by Eleanor J. Stebner
Faculty of Theology, University of Winnipeg
Source: Western Canada Pictorial Index
On a prairie spring day in 1930, a young man boarded an eastward-bound train from the small town of Carberry, Manitoba. Soon to turn twenty-two years old, six-foot tall, slender with blue eyes and round, black-rimmed glasses, he was looking forward to the three hour train ride to Winnipeg. He felt tired but content, having just enjoyed a turkey dinner provided by his Aunt Ida and still savouring his splendid graduation from Brandon College just four days prior. Some of his train time was used to write a long, newsy letter to his father, step-mother, and brother who lived in Los Angeles. “(I am) bound for my field in the city,” he declared. “To describe the feelings at a breakup such as ours is impossible,” he continued, specifying the recent commencement ceremonies and the dispersion of his classmates. “All in all I am deeply grateful, wouldn’t choose other than Brandon (College) if I had it to do over again, and only hope that all I feel it has meant to me may emerge in a more useful life.” 
On arriving in Winnipeg, Stanley Knowles made his way from the train station to the downtown campus of the United Colleges. Over the next few years, he took room and board in Wesley Hall, attended classes, wrote papers and examinations, and worked as a student minister. After receiving a theological diploma in 1933, he was ordained in the United Church of Canada. He worked as a minister for the remainder of the decade. In 1942 he was elected to the House of Commons. Knowles was to spend nearly the next forty years in political office. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the mid-1940s, he still worked long hours. He never really retired, even after suffering a deliberating stroke in 1981.  When he died in June of 1997, tributes poured in from across Canada. He was uplifted by friend and foe alike as a parliamentarian par excellence. Never part of a majority government, Knowles provided unflagging loyal opposition, first as a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and then as a formative member of the New Democratic Party.  At one memorial service, the Rev. Bill Blaikie, political colleague and protégé, upheld Knowles as the “parliamentary incarnation of the Social Gospel.” Occupying a middleor progressiveposition within the Canadian social gospel context, Knowles embodied characteristics upholding the necessity of personal actions resulting in social transformation. 
Preacher-turned-politician is how the life and work of Knowles has been understood.  It is an accurate description. Once Knowles entered politics he never considered returning to congregational ministry. Yet he also retained his official standing on the clergy rolls of the United Church. Knowles was a politician, but his identity as a democratic socialist, a challenger of oppressive systems, and an “advocate of compassion” formed long before he entered public life.  His personal formation was shaped by family, especially the relationship he shared with his father, as well as by his academic education. Most significant in forming his theological, intellectual, and social outlooks was the time he spent as a student at Brandon College and the United Colleges. During these seven years Knowles changed from a young, theologically conservative missionary-bound hopeful, to a slightly older (but still young), theologically and politically liberal minister and community leader.
Brandon College, circa 1908.
Source: Archives of Manitoba
His learning experiences were intensified by the circumstances of the 1920s and 1930s. Economic depression and drought nearly devastated the agriculturally-based prairie culture. Capitalistic principles were questioned, as such a system seemed totally non-responsive to desperate human needs. Winnipeg itself had become a centre of labour disputes and the short-lived Labour Church movement. Adding to the precarious situation were immigrants who continued to arrive in the western provinces, settling in cities as well as in rural areas. Meanwhile, already established farmers faced a predicament: If they could grow wheat, they couldn’t sell it. Their inability to secure financing and livelihood led to increased rural migrationsometimes into the cities and sometimes south into the United States. Leaders within Christian denominations were especially busy during this inter-war period. They spoke of it as an era of great challenge, due to disillusionment after the Great War and increased fears regarding the growing numbers of non-English speaking immigrants. When the United Church was created in 1925, many Protestants believed that Canadianization through evangelism and social service would occur more efficiently and effectively. The transmission of British-Canadian values was viewed as essential in this time of diversity and flux. Central to the achievement of this goal was the recruitment of capable men (and deaconesses) for church ministry. 
As a newly ordained minister, Knowles too believed that the institutional church had a crucial role in responding to the social crises of the times. If the kingdom of heaven was to be built on earth, young man Knowles knew what renovations needed to be done. “In these days of perplexity one looks hopefully to the church,” he idealistically wrote. “It is a great hour for the Christian church. The opportunity .... is hers to lose herself in the task of the hour. In so doing there is every chance that she may save the world from chaos, and at the same time her own life for further service.” Knowles tried to do his part. He wanted to be useful. The desire to be useful, however, led him to a gospel preached not from a pulpit in a sanctuary but from a chair in the House of Commons. Knowles never shed his theological perspective when his focus moved beyond the church, for by that time it was fully integrated into the very core of how he understood and interpreted the world. This is not to say that Knowles became secularized through his education. Rather, he realized to the core of his being that the Christian faith combined elements of individual piety with a drive for social responsibility. 
