Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Professor Richard Allen


The twentieth century has been a time of world wars, violent revolutions and radical social movements. Conversely, perhaps in response to the former, there has also been an upsurge in the phenomenon of pacifism, especially in the English speaking world. This thesis examines the development of pacifism in Canada in the first half of this century and describes its radicalization in conjunction with the trend towards radical social change. However, although pacifism in Canada, as elsewhere in the Western world, was in a state of transition during this period, the manner and degree of its transformation reflected its peculiar composition.

Canadian pacifism can trace its origins to a varied European, British and American past inspired by religious belief. However, unlike the British pacifist movement which was also heavily secular, and the American, with its enlightenment and isolationist tendencies, the Canadian pacifist heritage was rooted in two distinct but complementary traditions, both of which were heavily religious in character. One was the historic non-resistance of pacifist religious sects which tried to remain separate from the social mainstream. The other was the liberal Protestant and humanitarian tradition associated with the progressive reform movement. Both traditions underwent an important transition in the course of maintaining a pacifist witness against war during the twentieth century.

Although sectarian pacifists, by far the largest and most consistent element in Canadian pacifism, made a far-reaching adjustment within Canadian society, it was liberal pacifists who experienced a general radicalization. From the time of the First War increasing numbers of those who wished to exercise a pacifist witness were forced to abandon liberal reformism for some variant of the socialist creed. In effect, liberal pacifist ideals were combined with radical criticism of Canadian social, political and economic structures. Although liberal pacifist hopes resurfaced in post-war enthusiasm for the League of Nations and the disarmament campaign, the inter-war peace movement, including such groups as the Society of Friends, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Fellowship for a Christian Social Order, reflected the socially radical pacifism the Great War had bred. This became especially evident during the depression and for a time it appeared a pacifist-socialist alignment was in the forefront of Canadian social thought. Increased international violence by the mid-thirties, however, placed pacifists in a serious crisis -- their pursuit of social justice came into direct conflict with their commitment to non-violence. Consequently, as social radicals began to abandon pacifism for the fight against fascism, the Canadian peace movement was severely weakened.

With the exception of the Quakers, who bridged the primary division in the Canadian peace movement, the historic peace sects were not as open to view, but once confronted with the renewed challenge of conscription in the 1940's, sectarian pacifists joined with socially active pacifists in a concerted effort to preserve the right of individual conscience and to resist compulsory military service. Some pacifists, especially those with liberal roots, went further and sought and found a realistic pacifist response to wartime conditions, over and above moral indignation or isolation. Regardless of their precise actions, however, Canadian pacifists successfully excercised their witness against war.

The chronological development of pacifism and pacifist organizations discussed in the thesis reflects the historical evidence gathered from primary sources across Canada, from private papers and government records to files of organizations. Moreover, much of the record has been confirmed, enhanced and extended through personal correspondence and numerous oral interviews with Canadian pacifists of the period.

The thesis concludes that Canadian pacifists were a small but forceful minority who exercised a dual function in Canada: prophecy of an ideal of peace and justice and reconciliation of wartime tensions in society. Above all, however, in its uncompromising emphasis upon questions of conscience, the pacifist witness against war both directly and indirectly helped preserve enduring moral principles underlying Canadian culture.

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