Historic Sites of Manitoba: Defence Industries Limited Cordite Plant / Transcona Cordite Plant (RM of Springfield)
During the Second World War, the Transcona Cordite Plant encompassed an area of some 800 acres in Transcona and the neighbouring RM of Springfield where acid, nitroglycerine, and guncotton (nitrocellulose) were manufactured as ingredients in cordite, an explosive. Built by the Canadian and British governments under the banner of the Allied War Supplies Corporation, planning for the site began in 1940 and construction commenced in 1941. It opened June 1941 and was operated by a Crown Corporation, Defence Industries Limited.
Construction of the complex cost $20 million and, at its height, the facility consisted of 230 buildings, including a hospital, machine shops, offices, residences, telephone exchange building, laundry, and numerous production structures. Buildings were widely spaced to minimize the extent of damage in the event of accidental explosions. At the core of the facility was a three-storey factory and twin-stack power plant. Given the sensitive nature of goods produced here, the site had its own fire hall and a reciprocal agreement with the Transcona Fire Department to share resources in time of need. Electricity was provided, in part, by City Hydro and a railroad was built to shuttle materials around the site. Water was provided by the Greater Winnipeg Water District, with daily usage amounting to some 10 million gallons. Discharge of waste water from the plant was carried to the Red River in a channel through the site that came to be known as Cordite Ditch.
The plant was a major source of employment during the war, with levels peaking at 4200 people. Over the course of its operational life, the facility turned out 30,000 tons of guncotton, 14,500 tons of nitroglycerin, 75,000 tons of nitric acid, and 167,000 tons of sulphuric acid, and packed a total of 65,300 tons of cordite. The abundance of explosives posed a serious workplace hazard which necessitated strict safety protocols. Workers caught smoking, or even possessing matches, were sometimes punished with jail terms and fines. Surprisingly, there was only one fatality during the five-year lifespan of the plant.
Production at the plant ended on 23 August 1945 and the first wave of layoffs began the next day, with 400 workers being let go. It was decided the main plant would be demolished because it was felt the structure was too thoroughly contaminated with explosive materials to warrant salvage. On 15 November 1945, the structure was blown up with 500 pounds of rifle cordite and the destruction was witnessed by business representatives and members of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. Under the oversight of the Federal Department of Munitions and Supply, and the work of some 200 labourers, by 1946 the site was largely demolished and decontaminated. Some of the lumber from demolished buildings was re-used in housing projects, including dozens of temporary residences for married veterans, known as “Veteran’s Village,” on the University of Manitoba Fort Garry Campus, and additional veteran housing off Smithfield in West Kildonan. In all, some 1.4 million board feet of lumber were saved, along with 1460 windows, 800 doors, and 350,000 feet of wiring. The land was declared surplus on 15 March 1946. Later that year, a large metal building was moved to a site in Winnipeg where Harrow School now stands.
By 1947, the power plant, administration building, and machine shop remained standing, in case they might be able to be converted to other industrial uses. Finally, by mid-June 1948, the power plant and stacks were felled.
Today, all that remains are some sections of railway and wire fencing, as well as the Cordite Ditch and adjacent Cordite Road. The Ditch flows northwest from the George Olive Nature Park, into North Kildonan and the Bunn’s Creek drainage system, before ending up in the Red River. A series of information panels along Transcona Trail at the crossing of the Cordite Ditch, installed by the City of Winnipeg in 2010, detail the area’s historical significance.
Photos & Coordinates
“Hydro to supply third of power to Cordite Plant,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 November 1940, page 4.
“Approves Hydro’s Cordite Plant deal,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 November 1940, page 11.
“Drainage plan brings protest,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 December 1940, page 5.
“May link Springfield with Water District,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 January 1941, page 16.
“Seek fair basis for anti-sabotage costs,” Winnipeg Tribune, 29 January 1941, page 11.
“Will supply water for plant erection,” Winnipeg Tribune, 30 January 1941, page 17.
“Water Board to hire guards for aqueduct,” Winnipeg Tribune, 25 February 1941, page 11.
“2 Winnipeg men victims’ fourth workman escapes,” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 February 1941, page 11.
“Building of 800 pre-fabricated houses expected,” Winnipeg Tribune, 20 March 1941, page 11.
“No house building near Cordite Plant,” Winnipeg Tribune, 22 April 1941, page 13.
“Denies 1,200 men laid off,” Winnipeg Tribune, 11 June 1941, page 9.
“Fire departments will co-operate,” Winnipeg Tribune, 30 July 1941, page 8.
“Building craftsman way work distribution unfair to Manitoba,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 September 1941, page 15.
“Widespread calls for services met,” Winnipeg Tribune, 29 December 1941, page 36.
“Ottawa plans extension of Cordite Plant,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 March 1942, page 1.
“Cordite plant smoker jailed,” Winnipeg Tribune, 30 July 1942, page 13.
“Agreement reached for Transcona road,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 December 1942, page 9.
“Two go to jail for smoking in Cordite Plant,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 March 1943, page 1.
“Transcona news,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 July 1944, page 19.
“Fined $50 for taking match into Cordite Plant,” Winnipeg Tribune, 7 October 1944, page 1.
“Cordite Plant to close; 1,100 will be laid off,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 August 1945, page 1.
“Province delays Cordite Plant action,” Winnipeg Free Press, 21 March 1946, page 9.
[Photo caption], Winnipeg Tribune, 5 September 1946, page 7.
“Cordite Plant lumber aids veterans’ homes,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 September 1946, page 7.
“War Assets official inspecting equipment,” Winnipeg Free Press, 24 April 1947, page 10.
“Little change in employment,” Winnipeg Free Press, 17 August 1945, page 1.
“Cordite plant production ends,” Winnipeg Tribune, 23 August 1945, page 11.
“Cordite Plant Building to be razed Thursday,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 November 1945, page 3.
“Nothing left but dust and ashes,” Winnipeg Free Press, 16 November 1945, page 2.
“For sale by tender,” Winnipeg Free Press, 11 October 1947, page 19.
“For sale by War Assets Corporation,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 September 1947, page 27.
“For sale by War Assets Corporation,” Winnipeg Free Press, 17 September 1947, page 19.
“Stack crash,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 June 1948, page 1.
We thank Alanna Horejda (Transcona Historical Museum) and Oliver Bernuetz (Legislative Library of Manitoba) for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough and Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 20 May 2022