Imperial Munitions Board

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Women involved in the production of munitions (1916)

The Imperial Munitions Board (IMB) was the Canadian branch of the British Ministry of Munitions, set up in Canada under the chairmanship of Joseph Wesley Flavelle. It was formed by the British War Cabinet to alleviate the Shell Crisis of 1915 during the First World War. The Board was mandated to arrange for the manufacture of war materials in Canada on behalf of the British government.

It was the general and exclusive purchasing agent on behalf of the War Office, the Admiralty, the British Timber Controller, the Department of Aeronautics and the Ministry of Munitions, and also acted as an agent for the United States Department of Ordnance.[1]


Trenton plant seen from the air in 1919.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, the War Office approached the Canadian Department of Militia and Defence as to the possibility of supplying shells.[2] its Minister, Sam Hughes, appointed an honorary committee known as the Shell Committee to act as an agent on the War Office's behalf.[2] When the contracts became mired in political patronage that led to profiteering,[3] David Lloyd George sent Lord Rhondda to Canada to investigate.[3] Lionel Hitchens[a] and R.H. Brand then came over and approached Joseph Wesley Flavelle to form the IMB, and this move received the approval of Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden.[4] Charles Blair Gordon was named as Vice-Chairman.

As certain shell manufacture contracts had been granted to persons that did not even have workshops, their holders were given deadlines to either start manufacturing them or forfeit the contracts.[4] This led to political controversy later on, as the losers started to falsely accuse Flavelle of profiteering as well, because of his connection to the meat packing business.[4]

As Chairman, Flavelle had full administrative and executive authority.[5] The Board operated through twenty departments, of which the most important were Purchasing and Steel, Shipbuilding, Explosives, Forging, Aviation, Timber, Fuze and Engineering.[5] From 1915 to 1917, R.H. Brand served as the Board's representative in London, acting as the key link between that body and the Ministry of Munitions.[6]


Because the private sector was unwilling or unable to operate in certain fields, the Board established seven "National plants" for the production of explosives and propellants, and one for the manufacture of airplanes.[7] The Board also oversaw the production of ships and aircraft.

It also formed several subsidiaries to perform several of the manufacturing functions, which were spread across Canada. These included:

IMB National Plants
Company[b] Location Function Extent
Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd. Wallace Emerson, Toronto, Ontario 43°40′03″N 79°26′31″W / 43.6675°N 79.442°W / 43.6675; -79.442 Production of the JN-4(Can) Canuck,[8] the Felixstowe F5L flying boat,[9] and the Avro 504. The factory had 6 acres (2.4 ha) of floor space, and its construction took only 2.5 months to complete.[10]
British Cordite Ltd. Nobel, Ontario[c] 45°24′45″N 80°04′59″W / 45.4125°N 80.083055°W / 45.4125; -80.083055 Production of cordite. The site covered 366 acres (148 ha) and had 155 buildings.
British Chemical Co. Ltd. Trenton, Ontario[d] Production of sulphuric acid, nitric acid, pyro-cotton, nitrocellulose powder and TNT. The plant covered 255 acres (103 ha) and contained 204 buildings,[11] and at the time was the largest ammunition factory in the British Empire.
British Forgings Ltd. Ashbridge's Bay, Toronto, Ontario[e] 43°38′47″N 79°21′01″W / 43.646321°N 79.350241°W / 43.646321; -79.350241 Recycling of light steel turnings which arose from shell production, through melting down and recasting into ingots.[13] The site covered 127.6 acres (51.6 ha), on land leased from the Toronto Harbour Commission, and was at the time the world's largest electrical steel plant.[14]
British Munitions Supply Co. Ltd. Verdun, Quebec 45°28′19″N 73°34′00″W / 45.471979°N 73.566586°W / 45.471979; -73.566586 Assembly of fuses. Colloquially known as "La Poudrière", the plant had 4000 (almost exclusively female) employees that assembled eight million fuses.[15]
Energite Explosives Co. Ltd.[16] Haileybury, Ontario[f] Loading and assembling operations on 18-pounder British shrapnel shells. The operation had 800 employees and produced eight million completed rounds of ammunition.

When the Montreal Gazette profiled the War Toronto on its first visit to Montreal, on April 30, 1919, they described her as the last of 46 vessels built for the Imperial Munitions Board.[17]

The IMB was dissolved in 1919.


When contracting was transferred from the Shell Committee to the IMB, Flavelle decided that fair wage clauses would not be inserted into future contracts that were granted, although British and Canadian authorities did not object to continuing the prior practice.[18] As the IMB was a British agency, its activities with respect to labour relations did not fall under federal jurisdiction until the passage of an order in council in March 1916 that extended the application of the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act,[19][20] but Flavelle's opposition continued.[21] This had the effect of disrupting relations with the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada,[22] which would lead to the outbreak of strikes in 1918 and massive labour confrontations in 1919.[23]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ head of the shipbuilding firm Cammell Laird
  2. ^ IMB subsidiary, except for Energite
  3. ^ Operated by Canadian Explosives Limited (a predecessor of Canadian Industries Limited), on behalf of British Cordite
  4. ^ located on the east side of the Trent River near Number 1 Dam, before it empties into the Bay of Quinte
  5. ^ Located to the southeast from Commissioners Street and Munition Street[12]
  6. ^ Operated by Energite for the IMB. It also had other plants at Widdifield, Ontario and Renfrew, Ontario.


  1. ^ DEA 1921, p. 26.
  2. ^ a b DPI 1918, p. 13.
  3. ^ a b "Sir Robert Borden Did Better". Ottawa Citizen. February 10, 1939. 
  4. ^ a b c Bowman, Charles A. (April 19, 1949). "Sir Joseph Flavelle and Munitions Board". Ottawa Citizen. p. 3. 
  5. ^ a b DPI 1918, p. 14.
  6. ^ Neilson 2011.
  7. ^ DPI 1918, p. 15.
  8. ^ "Curtiss JN-4 "Canuck"". Canada Aviation and Space Museum. 2015. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  9. ^ Shadwick, Martin (2015). "Military Aviation". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Sullivan 1919, p. 44.
  11. ^ Everson, Kate (September 11, 2014). "Doors Open includes British Chemical Company explosion". Quinte West News. 
  12. ^ Moir 1989, p. 132.
  13. ^ Moir 1989, p. 130.
  14. ^ Moir 1989, pp. 130-132.
  15. ^ Ferland, Raphaël Dallaire (7 July 2012). "Usine à munitions pour retraités slaves" [Munitions factory for Slav retirees]. Le Devoir (in French). Montreal. 
  16. ^ "Collection: Energite Explosives Company Ltd". Imperial War Museum. 
  17. ^ "S.S. War Toronto arrived in Port: Last of 46 vessels constructed for the Imperial Munitions Board was inspected". Montreal Gazette. 30 April 1919. Retrieved 15 December 2015. 
  18. ^ Bercuson 1973, p. 605.
  19. ^ "P.C. 680". Canada Gazette. April 15, 1916. 
  20. ^ Bercuson 1973, p. 607.
  21. ^ Bercuson 1973, pp. 608, 612.
  22. ^ Bercuson 1973, p. 609.
  23. ^ Bercuson 1973, p. 614.

External links[edit]