Where have all the cannons gone? This is not a new refrain to Pete Seeger’s famous political song, but a real baffling question for many Lambertans who find in their albums photos of family members posing proudly with these relics from wars long past. Comparing pictures in its archives, the Mouillepied Historical Society could establish that at least four cannons of different vintage were prominently displayed in Saint-Lambert till the end of the Thirties. One gun stood guard in front of the old Town Hall, what is now Place du Village, another one was situated in front of the LeRoyer Filtration Plant on Riverside, a third one at the intersection of Logan and Riverside and the fourth one at the corner of Desaulniers and Notre Dame. However we could only trace the destiny of one.
By the end of 1940 it became clear that World War II would last much longer and a shortage of materials used in the production of munitions was feared: for example, a single tank required 18 tons of metal. A salvage division within the Department of National War Services was established and at the beginning of January 1941 a nationwide campaign for collecting scrap metal destined for recycling was started.
Saint-Lambert responded very quickly. The minutes of a meeting held on January 20, 1941 read as follows: “His Worship the Mayor H.G. Clack, in the name of the Council of the City of St. Lambert, offers to the Dominion Government the old cannon, at present located on Desaulniers Boulevard, to be used for making munitions and he felt sure that good use could be made of the metal in the instrument (sic).”
In the first years of the war aluminum and copper were really scarce, but metals such as cast iron and steel, which were salvaged by the ton, turned out to be of little value. Although easily melted down, shipping them to factories across the country proved too costly. Community groups had responded eagerly to the call to recuperate and the appeal to Canadian housewives to donate their aluminum pots to be recycled in airplane manufacturing resulted in piles and piles of unused scrap, which was frequently and secretly dumped. By the end of 1943 the war production in Canada, which would become one of the biggest businesses in the world, was in full swing and by 1944 there were no more shortages. Recent historical studies indicate that the scrap metal drives were therefore more important as morale boosters to incite the general public to actively participate in the war effort..
To prevent profiteering, the Department of Munitions and Supply made it illegal to hoard scrap steel and unusable machinery weighing more than 500 pounds. Anyone coming into possession of said articles after September 15, 1942 and not disposing of them within 20 days faced severe fines and even imprisonment of up to five years. Many municipalities circumvented this decree by declaring their cannons an essential part of war memorials, which were exempt from the ruling. How Saint-Lambert reacted to this order is unknown. Research into later minutes of Council meetings finds no indication as to what happened to the rest of our cannons. One thing is sure, they disappeared from our cityscape. As much as historians mourn the loss of artifacts from our past, one can only hope our cannons were not unnecessarily entombed in landfills but melted down to provide ammunition for our brave soldiers overseas.
Sonni Malo (2012)