Very few Canadians today rely on wood to heat their homes. Most use gas or electric heat. Before these were common options wood was used across the country. The old joke was that wood heated you three times: once when you cut it, once when you split it and once when you burned it.
Conscientious objectors chopped a lot of wood during the Second World War, more than eighteen thousand cords, in fact. Wood is useful for many things, but first we need to know what a cord is.
A cord of wood is a pile of cut wood 4 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 8 feet long [1.2 m high, 1.2 m wide, and 2.4 m long]. This may not mean a lot, but consider that each cord of wood is the equivalent of 1,200 magazines, 89,870 sheets of paper, or 7,500,000 toothpicks. Does that help you understand how much a cord is worth? Multiply each those numbers by 18,300 to see what the COs accomplished.
Of course, during the war, Canada needed the wood for more important things than magazines and toothpicks. Canada needed the wood for heat. Wood contains energy that can be released by burning. This is the why fire is hot. A common unit of energy is the BTU (British Thermal Unit). To visualize this, think of a matchstick. One lit matchstick is equal to one BTU of energy.
One cord of wood contains between 20 million and 25 million BTU. Probably the most practical way to measure a cord of wood is by relating it to heating a house. To heat an average-sized house for one winter takes about 5 cords of wood.
When Vancouver suffered a fuel shortage during the war because of an unusually cold winter, COs were standing by to chop and deliver fire wood to citizens. That winter, the fire wood the COs produced would have heated 3600 homes. Andrew Steckly filmed some of his CO experiences, including chopping fire wood for Vancouver.
Since our camp was close to Vancouver we were called upon to help alleviate a desperate fuel shortage one winter when it was unusually cold. We cut wood in a strand of trees within city limits for the people to use. [ASP, 187]
COs served in the logging industry all across Canada. During the cold winter, every part of the country needed heat. George Kroeker had served in Riding Mountain National Park when he was called to cut wood.
January 1943, late in the evening, students and other volunteers were ordered by the selective services to board the train destined to the pulp industries at Armstrong and Kapuskasing, Ontario. We were all hired as woodcutters. There were 175 of our Mennonites, students, farm help, and others on this train. Half of us were to be stationed at Armstrong and the rest farther east to Kapuskasing. I was one who stayed with the latter group. ASM, 18-21]
Victor Goossen worked in Banff National Park.
This camp housed approximately 40 COs whose work consisted of cutting down dry trees that had died in an earlier forest fire. These trees were cut into different lengths, depending on the thickness of the tree. Trees over 10 or 12 [inches in diameter, or 25 – 30 cm] were cut into firewood and hauled away to be sold. Smaller diameter trees were cut into 8 -16 foot [2.4 – 4.8 m] lengths, to be used as mine props in underground coal tunnels to keep the ceiling from falling in. These were hauled to Drumheller, Alta. [ASP, 93]
Goossen's camp, and others, produced enough mine props to stretch 246 km. Other COs doing logging work produced enough saw timber to measure 849 km end to end. This wood was used in construction projects across Canada. In addition, the cordwood produced heated thousands of homes. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that COs working in the BC Forestry Service had many other assignments. In fact, only 7% of the men's work was devoted to producing cordwood.