The lingering importance of Knowles lies not only in the fact that he became a significant Canadian politician. His life also offers an example of the power of discursive structures in shaping a person’s interpretation of reality and, indeed, one’s very experience of it.
Knowles was not born a prairie boy. Neither was this future Canadian politician born in Canada. Los Angeles, California, was where Knowles came into the world on June 18, 1908. His parents were Canadian, though, and he was a fourth generation descendant of Canadiansa point reinforced in his early political career.  How Knowles ended up in Manitoba reflected his own personal wanderings as well as the mobility of the time period. His mother, Margaret Blanche Murdock was born in a “humble home” in New Brunswick in 1880. Son Stanley provided a written eulogy of her life in an old Bible.  “Her father was a drunkard and her mother was forced to work for a living for herself and her daughter.” But her mother died when Margaret was only twelve years old. “Then came years of menial drudgery,” as she did domestic work in New Brunswick and then in Boston, Mass., where she re-located in an attempt to better her life. “Nobody seemed to care for her and life’s outlook was dark, until one Stanley Ernest Knowles met her and soon deeply loved her.”
Her beloved, Stanley Ernest, was born in Nova Scotia in 1874. As a skilled machinist, he had relocated to Boston in the early years of the twentieth century. Already married and divorced, he was ambitious and longed for a better life. When he and Margaret met at a Methodist Church in Boston, it was like a gift from God. They returned to Nova Scotia in 1904 to marry. They then focused their dreams on the west coast of California. They moved to San Francisco. Stanley Ernest found work in his trade; Margaret began to birth babies. After the earthquake in 1906, they decided Los Angeles was a better place to settle.
Stanley Howard was their third child, but the first to live more than a few days.  A sickly baby, his parents did not expect him to live any longer than his deceased sisters. Another son, Warren, was born in 1913. The family was persisting, if not yet flourishing. Connections with relatives were maintained through letter writing. Contact was kept with family members on the east coast and with Stanley Ernest’s sister who farmed in Manitoba. Then tragedy struck once again. Mother Margaret was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Unable to afford an extended stay in Arizona, the only treatment suggested by the doctor, she died in 1919. Using money received through her death insurance, and on the insistence of distant relatives, Stanley took his boys on an extended trip through Canada and the eastern part of the United States. They then returned to Los Angeles to proceed with life. Father Stanley remarried. The boys continued their schooling.
Stanley Howard may have been a fragile infant, but he was nothing less than precocious as he grew up. An excellent student, he excelled on study and activity. While at the Manual Arts High School, for example, he was the yearbook editor, a member of the debating team, the Spanish, Chemistry, and press clubs, as well as a class room “yeller” (i.e., cheerleader).  He graduated from high school in 1924 at the age of fifteen with a diploma and training as a printer. Shortly after, he set off to visit relatives in Manitoba, the Maritimes, and Massachusetts.
It was a trip of learning and seeking. His scattered relatives were thrilled with his visits. He especially felt welcomed by his Manitoban Aunt Ida Bailey and her family. He planned to attend university in New York City, and carried with him a letter of introduction from the South Main Street Methodist Episcopal Church, his home congregation in Los Angeles.  After a few months of travelling, he arrived in New York and registered for the first semester at King’s Crown of Columbia University. He withdrew by the end of September; New York City was not where he belonged. He then made his way back to Manitoba, wintering at his Aunt Ida’s home and enjoying the companionship of his six cousins. By the fall of 1925, he was in Los Angeles. He found a part-time job as a printer and enrolled for his first year of Arts at the California Christian College.
The travel exhibited in these years indicate the churning of internal decision making. Knowles was discerning what to do with his life. Perhaps he had more choices to consider than had other young adults. He could pursue either a trade or a profession, he had travelled many parts of North America, he had lived through his mother’s death and the subsequent re-configuration of his family. He was highly intelligent, capable, and hardworking. Indeed, he was a staid soul. Activities such as cheerleading were of merit only in tempered measure. His approach to life was also a product of the thorough religious Christian environment in which he was raised. The Methodist Episcopal Church was the denomination of his parents, and the Knowles family were faithful members and supporters. When Stanley was old enough, he taught Sunday School. While his parents were devoutly religious, certain extended family members were decidedly more religious. Especially influential in the formation of his Christian faith was his Aunt Lois Knowles, a Baptist missionary teacher.
