Road Building

The first group of alternative service workers was sent to Montreal River Camp, near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. This site, on the shores of Lake Superior, had formerly been a lumber camp. Beginning in July 1941, however, it became a CO work camp. The main work project was the extension of the Trans-Canada Highway. The COs were charged with constructing this road through the rugged Canadian Shield.

Ben Bergen was in the second group of COs who went to Montreal River.

“Our first work day [in Montreal River] was December 10, 1941. The suits disappeared and everyone brought out their own work clothes. The work consisted of rock drilling, blasting, and shovelling stones and gravel onto a dump truck by hand. We also had to fell trees and haul them away. We were working on Highway 17. It was a far cry from what it is now. We were cutting a road that would later become part of the Trans Canada Highway.” [ASM, 55-58

Historian John Toews wrote one of the earliest accounts of alternative service during the Second World War. “It is of interest to note,” he wrote, “that the Surveys and Engineering Brach found that this camp produced the most work per man-day of any camps then in operation in which non-conscientious objectors were employed who were paid at prevailing prices.” [Toews, 76]

Trail Work



The COs in Montreal River were later transferred to national parks and the BC Forestry Service as part of a diversification of the alternative service program. Many, however, continued to build roads. In total, COs constructed or improved 881 km of roads during the Second World War. As part of this, they also built 656 culverts and 49 bridges. As part of the BC Forestry Service alone, where roughly half the road building was done, COs spent over 51,000 man days (140 man years) on these projects. They did not have modern power equipment so much of the work was done by hand or with horses.