After a hard day of work, the conscientious objectors in work camps had their evenings free. When he worked at Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park, John C. Klassen remembers that the evenings were “spent visiting, doing laundry, hair cutting, group singing, and spiritual devotions.” [ASM, 23-29] Some of these, like doing laundry, seemed like work, but the others were more pleasurable. The alternative service officials knew that the men needed some form of relaxation.
The Manual of Instruction for alternative service work camps noted that, “as the liberties of these men are more restricted than in an ordinary construction camp, consideration must be given to recreational facilities and, if possible, a site selected where baseball, football, or other games may be played.” Many men did enjoy sports, but not every camp had the required facilities, especially the more remote forestry camps. Singing, however, could be done anywhere. So, as Klassen noted, one of the popular free-time activities was singing and making music.
This took many forms. Some formed quartets or other small groups. In larger camps, choirs were organized. The assortment of musical instruments varied from camp to camp. Peter G. Dueck worked at Kootenay National Park in BC.
“On Sunday mornings, we had our own worship services. Some of us had our first experience at leading a worship service or even preaching. Others had brought their musical instruments: violins, guitars, mandolins, and accordions.” [ASP, 55]
Played together, this group of instruments would have had a unique sound. Each camp had its share of musicians. Sometimes these talents served a social purpose beyond mere relaxation.
At Clear Lake, Manitoba, Peter A. Thiessen worked under the supervision of Alex Sutherland, the foreman. At first, the COs and Sutherland did not get along very well, but as they got to know each other, the relationship became more positive. Music helped to bridge the gap between the foreman and the COs.
“We also soon started evening services. At first he watched us from his tent, but he soon came listening. There were some that made up a quartet which Mr. Sutherland enjoyed. He sometimes would request a song.” [ASM, 15-17]
In other camps, COs composed their own songs.