When Stanley was ten years old, his Aunt Lois (affectionately called Aunt Loie) asked him if he wanted to be missionary. Stanley wrote back stating that he did not want to be a missionary when he grew up. She was disappointed, but did not give up on his future. “I was surprised to know that you had already made up your mind that you would not go to India or any other heathen country. I don’t expect your Papa thought when he was a boy that he would ever go to California and I am sure I never thought when I was a girl that I would ever go to India.”  How elated she was - as were other family members - when Stanley announced in late 1924 that he felt the call to be a missionary. He wrote all his relatives to tell them the good news. Grandfather Benjamin Knowles wrote back: “I am very rejoysed (sic) that you have chosen for your life work service in the great harvest field of the Lord.” Aunt Lois responded from a Canadian Baptist Mission in India: “I can’t tell you how much joy your last letter gave me ... For several years I have watched with much interest and a certain amount of pride your progress in school and thanked God for the gifts with which He had endowed you.” She could not resist reminding her nephew of his adamant refusal to “go to India nor any other heathen land” six years earlier. She interpreted this about-face as an example of “God’s ways are not our ways.” 
The most significant letters were exchanged between father and son. Stanley had caught the missionary spirit and wanted to begin immediate service. His father was not convinced of the wisdom of such a decision and urged him to further his education. “Now Stanley my dear boy, don’t for one moment think that this is a plan to side-track you from your plans, or discourage you in any way, rather it is a plan of co-operation and helpfulness. If you are going to be a missionary I want you to be the best equipped and the most useful one possible in the field.” He continued in another vein: “If I have to give you up for that work I want you to go with the best preparations possible.” 
Of utmost importance was what school Stanley was to attend. His Aunt Lois wrote that choosing a school was a “matter in which you need definite guidance. This is an age of false teachers and consequently, false teaching, when professor and minister are battering away at the Word of God, seeking to undermine the very foundation of the Christian religion.” She was concerned about her young nephew’s faith and future service: “(M)any a young one has entered College with the definite purpose of being fitted for service in the Mission Field or the ministry in the home land but has come out of the College with his faith shattered in the Word of God and of course he never reaches the Mission Field.”  His father discussed the issue of Stanley’s education with his minister and some other male friends. California Christian College was suggested. It was a Christian college (in the general definition of the word), and was also officially affiliated with the Southern Branch of the University of California. While founded by the Christian Church, students from various denominations attended it. 
It was not a bad choice. Stanley took introductory courses in History, Greek, English, Philosophy, New Testament, and Mathematics. He did well academically.  The college was theologically conservative and evangelical, but such qualities fit his understandings of Christianity (and satisfied his Aunt Lois’s concerns).  He continued his spiritual quest. For some time he was captivated by the aura of Aimee Semple McPherson and attended her services at the Angelus Temple.  He even recommended that a terminally ill family friend of the Bailey’s, Mrs. Coltart, make a pilgrimage to the faith healer. Cousin Mary wrote to Stanley, “So perhaps by the time this letter reaches you they (the Coltarts) may have arrived in Los Angeles, and perhaps the healing through Mrs. Semple McPherson will have been accomplished. I am sure if she does get healed (as you seem quite sure she will) it will alter many peoples opinions of faith-healing.” Mary did not share Stanley’s certainty of faith. “Now Stanley,” she said, “I believe in faith healing all right but what I can’t see is why, if her faith is as strong as it seems to be, she can’t be healed right where she is instead of having to go to Mrs. McPherson. Can’t such things be done direct?” There is no record of Stanley’s response to Mary, but Mrs. Coltart died five weeks later. 
Despite the activities and plans, Stanley was not content. Although in the city of his birth, it was not his home. He liked being close to his father, but the relationship with his step-mother had always been strained. He was drawn toward his wonderfully accepting relatives in Manitoba. While he disliked the cold of winter, the warmth of the Bailey’s gave him a sense of belonging. He still wanted to be a missionary, but he could study in Canada. There was even a Baptist college not far from the Bailey’s home. He resolved to move to Canada, find a job, save money, and continue his education. He caught another train.
