Canada and its farmers, in particular, faced incredible labour shortages during the First World War. This was in part due to how little prepared Canada was to enter The Great War — food stores were inadequate, infrastructure was just not there and few provisions were made to fill the positions left vacant by soldiers overseas.

Programs such as the Farmerettes and Soldiers of the Soil placed women and children in farmers’ fields as labourers to pick up the slack and help to feed Canadians, both on the frontlines and at the homefront. The Farmerettes were also an opportunity for women, who at the time were not accepted in the work force, to get out of the house and prove their worth.

The painting Land Girls Hoeing (1919) by Manley Edward MacDonald was a tribute to the important work done by the Farmerettes during the First World War. An Ontario-based landscape artist, MacDonald was commissioned by Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery of Canada, in 1918 to create a series of paintings depicting women’s war work amid picturesque agricultural landscapes. In total, MacDonald completed five canvases. Land Girls Hoeing depicts two women tilling a field in the Niagara Region in loose-fitting dresses and wide-brimmed hats.

Manly Edward MacDonald’s painting depicting women working at farms in the Niagara Region in Ontario during the First World War. (Credit: Manly Edward MacDonald, Land Girls Hoeing, 1918-1919, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, 19710261-0370.)

A study by Mabel May, leading to her painting Women Making Shells. This study has never been on display and is currently housed at the Canadian War Museum. (Image courtesy of the Canadian War Museum, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art.

A study by Mabel May, leading to her painting Women Making Shells. This study has never been on display and is currently housed at the Canadian War Museum. (Image courtesy of the Canadian War Museum, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art.)

A study by Mabel May, leading to her painting Women Making Shells. This study has never been on display and is currently housed at the Canadian War Museum. (Image courtesy of the Canadian War Museum, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art.)

Dorothy Stevens’ print shows workers in a munitions factory. Men and women worked in factories during the First World War. (Dorothy Stevens, Munitions - Heavy Shells, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, 19710261-0686.)

Bronze sculpture of a female munitions worker, created by Florence Wyle, one of four female artists commissioned to create art work for the Canadian War Memorials Fund during the First World War. (Florence Wyle, Munitions Worker, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, 19710261-0420)