Conscientious objectors claimed CO status because they thought war was wrong. They contributed labour and expertise to many different areas of Canadian society during the war. Jake Penner, of Gretna, Manitoba, demonstrated that when he was assigned to Pickle Crow Goldmines in Ontario.
Here he worked every day deep below the surface of the earth. How deep? It was deeper underground than the tallest building is above the ground. The CN Tower in Toronto, the world's tallest building, is 553 metres tall. Jake worked at 579 metres underground. How did he end up down there?
“On January 21st, 1943 I got my medical call for checkup, the doctor said I was O.K. On June 23rd, 1943 I was called to take the stand before Judge Adamson of Morden in [the] Morden court house. My younger brother Dave was called with me at the same time. After much questioning the judge said I'd make a good miner so he sentenced me to Pickle Crow Goldmines, Ontario.”
Dave was married, so Judge Adamson allowed him to make monthly payments to the Red Cross instead of leaving his family. Two weeks later, Jake left home to go to the mines.
“I was ordered to report to Selective Service in Wpg July 7th, 1943 and left Winnipeg at 7:30 PM by train and arrived at Sioux Lookout, Ontario 2:30 AM July 8th …. At Sioux Lookout a taxi came and picked me up from the station and drove me to Caswell's boarding house; he was also the taxi driver. The hot water system was on the blink and 5 ½ months later when I returned it still was off. He never had it fixed. I was to fly into the mines that day but the plane was full so had to wait till next day. So on the 9th at about 1:00 PM I took the plane to Pickle Crow Goldmines which is about 125 miles [200 km] northeast of Sioux Lookout which took about 1 hr + 25 minutes to make the trip. It was a very hot day and it was very hot on the plane. We landed at Pickle Lake and a taxi was waiting for me so I got in and drove about 9 miles [14 km] inland before we reached the mines.”
Jake did not know anyone at the mine and he did not have any mining experience. The first thing he had to go was get flu shots from the doctor to make sure that he did not get sick. Then he began work. Listen to him tell you what his days at the mine were like.
“Our living quarters were in two storey bunk houses steam heated quite comfortable. We had breakfast at 7 AM go to the mine 7:30 change into our work clothes for underground which are hanging in the dryer and are hung up by ropes strung over a pulley and are hanging high off the floor. We go down by a steel cage with a cage man signaling by pulling a ringer making a buzzing sound while a man in the control room sends the cage to the level where we were to go. I was tram helper at times, it's like a small train with tracks and a battery operated motor. We'd drive to the chute and fill the cars one by one by opening the chute which operated by air. In the morning we start at 8:00 AM and get out at 4 PM . Then there's also the night shift that goes down after day shift is finished. I worked with the drillers and helped them load these holes with dynamite and they were set off before we left our shift and the next shift would clean up the loose rocks which is called mucking which I sometimes also did. The mine is quite cool and wet and we wear woolen underwear heavy steel toes rubber boots and hard hats with electric lamp operated by a battery hanging on your belt. The mine shaft was down to 2200 feet [670 m] but the levels [where we worked did not begin until] about 1900 feet [579 m] down.”
The miners worried about the mine shaft collapsing, or not being able to get fresh air, or having something go wrong with the dynamite. Every person had to be careful. The lives of the other men depended on it. With their work, they earned their food.
“In the morning we'd go through the kitchen and pick up our lunch box which was filled with 4 sandwiches, 1 orange, 1 piece of pie, 1 piece of cake. Sandwiches have cheese, salmon, sardines, ham, beef and we need only say what we want. Then of course we have a thermos bottle of hot coffee, tea, or cocoa etc. The meals are very good with fruit, pie, cookies + desserts, fish every Friday, meat and just about any thing you could think of.”
After his time at the mine was finished, Jake had time to reflect on his experience.
“I felt very unhappy at being ordered against my will to go to the mines, but after I returned I knew God had been with me all the time. In a place like that you find many drinking, cursing men and it tests your strength as a Christian…. I held no grudge against Judge Adamson for sentencing me, for my health was better after that experience and I had been drawn much closer to God and I'm sure I left a good impression to many although they kidded me at times about my Christian beliefs they respected me and as friends they were very good. I am sure my mother's prayers followed me and it was a happy reunion when I returned home.”