Dam Building

Conscientious objectors wanted to do work of national importance. Although their faith prevented them from serving in the military, COs hoped to do non-military work that would benefit the whole country. For this reason, the government sent many COs to national parks. National parks reflect the value Canadians place on the conserving the environment. These parks allow the public to enjoy nature unspoiled by civilization. Many COs felt that the work they did in the national parks was not of real national importance. Bill Waiser, the author of a history on western Canada's national parks, disagrees.

He writes that Parks Canada underwent a tremendous expansion during the Second World War to take advantage of the rise of the automobile and tourism. The parks needed development so that Canadians could enjoy them. “National parks,” Waiser writes, “were like any other natural resource and existed to be utilized for their scenery and recreation. Otherwise, their true value to Canadian society and the economy would never be realized.”

Although some of the work the COs did may have seemed purposeless at that time, after the war many Canadians enjoyed the fruits of their labours. Daniel Loewen [MHC, 1015-31], for example, remembers a beautiful lake in Jasper National Park. The problem was, it wasn't accessible to tourists. The COs built a six mile stretch of road to the lake so that everyone could use and enjoy it.

One small contribution to Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba was the creation of a lake. Erwin Giesbrecht worked on this dam building project .

Time seemed to go a little faster now that we were finished with the monotonous job of cleaning ditches. One day we all headed west for four miles through the bush. We came to a shallow lake that needed a dike across its mouth to deepen the water, hoping they could stock it with fish.

Big, long trees were cut and peeled. Two rows of logs were tied together every four feet and filled with stones. From the inside 1 x 4s were nailed on the frame to make it watertight. The slats were sharpened so they would go in easier. I was to swing the hammer over my shoulder, full arm's length, so a few smacks would have the 1 x 4 fixed to where it should be. I pitied the guy who had to sit on the ground and push the slat against the log frame. Should I miss, what then? I hardly cared to handle the hammer, but you were not to ask questions. I sighed a prayer that the day would go by without my being involved in an accident. At one time Brooks [the supervisor] came really close and kept time. For every time the hammer landed on the slat, he had a fancy bush word. I did not mind so much because at that time, for once, he did not knock me, rather the opposite. He encouraged me to go as fast as possible.

[ASM, 75-93]

Though the building of a dam or the clearing of ditches in the national parks probably did not inspire the COs, the park officials knew the true value of their work. John C. Klassen, a CO who worked on the Moon Lake dam building project, notes that the park “had been badly neglected since the outbreak of World War II.” [ASM, 23-29] The COs gave it some much needed attention. Waiser writes that  the park officials “fought for continued access to the men.” They were unhappy when the BC Forestry Service drew many COs away from the national parks. Still, the work the COs did in the national parks contributed to Canada's economic boom after the war.

Waiser sums up the effect of COs in the national parks:

In the late 1940s, moreover, when Canadians started to visit national parks in unprecedented numbers, trying to put behind them the dark days of the war and its many sacrifices, they enjoyed facilities that had been developed, improved, or maintained by men who had refused to take part in the military campaign.