For the next year, Stanley worked at various printing jobs building up his savings account. He even worked for some months in Boston, after he realized he could make more money there than in Canada. He again visited relatives in Nova Scotia, including his Aunt Lois who was on furlough. He arrived back in Manitoba in time to register for fall classes in September of 1927.
Brandon College was a Baptist institution founded in 1899.  Originally affiliated with the University of Manitoba, an affiliation with McMaster University was established in 1910. In this arrangement, Brandon operated independently but relied on McMaster in the conferring of degrees. Budget shortages and fund raising campaigns were a perennial part of Brandon’s brief history. But supporters prided themselves on the Christian education it provided to students in arts and theology programs. It aimed to train “young men and women for leadership.”  More generally, it sought to provide a strong and competent institutional Baptist prairie presence.
Not all people within the Baptist Union believed the college was meeting either goal. Unknown to Stanley when he registered was the fact that Brandon had been scrutinized for almost a decade for alleged modernist teachings. The conflict centred on the presence of its most cherished professor, Harris L. MacNeill. Professor MacNeill had been at Brandon since 1903 as professor of New Testament and Classics.  The most powerful accusations regarding his unorthodoxy were vocalized in 1919 by W. Arnold Bennett, a Baptist pastor from Vancouver. He charged MacNeill with not upholding the fundamentals of the faith, and conveyed his grave concerns to the college president. He demanded full assurance on the “question of the soundness of teachers and teaching.” As a former Brandon student, Bennett was concerned over MacNeill’s “teaching of the Bible ... especially to junior students.” The precipitating crisis actually occurred in July 1916, when Bennett gave a lecture to Brandon Orangemen and women on the Bible as the “final court of appeal upon all matters of faith and practice.” MacNeill was in the audience. Later that evening, while a guest in the MacNeill’s home, Bennett and the professor disagreed on how to interpret the Biblical text. Confirming Bennett’s distress were Mrs. MacNeill’s contributions to the conversation. According to him, she “definitely stated that she had originally believed as (Bennett) but that Dr. MacNeill had shown her the matter differently, and she had changed her position.” 
The allegations, if not resolved, threatened institutional doom. Bennett organized a letter writing campaign and struck alliances with the likes of T. T. Shields, one of the foremost fundamentalist leaders in North America. The Baptist Union finally called for a special investigation in 1922. The verdict was reached one year later. The committee made some minor recommendations, but it condemned the accusations against Professor MacNeill and the college as “despicable, unChristian and immoral.” Decades later, MacNeill summarized these years by simply saying that the “attack left its scars.”  MacNeill was not fundamentally a fundamentalist, but neither was he a modernist. He has been called a “liberal evangelical” and this designation probably best exemplified the theological ethos of the college.  As Stanley Knowles quickly found out, the college encouraged study, debate, and a questing mind; it also demanded an unwavering Christian commitment.
Knowles absorbed it all. He registered, stating his objective as “Christian Ministry (Missionary).” As a ministerial Arts student, he took courses in Bible and Biology, Greek and Geology, Physics and Philosophy. English, History, Political Science, and Sociology rounded out his studies. As expected, he excelled, being awarded the General Proficiency Medal for all three academic years. When he graduated in 1930, President J.R.C. Evans publicly praised him: “I greatly doubt if the scholastic record made by Mr. Stanley Knowles this year has ever been equaled in the history of the institution.”  His professors certainly had influenced him. Friend and classmate, Tommy Douglas, for example, singles out Professor MacNeill as a “rich and inspiring” teacher and a mentor who drew “out the best” in his students. 
But life at Brandon also included an array of additional activities. Knowles participated minimally in toboggan parties and dramatic productions. He was activeoften as student presidentin causes he deemed important: Debating Club, Ministerial Association, Student Christian Movement, Student Volunteer Band.  Daily chapel services were of course held, for which students were responsible for conducting one service per week. Still needing to defend its reputation, administration publicized its religious activities. Education at Brandon College was “far more than merely intellectual and... students and Faculty alike believe that in addition to a high standard of scholarship there must be added personal loyalty to Jesus Christ, which results in a devout religious spirit without which the mission of Christian higher education is in vain.” 
Knowles augmented his academic pursuits and social activities with church work, taking the train on a weekly basis to preach at various pulpit outposts. The Alberta Baptist Convention then appointed him to a “summer field” at Hairy Hill, Alberta, in 1928. Located twenty miles north of Vegreville and sixty miles northeast of Edmonton, this isolated three-point charge introduced Knowles to a slice of Canadian culture. The mission superintendent prepped him for his summer job: “There are only twenty-three English Speaking families, among them less than half a dozen Baptist. The Ruthenians (Ukrainians) have settled this part of Alberta, and are slowly pushing the Anglo-Saxons entirely out of the country ... (T)he problem is ‘How shall we make them Christian Canadians?’“ (Such settlers were mostly Ukrainian Catholic.) Knowles threw himself into the work and was praised for his efforts. 
