Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




A. Richard Allen




The late nineteenth century in Canada saw the rise of a number of religious organizations on university and college campuses, the most important being the Student YMCA and the Student YWCA. These organizations were characterized by a stress on piety, evangelism, service and foreign missions.

In the period before the First World War the Student YMCA's and YWCA's expanded, increased their organization, and nationalized. The students met together and developed a greater unity through summer conferences, and they came under the influence of the social gospel.

Between 1914 and 1918 they were deeply affected by the wartime conditions, and the women students especially developed a new sense of independence and a greater social vision. Both men and women experienced a deeper personal faith while growing suspicious of theology and institutional religion.

Religious young people who came of age during or just after the Great War believed the wartime rhetoric and expected the conflict and the re-construction period afterward to initiate the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Led by the veterans, rebellious and in turmoil, who returned to university in 1919, these optimistic youth wanted to begin the building of the City of God.

At the same time, somewhat paradoxically, the war had shaken the foundations of the faith of many of these students, and it left a legacy of bitterness towards the Church and institutional religion, which, combined with the influence of modern science, turned many from orthodox Christianity. Desiring a new spirituality, they envisioned a great movement behind Jesus the leader and teacher.

The result was a liberal revolt against the institutions which had nurtured religion on Canadian campuses for fifty years. The student leaders of the emerging SCM associated the YMCA and YWCA with soul-deadening organization, with evangelical Protestantism, with the Church and business, and they rejected them all. The postwar drive for democracy and national unity issued in a new student-run organization, the Student Christian Movement of Canada, which they believed would be a flexible vehicle for the establishment of the City of God. But within a few years the veterans and that first postwar generation of students had graduated, and the keenness of the vision had dulled. Nevertheless, an organization had been founded which would in- spire successive generations over the next half century and make a major contribution to the course of the political, social and religious life of twentieth century Canada.

McMaster University Library

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