Firefighting

The original alternative service program for conscientious objectors involved them working in national parks across Canada. This changed in May 1942. From then on, many of the COs served with the British Columbia Forestry Service (BCFS) instead. The BCFS operated seventeen camps on Vancouver Island and an additional six camps on the mainland. These were small, isolated forestry camps deep in the forests.

One of the reasons for this change from the national parks to the BCFS was the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941. This surprise attack brought the United States into the Second World War. Canada declared war on Japan as well. Both North American countries feared a Japanese invasion of their western coasts. Military strategists suggested that Japan might try to set Canadian forests on fire and cause damage that way. For this reason, conscientious objectors were dispatched to British Columbia to guard against this danger.

 Ed Bearinger reflected after the War that he wished he could have done more to alleviate human suffering.  While he saw value in the work he was doing he did not want to feel that the government was hiding them from the public.

Ben Bergen transferred from the camp at Montreal River to the BCFS in the summer of 1942.

“Our group landed at C3-Shawnigan Lake, on Vancouver Island, not far from Duncan. There were men from Ontario, Alberta, Victoria, and the Mainland. We lived eight men to a cabin. It was a hot, dry summer, and fires were numerous as a result of the tinder dry conditions. We were three groups of thirteen men, each group carrying cross-cut saws, axes, pick-axes, shovels and two water tank sprayers. We were on call any time day or night. At night we pulled out with all our gear in the trucks, within ten minutes of receiving the call. We only used a water hose at one fire, where we were close to a water supply. Otherwise it meant cutting away brush, digging two to three foot trenches and shovelling the dirt towards the fire. When we were not fighting fires, we worked on a road, felling trees, cutting them into four-foot lengths and splitting the big ones. A truck hauled the wood to Victoria.” [ASM, 55-58]