There were nearly fifty alternative service camps in British Columbia. Although the duties were similar from camp to camp, the nature of life in each camp was unique. It depended on the location, the type of work, and, most importantly, the conscientious objectors themselves. They had one thing in common. As A.J. Funk said, “Camp life was what you made of it. It could be drudgery and weariness, or it could be exciting. I missed my old friends but soon made new friends.” [ASM, 219-220]
When David Goerzen arrived at the CO camp for the first time he found out that 75% of the COs in the camp were Mennonites. Some news reporters came to the camp to see what the COs were doing and wrote some articles. Article 1. Paul L. Storms wrote about life inside Montreal River Camp.
Most COs have good memories about their camp relationships. One wrote that “I learned to love and respect my fellow Mennonite Christian, regardless from which Mennonite group or conference he was.” [MHC, 1015-73] Another grew spiritually.
“As I look back I wouldn't change those years for anything, at that time it did become boring at times. It was a good chance of meeting boys from all over Canada, not only Mennonite, some from United Churches, Plymouth Brethren, many others. It was also a chance to grow spiritually. We had midweek prayer meeting. Sunday services, mostly conducted by boys who did not have too much experience in this before. The boys were free, open, and ready to contribute. It was here that I had a conversion experience [became a Christian].” [MHC, 1015-26]
Work in the camps was hard and dangerous. Saftey standards taken for granted today were not in place then. Jacob M. Unrau saw this and took the opportunity to get first aid trianing which was important since medical care was so far away from the camps in the forest.
Abram J. Thiessen felt that the spiritual part of camp life brought the COs closer together.
“At the Lake Cowichan camp I really enjoyed the more brotherly and compassionate atmosphere and was able to grow in the faith. We held at least four evening meetings during the week and usually twice on Sundays. A Reverend Robertson from the little town named after Lake Cowichan 4 or 5 miles [6 – 8 km] from camp was a steady and much appreciated visitor, and we visited his church as often as we could. On one such visit we heard the testimony of a soldier of the armed forces. We even as COs could not deny his sincerity, and he quite easily could identify with our position.” [ASM, 30-49]
It was these friendships that helped the COs through rough tests of faith.