December 27, 1916 Conscientious Objector

TT ProfileDecember 27, 1916

It’s becoming clearer now, my father, if he was in my situation would become a conscientious objector.

Because of his views and opinion, my father is a considered to be liberal in the church. Ever since the beginning of the war, the tensions between the conservative and the liberal elements within Knox Presbyterian had increased, but nothing had boiled over yet. Of course there were the many debates about the technical aspects of the virgin birth and the resurrection, etc., but my father never bothered with those discussions. What concerned him more, was the meaning of the being a Christian. Like my father, I was witnessing the two divides increasing in the church – those whose interests were in using the scriptures to preserve the status quo, and those who felt it was their mission to help the poor and right social injustices – ‘Social Gospel’ as some called it.

The division in the Owen Sound parish wasn’t as deep as I’ve witnessed in Rosedale. My reasoning is that the influx of immigrants hadn’t reached this far north yet. The pressure of the newly-arrived immigrants was keenly felt in Toronto and many felt that the influx was a threat to their “superior” status. Measures needed to be taken to contain the immigrants (as in St John’s Ward) or to rid them of their “lesser ways”. Billy Sunday, the preacher, was the popular figure for these folks. Billy, an American, was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1903 but had taken a evangelical turn.  An old-fashioned preacher of old-time religion, he was a champion of temperance and bible-based intolerance (that’s what I called it). He was champion for business barons too and I suspected that these business barons underwrote his tour. He had toured across most America, and in some parts of Canada. I saw Billy last March when he was in Toronto, whipping up the congregation into a frenzy. He congratulated Canada for being in the War, and he was clearly frustrated that America had not yet declared its intentions. I didn’t like him. I got the sense that he was a blunt tool used by the rich to encourage the poor to send their sons off to the War, and to increase the profits for the factory owners by feeding the War machine.

My father said he saw parishioners enlist by the dozens after the recruiting drive by the 147th Grey Battalion. By the time it had departed for Camp Borden in early October, it was thousand men in strength. In early November, the 147th went to Halifax and then overseas. I knew that because I saw the troop train loading at Allandale Junction the same time I was returning to Toronto from the Park. The recruiting wasn’t going to let up.  The 248th Overseas Battalion had just been created in September to send another thousand men into battle by the spring of 1917.

I remember wanting to enlist in the Boer War in 1899. That was after I quit the Kennedy foundry and went back to help on the farm. My father, knowing I was looking for adventure (not fighting) convinced me to go on the Harvest Excursion instead. He got a hired hand, named William Bone to take on the work on the farm. In the end, only five men from Sydenham went to fight the Boers. Two were killed. I knew one of them, Bertrand Day, from Daywood on the Lakeshore Line. A fellow trooper, John McCarthur wrote that he got separated from his regiment when the Boers started shelling their camp. He wandered for a day before running into in bunch of Boers who killed him. The news of his death hit his family hard. The next year, I heard, they had troubles on the farm and in the the spring, the neighbours had to do the planting because the father couldn’t stop the drinking. The family had to leave the farm by the fall. I don’t know where they went.

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