of the Town of Ajax. Named after one of the three Royal Navy ships responsible for the sinking of the supposedly invincible German battleship Admiral Graf Spee in the Battle of the River Plate, Ajax was specifically created by Defence Industries Limited (DIL) to house 9,000 people from across Canada, most of them women, employed manufacturing 40-million shells used in the war effort. It’s one of the great, if little told, stories of that heroic era in our history.
Because the new community lacked housing, the federal government created the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to supply non-profit housing for these down-home patriots. Six hundred were built north of the 401, and most of these “wartime homes” are still in active service today. After the war the new town acquired legal status with its incorporation as the Town of Ajax on December 13, 1954 and it gained further civic heft when it amalgamated with the nearby Village of Pickering on June 22, 1974 as part of the new Durham region. But none of this would likely have occurred without those patriotic gals way back when, Canada’s very own riveting Rosies.
Ajax, A National Treasure
Many Old Ontario towns and villages take great pride in their early- and mid-19th century Georgian and Victorian heritage homes. In Ajax a similar civic devotion exists for homes of, admittedly, less architectural merit but equal if not more historical importance. The town’s priceless inventory of 1940s “wartime homes” is a national treasure and the initial building block for present-day Ajax. When thousands of wartime workers streamed into the community in the early 1940s, they’d no place to live so Ottawa created the CMHC to build non-profit subsidized rental housing. Work began on these pre-fabricated beauties in January 1942 and eventually 600 were built north of the 401 in then Pickering Township. When the government tried to remove them after the war, much hue and cry resulted in tenants being given the option to buy their homes. Many did and most of them exist to this day albeit often with a facelift, or an occasional nip and tuck.
Pat Bayly Square
Construction on Pat Bayly Square commenced in 2016 and is scheduled for completion in 2018, and when it opens the Town of Ajax will truly have a gathering place for the whole community, or to put it a tad more poetically, it will have acquired a heart. Modeled on Nathan Phillips, or Yonge-Dundas squares in Toronto, the new square will include a skating rink in winter which becomes, abracadabra, a reflecting pool in summer, an array of water features, a multi-purpose stage, seating areas, open spaces, greenery, and a new civic building. Pat Bayly Square’s paving will have a unique design modeled on the coding pattern found on a key stream tape discovered on a Rockex, a decoding machine still in use securing top secret communication. The Rockex is part of the legacy left behind by the illustrious man for whom the square is named, Benjamin de Forest (Pat) Bayly, Ajax’s first mayor. An engineer by training, Bayly, a spymaster, ran Camp X, a James Bond-like facility located on the shore of Lake Ontario on the Whitby/Oshawa border, responsible for running covert operations for the British and Canadian governments during the Second World War. Intrepid Park marks the spot of Camp X. Spooky, no? A bust honouring Ajax’s founder will be unveiled when the square opens two years hence. Nobody can say Ajax’s not “way cool” with a James Bond as its founding father.