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Manitoba History: Conscientious Objection in Manitoba during the First World War

by Amy Shaw
History Department, University of Lethbridge

Number 82, Fall 2016

The text of this article is not available online at this time.

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Click the icon at left for the Table of Contents of this issue.


1. Robert Borden, 19 April 1914, House of Commons Debates, p. 19.

2. See James Wood, Militia Myths: Ideas of the Canadian Citizen Soldier, 1896-1921. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2010.

3. See, for example E. Beveridge, letter to the editor, “Calls Objectors Undemocratic,” Manitoba Free Press, 5 January 1917, p. 9.

4. T. G. Mathers, “The Voluntary System,” letter to the editor, Christian Guardian, 15 November 1916.

5. Military Service Act, 1917, SC 1917, c. 19, s11(1) (f).

6. Britain enacted military conscription in 1916 and included a clause providing for exemption on conscientious grounds that did not specify membership in a religious denomination. See Arthur Meighen’s discussion about the problems faced in Britain by the larger-than-expected number of men taking advantage of that country’s conscientious objection clause. Canada, House of Commons Debates (12 July 1917), pp. 3303-3305.

7. See “Lord Dufferin’s Speech of Welcome to the First Mennonite Settlers in Manitoba. August 21, 1877” which promises “nor will you be called upon in the struggle to stain your hands with human blood – a task which is abhorrent to your religious feelings. The war to which we invite you as recruits and comrades is a war waged against the brute forces of nature.” Canadian Mennonite University Archives, William Janzen Papers, file 15.

8. Nellie McClung, The Next of Kin: Those Who Wait and Wonder, Toronto: T. Allen, 1917, p. 45.

9. “Conscientious Objector’s Creed,” Saturday Night, 29 December 1917, p. 2. See also Boissevain Recorder, 31 January 1918, p. 4; Ninette News, 25 October 1918 p. 3. Sometimes titled “Slackers Creed.”

10. Belmont News, 28 June 1917, p. 1.

11. The Victorian ideal of masculinity had been promoted by, among others, Dr. Thomas Arnold, at his influential school at Rugby. He equated manliness with intellectual energy, moral purpose, and sexual purity. In a slightly different vein, Thomas Carlyle promoted a more aggressive version of manliness, which stressed the superiority of will and independence over the Christian virtues. Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in Society, London: James Frazier, 1841.

12. Jonathan Rutherford, Forever England: Reflections on Race, Masculinity and Empire. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1997. See also J. A. Mangan and James Walvin (eds.), Manliness and Morality: Middle-Class Masculinity in Britain and America, 1800-1940. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987, Mark Moss, Manliness and Militarism: Educating Boys in Ontario for War, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2001.

13. Harriett Rashnell, “The Conscientious Objector,” letter to the editor, Manitoba Free Press, 30 October 1917, p. 9.

14. “Abhors the Hun Within Our Gate” Brandon Daily Sun, 1 October 1917, p. 2.

15. Kellogg was one of the three-members of the War Department Board of Inquiry in the US which travelled to military institutions where conscientious objectors had been encamped and interrogated them briefly to determine their sincerity. Walter Guest Kellogg, The Conscientious Objector, New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919, p. 38.

16. “Religious Sects Who Object to War,” Brandon Daily Sun, 21 March 1916, p. 7.

17. “Exemption Tribunals Pass on Claims Made: Conscientious Objector” Brandon Daily Sun, 12 November 1917, p. 1. There is no record of an Oliver Fish in the CEF files.

18. Harriet Rashnell, “The Conscientious Objector,” Manitoba Free Press, 30 October 1917, p. 9.

19. “Abhors the Hun Within Our Gate” Brandon Daily Sun, 1 October 1917, p. 2.

20. “Proceedings of a Regimental Court of Enquiry Assembled at Winnipeg, Manitoba, 24 January, 1918,” LAC RG24, vol. 2028, HQ1064-30-67,35. See also service record for #2380155 Robert Clegg, LAC, CEFS Records RG150 accession 92/93, box 1784-25; and service rocord for #2380174 Henry Naish, box 7230-52.

21. “Conscientious Objectors Said to Have Been Roughly Handled,” Manitoba Free Press, 25 January 1918, p, 5. See also service record for #238022 Charles Matheson (Mathison), LAC, CEF Records, RG150 accession 92/93, box 6038-86.

22. J. M. Bumsted, Dictionary of Manitoba Biography, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999, p. 69.

23. Letter from Dixon to T. A. Crerar, 28 January 1918 LAC, RG 24, vol. 2028.

24. “Stop It!,” Manitoba Free Press, 25 January 1918, p. 9.

25. While they were threatened and abused, no Canadian conscientious objectors were shot overseas for refusing to obey orders. See Teresa Iacobelli, Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2013.

26. For a discussion of reactions to different conscientious objectors, see Amy Shaw, Crisis of Conscience: Conscientious Objection in Canada During the First World War, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2009.

27. Quoted in “Two Years for Draft Evaders,” Manitoba Free Press, 24 January 1918, p. 5.

28. “‘Objector’ Dies Raving Maniac,” Manitoba Free Press, 27 February 1918, p. 5.

29. “Minto Barracks Cruelty Charges,” Manitoba Free Press, 26 January 1918, p, 5.

30. Ibid., p. 5.

31. In its outline and in the passion it evoked, the conflict over the “Mennonite schools question” was similar to that concerning French schooling in Manitoba and Ontario. As was the case for French Canadians, the threat that Mennonites might be deprived of the right to educate their children in their own language exacerbated their conflict with both conscription and the Anglo-Canadian society that demanded it. Pushed by the threat of losing control of their schools and their exemption from conscription, some six thousand Canadian Mennonites emigrated to Paraguay after the war. William Janzen, Limits on Liberty: The Experience of Mennonite, Hutterite, and Doukhobor Communities in Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990, p. 3.

32. “More Slackers Coming Our Way,” Manitoba Free Press, 21 September 1918, p. 1.

33. “More of This Mennonite Invasion,” Manitoba Free Press, 5 October 1918, p. 1.

34. The “invasion” of Mennonites was discussed at length in Canadian Parliament. Canada, House of Commons Debates (29 May 1919), [pp. ???] 2001- 2067.

35. While it was very rarely on grounds of conscience, most Canadians responded to conscription with claims to exemption. Nationally, 93.7 percent of those called asked to be excused from serving. J. L. Granatstein and J. M. Hitsman, Broken Promises: A History of Conscription in Canada. Toronto: Copp, Clark, Pitman, 1985, p. 85. Although the majority of Canadians had supported conscription in the election of 1917 as a means of equalization of sacrifice, they had apparently supported it as appropriate for someone else.

Page revised: 8 October 2016

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