Government Praise

Government Praise

Canada treated its conscientious objectors better than any country in the world. Through the good will of the Canadian government, COs were allowed to perform work of national importance without violating their conscience. Instead of carrying arms and going to war, Canada allowed COs to fight forest fires, mine coal, work in hospitals, and labour on farms. In addition to this service, COs donated money to the Red Cross. For some COs, half of their monthly pay went to the Red Cross to ease human suffering caused by the war. By the end of the war, the COs had contributed more than their small number might suggest.

One sign of their success is the respect COs earned from their supervisors and the government. Part of this was because of the COs' principled stand against war. Although government officials did not agree with pacifism, they respected the integrity of a committed pacifist. Humphrey Mitchell, the Minister of Labour wrote that “the average conscientious objector in Canada is entirely sincere in his desire to do everything short of actual combat duties to be of service to his country in time of war.” This often took the form of hard physical labour.

He went to say that

“Conscientious objectors have willingly undertaken heavy and difficult work during the war. Their services have been available at several periods when critical situations developed due to labor shortages. As an example of this, some 75 conscientious objectors were employed at the Head of the Lakes [Thunder Bay, Ontario] in loading and unloading grain cars at a time when a serious congestion was developing… Labour Department officials relate stories of conscientious objectors coming to district offices to obtain heavier and more difficult work in order to do more for the war effort.” [Toews, 110]

T.A. Crerar, Minister of Mines and Resources during the Second World War, agreed. He admired their strong work ethic:

“It has been found that excellent service has been rendered by these conscientious objectors. They are, in the main, Mennonites, farmers' sons, well used to hard work.” [Toews, 110]

Mennonites and other COs are thankful for how well they were treated. Although they frequently disagreed, the Canadian government and the Mennonite leaders respected each other and had a good relationship.  

J.F. McKinnon, the Chief Alternative Service Officer, said that

“The Mennonites cooperated in every way from the beginning of Alternative Service. There was very close cooperation between the Mennonite bishops and the Alternative Service …. The bishops were always most willing to discuss mutual problems and to go as far as possible to cooperate within the limits of their conscience.” [Toews, 111]

The camps in BC are a clear example of how the alternative service program satisfied both parties. The COs did such good work, in fact, that companies and government departments fought to use their services.

JReimer Wed, 01/20/2016 - 14:50

Government Praise - Page 2

Government Praise - Page 2

In a letter to Major-General L.R. LaFleche, Minister of National War Services, on 29 January 1943, the Minister of Lands for British Columbia, A. Wells Gray, wrote that

“It is a notable fact, that no sooner were a few of these alternative service workers in camps in the Province, then a wide variety of interests were inquiring as to the possibility of securing their services. We have been approached by various mills, logging operators, the E. and N. Railway, by C.A. Cotterell, General Superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Vancouver, by the Lumber and Shingle Manufacturers' Association, the British Columbia Loggers' Association, and even by taxi firms. The services of these men were urgently requested for harvesting crops in the Fraser Valley and for harvesting the fruit crop in the Okanagan. It was proposed that they should be returned to the Prairies for the harvest there, and most of them being farmers, we had urgent requests for harvest leaves. The representations have been progressively more urgent and pressing as the employment situation has become more aggravated during recent months.” [Toews, 109]

One of the COs' most urgent duties was fighting fires. A summary of CO work in the winter of 1942-1943 summarizes how important their presence was.

“The Alternative Service Workers extinguished or assisted [in extinguishing] 89 fires in the Vancouver Forest District. Exceedingly satisfactory results marked their efforts on outbreaks attacked while still small. These crews attacked 72 small fires (1 acre or less) with such success that the average spread per fire was only ¼ acre. Any one of these fires was potentially a destroyer which could have gained 4-inch [10 cm] headlines …. This is a real testimony for well-trained and equipped suppression crews standing by on the alert in the emergency.” [ASM, 286]

Minister Gray used an example of the COs efficient fire fighting in a letter to Justice A.M. Manson, Chairman of the Mobilization Board, Division “K”.

“By way of illustration in this regard, it might be noted that the average elapsed time between report of a fire and departure of a fully equipped crew from the trained camps last summer was less than three minutes. A surprise test of a trained “stand-by” crew gave the following results:


Test fire started                                   3:00 pm

Smoke reported by lookout               3:03 pm

Crew started for fire                            3:05 pm

Arrived at fire (11 miles by road)       3:22 pm

Fire extinguished                                 3:27 pm

Crew arrived back at camp               3:54 pm

This ‘preparedness feature' constitutes the principle value of these camps and it cannot be compensated for under any other manpower plan…. They [the CO workers] have served a function of great national importance and will continue to do so in these camps. The need is as urgent as ever and they cannot be replaced.” [ASM, 287]

Faithfulness is the measure of the success for the CO, not work accomplished. Even so, the praise from supervisors and the Canadian government proves that COs were able to remain true to their consciences and perform valuable services.

JReimer Wed, 01/20/2016 - 14:53