While at Hairy Hill, Knowles finalized his paperwork with the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. He would be a missionary. The SVM was thrilled with his decision. They warned, however, that continued dedication to foreign missionary work “is not easy to keep during the days of our College training and it will require constant re-consecration.  Such words rang hollow to Knowles. He would not lose his commitment, for he knew himself to be a person of integrity.
Knowles might have better heeded his Aunt Lois’s insight that ‘God’s ways are not our ways’. By the next summer, his eyes were set on home ministry rather than missionary work, and he did a student placement at an established (not missionary) congregation in Reston, Manitoba. His schooling had changed his theology and consequently made him reconsider his goals. “I am glad that your vision has been enlarged,” Stanley’s father wrote. “I would not have you a narrow ranting fundamentalist splitting hairs over doctrines and neglecting justice, mercy and truth.” His father attributed Stanley’s change to Brandon College. “I take it the spirit of Brandon College is not the same as CCC (California Christian College), that there is a greater emphasis on spiritual values and it is stated in a more modem way.” 
Studious and serious Stanley experienced a faith crisis of sorts, as did (and do) many theology initiates. He was shaken by his transformation and continuously sought his father’s affirmation: “Of course you have changed your ideas, that was to be expected if you were to grow mentally. I wouldn’t have you static, but that does not mean that you have given up anything vital, only that as a clearer vision has been yours, that you have sloughed off the old forms and found life more real, of more value.” Stanley found in his father a kindred spirit. “I am in harmony with the idea of presenting the gospel so as to challenge the best that is in a man, that the kingdom of God is being built here and now, that Jesus came to build a better world, and that a life Is successful as it contributes to that end.” Stanley Ernest confessed that he himself was a closet liberal. “I have become revolutionized... by reading and thinking for myself, when some of my friends thot (sic) I was backsliding and even you had some misgivings regarding my condition.” Through his education and the support received from his father, Stanley’s Christianity shifted from a faith based on individual salvation to one which combined individual dedication with social mission. He was becoming a “social evangelist.” 
Such spiritual conversions do not occur in the blinking of an eye, as the father-son exchanges over the next year indicate. “Yes Stanley, I understand, I do not think you have fallen by the way,” Stanley Ernest wrote in 1930, when Stanley Howard was already attending the United Colleges in Winnipeg. He simultaneously defended and praised his son, saying, “I said to your Mother, Bros. Ross and Burgess also, that you can say or think what you like about Stanley’s modernism but you cannot complain that his spirit is more to be desired and compares favorably with Jesus than any fundamentalist you can mention.” Stanley’s father believed that the “church ought to be broad enough to have a place for men like (Harry Emerson) Fosdick as well as (William Jennings) Bryan.” He did not, however, accept all his son’s ideas. Regarding the divinity (or lack of divinity) of Jesus, he diplomatically responded to his son: “I will not enter into any controversey (sic) with you on the subject but will say that if your interpretation of Jesus as a man gives you a greater inspiration, a more devoted life to the principles he taught and died for and leaves you to devote your all to the spreading of the kingdom of love I have no word of condemnation or reproach.”  Stanley’s grief over his father’s death in 1935 was no doubt intensified by the connection shared between them. Letter writing provided an intimacy far surpassing the humdrum of shared daily life.
One of the turning points in Knowles’ education occurred in June 1929. He took time off from his Reston position and drove with four students from United Colleges to the Student Christian Movement Western Conference, held in Jasper National Park. The conference included leaders such as J. S. Woodsworth, and its seemingly blasé theme centred on God as reality, reality as God, and God as fellowship. Knowles reported on the conference: “Many conceptions were changed; there was much of orientation; and new realization of life’s meaning were brought out coupled with a much larger vision of what Jesus of Nazareth sought to do for mankind.” A local SCM conference hosted by Brandon College that fall added to Knowles emerging orientation. Dr. MacNeill was keynote speaker and “inspired his hearers” on “The Idea of the Kingdom.” 
