Conscientious Objectors in the Bow Valley
Updated: Nov 25, 2021
By Kayla Cazes, Community Engagement and Reference Service Associate
With the rise of Nazi Germany, Canada again found itself pulled into a war in Europe. Canada officially joined the allies and declared war on Germany on the 10th of September 1939.
Conscription had been enacted during the First World War (1914 – 1918) and it would be used again in this circumstance. The official definition of conscription is: the act or process of forcing people by law to join the armed services. After the fall of Belgium and France in June of 1940, the Canadian Government passed the National Resources Mobilization Act, which enacted conscription for home defence only. By early 1942, Bill 80 was passed, which stated that conscription overseas would only be enacted if deemed absolutely necessary. On November 22, 1944, Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King agreed to send conscripts overseas to the front.
[Camp photographs, ASW Camp No. 1], 1941-1943, Placido Monachello/photographer, WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/I/PA-2)
Situated on the bank of Brewster Creek, near the Sunshine Road junction was a work camp specifically for conscientious objectors, known as Alternate Service Corps (ASW) Camp No. I. This camp was managed by the National Forestry Service. The objective of this camp was to construct roads and clear timber.
Left: Google Map Street View near Sunshine Road and Brewster Creek Junction, June 2021.
Right: [Mountain at the back of camp called "hole in the wall," creek in foreground], 1941-1943, Placido Monachello/photographer, WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/VI/PA-6)
Recently, the Whyte Museum Archives and Special Collections received a donation from the family of a former prisoner of this camp, Placido Monachello. Through this exclusive eyewitness account, the history of life during the Second World War in Canada, in particularly, the Bow Valley has been diversified. Images and the recollections illustrate not only the hard labour and extreme weather but also the friendships that were forged during this unfortunate situation of discrimination. Their smiling faces and shared experiences resonated through time and are reflected through the images that have been saved for 79 years.
[Beards Together – friends together: Sam, Wilf Baldy, Placido, Gerd, and Morley ], 1941-1943, WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/II/PA-52)
[Placido Monachello hauling water], 1941-1943, WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/II/PA-1)
Twenty-two-year-old, Italian-Canadian and Hamilton, Ontario resident, Placido Monachello was a prisoner of the camp. Monachello received his conscription notice in 1940/41. He appeared in court to dispute the notice with the reasoning of being a conscientious objector due to his religion. Recollections provided by the Monachello family speculate that Placido’s Italian connection through his heritage may have raised concern that he would potentially inform on Canada to foreign enemies. A judge offered to relieve him of his military service if he served in an armament factory — Monachello declined, as he would not help build weapons of war. He countered the judge’s offer with a declaration that he would join the Red Cross, as long as he did not have to carry a weapon. The judge declared that this was not possible, as military training was still a requirement. As a result, the judge sentenced Monachello to serve one year in a work camp.
[Shovelling snow in the camp], 1941-1943, Placido Monachello/photographer, WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/I/PA-4)
[Fellows writing home], 1941-1943, Placido Monachello/photographer, WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/I/PA-26)
Camp life can be speculated, based on Monachello’s account, as relaxed with access to radio, books, magazines, writing materials, cameras, and cigarettes. The term prisoner was used loosely as there were no guards. If one wanted to leave the camp, permission must have been obtained from the boss. There were of course camp rules, which everyone inherently honoured.
[Sawing up the trees], 1941-1943, Placido Monachello/photographer, WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/II/PA-26)
[Xmas, ASW Camp No. 1 ], 1942, Placido Monachello/photographer, WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/I/PA-2)
[Loading logs on the truck for firewood at camp], 1941-1943, Placido Monachello/photographer, WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/II/PA-16)
According to Monachello’s family recollections, those who worked at the camp were treated fairly. They were fed well and received time off every week, typically Sundays, to attend church in Banff. These individuals were also paid for their labour. It is uncertain how much was paid, however, Monachello was able to travel the valley to Lake Louise, the Columbia Icefields, Canmore, and Exshaw. Additionally, prisoners were able to receive a bath at the Mount Royal Hotel, skate, go skiing, swim at the upper hot springs, and see their girlfriends.
The above is a slideshow of images, please use arrows to navigate.
See end of article for captions.
Upon Monachello’s release and return to Hamilton, Ontario in 1942, he was unable to find permanent employment due to his lack of discharge papers. He married his wife, Leonarda in March of 1944.
[Wedding of Placido and Leonarda, Hamilton, Ontario], 1944, WMCR,
Placido Monachello fonds (V803/VII/PA-01)
Leonarda’s family experienced discrimination continuously throughout the war as well. Leonarda was employed at Westinghouse technology factory making radar components and one of her two brothers was serving in the Canadian Army in Europe. Despite their commitment to Canada, her parents, Angelo and Concettina, were targeted by other tenants in their apartment building for eviction, simply because they were Italian. In result, the family did not pass along the language and distanced themselves from Italian neighbourhoods.
[Placido, Leonarda, John, and David], [ca.1950-1955], WMCR, Placido Monachello fonds (V803/VII/PA-04)
Even after this hardship and discrimination, both Placido and Leonarda went on to have a full and happy life. The couple welcomed two sons, John (1945) and David (1950). The couple opened multiple businesses, owned real estate, and were quite successful. Placido began to work for the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) in the 1970s, finally retiring in 1985 at the age of 65.