Before Rosie the Riveter, there was Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl.
Veronica Foster was just 19 when she began working in the John Inglis and Company factory in Toronto’s Liberty Village — now home of the JAZZ.FM91 studios — during the Second World War. The plant was making heavy appliances and machinery until the war prompted the company to shift its operations to manufacturing Bren light machine guns for the British and Canadian militaries.
The National Film Board chose Foster to be the poster girl for a government campaign designed to attract women to work in factories. It made her a national icon, representing nearly a million Canadian women who worked in manufacturing plants during the war.
Foster was also featured as “Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl” in a photo story in Star Weekly magazine. The most famous photo from that shoot showed her relaxing by an assembled Bren gun, cigarette in hand and her long black hair wrapped in a kerchief. That image inspired the U.S. government to create the fictional worker Rosie the Riveter two years later.
Foster was honoured this May when Canada Post issued a stamp marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War by commemorating her role in the war effort.
But Foster’s legacy doesn’t end there.
In 1943, Foster became the vocalist for Canada’s most famous dance band, Mart Kenney and his Western Gentlemen, replacing Judy Richards. It was then that she met and fell in love with one of the band’s trombonists, George Guerrette.
The Western Gentlemen made no commercial recordings at this time, but Foster was featured on their coast-to-coast CBC radio program The Victory Parade of Canada’s Spotlight Band, sponsored by Coca-Cola.
Foster left the Kenney orchestra in January, 1944, to pursue a career as a model. She also continued to sing with other big bands, including the Trump Davidson Orchestra in Toronto.
She and Guerrette married in 1945. In 1948, they moved to his hometown of Edmundston, N.B., where he became general manager of the local radio station. After Guerrette died in 1963, Foster moved the family back to Toronto, where she became a successful real estate agent until her own death in 2000.
The Foster-Guerrette musical genes were strong.
One of her sons, also named George Guerrette, is a successful trombonist and film composer. He’s the father of Daniel, who while in high school played drums with the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band for five years, under the leadership of Jules Estrin. He is now furthering his musical studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.