Conchies Speak: Ontario Mennonites in Alternative Service, 1941-46

2017
"Conchie" is slang for conscientious objector, an individual who refuses to participate in military service on the grounds of faith or conscience.

Although the term is sometimes used derisively, conscientious objectors in Canada during the Second World War embraced it and used it to describe themselves.

In 1940, when the German invasion of Great Britain seemed a real possibility, the government of Canada ordered the conscription of men for compulsory service within Canada. Since 1793, Canadian Mennonites had immigrated to Canada on various assurances that their long-standing religious conviction of non-participation in military service would be honoured. In 1940, Mennonite leaders from across Canada went to Ottawa to negotiate a non-military (“alternative”) form of service.

From 1941-1946, the Alternative Service program directed the labour of over 10,000 men in agriculture, road building, fire fighting, hospitals and industrial work across the country.

Over 2,600 of these men were from Ontario; most were Mennonites between the ages of 21 and 24. For many, this was the first time they left rural farming communities, directly encountered others of differing viewpoints, and thought about their pacifist convictions.

The conchies' challenges and frustrations as well as their joys and reflections are echoed in the letters, diaries, photographs and recorded interviews they left behind. In the 75th anniversary year of Alternative Service, this exhibit showcases their archival records and lets the conchies speak.

Conchies Speak: Ontario Mennonites in Alternative Service ran from January 4, 2016 until April 21, 2017 in the Milton Good Library at Conrad Grebel University College. This page contains pdfs of the exhibit panels, as well as information about the exhibit and links to additional resources.

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