Prior to World War II, the town of Ajax didn’t exist.
It was acres of farmland on Lake Ontario, located in Pickering Township. But once Canada entered the war, all that changed. In 1941, the countryside became the site of Defence Industries Limited, a huge munitions factory that filled more than 40 million shells before 1945. The factory, which rested on approximately 2,985 acres, employed more than 9,000 people at its peak, a population that soon became a thriving community in the surrounding area.
And of course, that community needed a name. Given that the reason for its existence was the war effort, it made sense that the settlement’s moniker relate to the military in some way. Inspiration came from a trio of victorious British warships — the HMS Ajax, HMS Exeter and HMS Achilles — which had come to be seen as international symbols of courage and determination after engaging the German battleship Graf Spee for seven days in December 1939 at the Battle of the River Plate. The skirmish, which occurred off the coasts of Uruguay and Argentina, was the first major naval battle of the Second World War. The Town of Ajax also has streets named after every member of the ship’s company (you’ll recognize names like Lambard and Harwood). After a long and illustrious service, the HMS Ajax was decommissioned in 1948 and broken up in 1949; the anchor of the iconic vessel rests in front of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.
Inspiration came from a trio of victorious British warships — the HMS Ajax, HMS Exeter and HMS Achilles — which had come to be seen as international symbols of courage and determination after engaging the German battleship Graf Spee for seven days in December 1939 at the Battle of the River Plate.
As for the shell plant? When the war ended, Canadian soldiers flooded back home, and many pursued a university education. The University of Toronto leased much of the DIL plant in order to accommodate a surge of new engineering students. Machines were moved out of the factory and the space was converted into classrooms and labs, and the dorms that had previously housed workers were residences for students. The University of Toronto Ajax Division, as it was called, was operational until 1949, and more than 7,000 graduates received their educations on the site. Many people — both factory workers and students — remained in the area, adding to the growth of the community and laying the groundwork for the Ajax we know today.