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The Salvation Army began its work in Canada in 1882

The Salvation Army began its work in Canada in 1882, just fifteen years after Confederation, and quickly became a vital part of the spiritual and social service life of the country.

The first open-air ‘meetings’, or worship services, were held in Toronto and in London, Ontario, in 1882. These were led by British immigrants who had known the Army in their homeland. Official Salvation Army operations began in July of that year when Major Thomas Moore arrived from the U.S. headquarters to take charge. By then there were eleven ‘corps’ or congregations in Ontario, and a year later Canada was declared an independent ‘Territory’, responsible for its own governance within the worldwide organization.

From the beginning, the Army in Canada adopted founder William Booth’s philosophy that there is little point in preaching ‘salvation to hungry people. And so the concept of ‘soup and salvation’ took hold, later to be developed into the comprehensive social service programs The Salvation Army operates today, many of them in partnership with the government.

William Booth was a dissident Methodist minister, who took his Wesleyan sensibilities and Christ’s command to ‘feed my sheep’ to their logical conclusion. Starting as The Christian Mission in the East End of London, England, in 1865, it was re-named The Salvation Army in 1878, to reflect the increasingly military structure the movement had adopted. It was this that came to Canada just four years later, and the Army’s growth as a church and social service agency since then has paralleled Canada’s development as a nation.

There was much opposition to the Army and its methods from civic politicians and other entrenched interests in the early days, and Salvationists were often beaten and jailed for their activities in the streets of Canada’s cities and towns. Despite this, there was eventual acceptance of the movement as it demonstrated the social benefits that accrued from its activities. The men’s social work began in 1890 with a Prison Gate Home in Toronto. The same year a Children’s Shelter was opened. The first Maternity home was opened in Saint John, N.B. in 1898, a precursor to the Salvation Army Grace Hospitals. In 1901 The Salvation Army recommended to the federal government that a prisoner probation system be adopted, leading to Canada’s first parole program. In 1908 salvage work (now called re-cycling) began in Toronto, leading to the well-known Thrift Stores. In 1911 the first Juvenile Detention Centre was established in Manitoba and turned over to the Army to operate. That same year a farm colony was established in Coombs, B.C.

The Salvation Army’s status in Canada was entrenched in law in 1909 when parliament passed an Act giving the organization legal standing, its governance to be conducted by The Governing Council of The Salvation Army in Canada, a situation which continues to this day. In its early years, the Canadian Territory was led primarily by British and American officers (clergy), but by 1903 a consolidated Training College was opened in Toronto, allowing Canadian Salvationists to take more leadership responsibility.

In 1914 the Army shared in the national tragedy of the sinking of The Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence. Onboard were more than 120 Salvationists, bound for an international congress in London. Most of them, including the national commander and members of the Canadian Staff Band, were drowned. The Staff Band was not re-formed until 1969.

Canada’s involvement in the Great War of 1914-1918 saw the appointment of the first Salvation Officer as a chaplain in the Canadian armed forces, and the donation of five motor ambulances to forces serving overseas. At the end of the war, military hostels were opened in Winnipeg, London, Kingston, Toronto, and other cities, for returning soldiers.

All of this demonstrates the unique ability of The Salvation Army to respond to urgent needs – the Halifax explosion and Winnipeg flood being examples. It also reflects the ingenuity, efficient use of resources and a genius for improvisation, which the organization’s quasi-military structure fostered. It showed the government that in most things the Army could get the job done with greater efficiency and at less cost than almost any other agency, and at the same time it forged a bond of trust between the people of Canada and the ‘Sally Ann’. A trust that continues to this day.

Innovation in social services continued even as the organization matured: the first seniors’ residence, or Eventide Home, was opened in Edmonton in 1926, and Grace Hospitals were opened in major cities across the country, as were homes for unmarried mothers.

The onset of World War II found the Army accompanying Canada’s armed forces overseas not only as chaplains but as the operators of Maple Leaf Clubs, providing rest and relaxation for the troops. By the end of the war, there were clubs in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and India. They were mostly staffed by Salvation Army Auxiliaries, some of them as young as twenty years old. They provided a taste of home, with Canadian cooking, mail forwarding and social activities, including dances and short-term accommodation. On the home front at the end of the war, Salvationists at Canadian ports welcomed the ‘war brides’ of Canadian servicemen.

Once more the development of The Salvation Army and the Canadian nation paralleled each other with the influx of ‘new Canadians’ in the post-war years. As the ethnic and cultural makeup of the country changed, so did the demographics of the Army. The assumption that the Army’s congregations would continue to be almost exclusively white and English-speaking gradually gave way to reflect the fact that Canada, particularly in its large cities, is one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world. Canadian Salvationists now formally worship in seven languages and provide services in others.

In the post-war years further social service innovations were introduced, including an anti-suicide bureau and victim-witness assistance programs, the latter eventually being absorbed by the criminal justice system.

The Canadian Salvation Army has produced many outstanding leaders, not only for the domestic scene but also for the international movement. In 1975, Clarence Wiseman was elected General (international leader) of The Salvation Army, to be succeeded in 1977 by Arnold Brown. Bramwell Tillsley became General in 1993 but had to retire the following year owing to ill health. Currently, the Army’s delegate to the World Council of Churches is a Canadian, as is the second-in-command of the Army in New Zealand.

Today in Canada The Salvation army has over 1,250 active officers (clergy), almost 23,000 soldiers (church members) and over 60,000 adherents, that is, people who claim the Army as their church home, but who are not formal members. There are over 350 corps (churches) and over 150 social service institutions of various kinds. As well as the many thousands of volunteers, over 11,000 people are employed by The Salvation Army in the Canada and Bermuda Territory. Canadian officers and lay staff also serve overseas in various countries around the globe.