Knowles incorporated his new thoughts into his preaching, not always with the appreciation of parishioners. He was called a heretic by folks in Reston over a sermon on Matthew 26:27, “Drink ye all of it.” The Cup sermon, as Knowles called it, focused on how all the bounty of God needs to be shared. “I know what these people would like,” he wrote to his family in LA. “They want me to tell them over and over again of a Savior who died so that they with all their selfishness and sin could get to heaven. But to me that is but perpetuating in the highest realm of life the very selfishness (Jesus) died to blot out.” Knowles was not about to preach what people wanted to hear; he preached what he felt was needed. His father was once again his confidant: “I was not surprised that the Deacons who play the wheat market would be opposed to the social and unselfish emphasis you laid upon the teachings of Jesus ... Glad you brushed away the distinction ... made between a social and an individual gospel, and linked them together and correlated all the activities of life in service for others.” 
In the 1940 federal election Knowles ran in the riding of Springfield for the C.C.F.
Source: Archives of Manitoba
Knowles was not alone in coming to an understanding of Christianity that emphasized the unity of an individual and social gospel. His classmate, Duncan Wilkie, also went through a similar transformation. Dunc remarked to him one day, “‘Stan, you haven’t anything of the old left at all.’ ‘Oh yes, Dunc,’ (Stan) replied, ‘I have a Cross. ‘Yes’, Dunc said, ‘and it’s a real one, too.’” The theology of the cross remained central to Knowles’ theology, but it was no longer spiritualised. “If we’re going to preach a cross, let’s be consistent and make it a crossa sacrifice for others.” 
Three years at Brandon College had taken Knowles in an unexpected, almost unbelievable direction. But while his theology was altered, his basic character remained unchanged. He still clung to an individual calling based on personal service and usefulness. While deemed only aver-age in characteristics such as cheerfulness, charisma, and altruism, his many strengths beamed brightly: industry, dependability, promptitude, sincerity, confidence, idealism, initiative, loyalty, religious spirit.  He was a most promising ministerial candidate.
To be or not to be Baptist. During Knowles’ final year at Brandon College, he and classmate Tommy Douglas took turns preaching at a Baptist Church in rural Saskatchewan. The Weyburn congregation was looking for a new pastor, and they interviewed both students. Douglas got the job.  If Knowles had, he would have been ordained a Baptist minister the summer of 1930. Knowles was probably relieved that he had not been the chosen one. In the past, he and his father had already corresponded about denominational affiliation. His father did not advise tethering with the Baptists: “you will find that the Baptist denomination pretty well lives up to the reputation of its nickname (Hardshell Baptist) and it will be hard for anyone with ideas of progress to break thru the shell.” His father did not intend to be overly critical of Baptists, he simply wanted the best for his promising son. “I don’t want to see your usefulness circumscribed by denominational walls against which you would wear out your strength like a bird beating its wings.” 
United College, Winnipeg, circa 1920.
Source: Archives of Manitoba
Continuing the Methodist connection would have pleased Stanley’s father. And returning to the United States to do so would have pleased him most: “Perhaps Canada needs you, but the United States need you too.”  Stanley was not about to return to the States, for he had found his geographical niche, but the Methodist tie could be achieved through the United Church. This was not a decision made immediately, but his enrollment at United Colleges indicated the direction in which he was headed. The fact that Duncan Wilkie, his Brandon friend, and Lloyd Stinson, a friend he had met on the momentous Jasper trip, were planning to attend United reinforced his choice.
Knowles did not stumble into United Colleges as naively as he had into Brandon College. He was well aware of its history, its ethos. He had heard Dr. John Mackay, Principal of Manitoba College, speak at a Baptist convention held in the summer of 1930. While assuming an attitude of complete objectively in his report of the event, Knowles could not restrain his high regard of MacKay who gave “one of (the) most stirring talks on ‘Christ in This Changing Age,’ ... (bringing) the Convention to see the world as standing on the verge of a great spiritual awakening.”  When Knowles went to United, he knew his theological outlook would be supported and reinforced. He knew that this educational centre had graduated J. S. Woodsworth and had hired (and later dismissed) Professor Salem Bland, one of Canada’s foremost Social Gospel exponents. Although it was in the midst of re-organizing, merging the Methodist Wesley College and the Presbyterian Manitoba College due to the formation of the United Church (and financial exigency), it was one of the best available choices for theological study in Western Canada. 
Upon arriving at United Colleges, Knowles found his room in Wesley Hall. Manitoba College was yet to move into rented space on the downtown Wesley College campus. In the meantime, the two colleges followed a 1926 agreement specifying the theological department as the responsibility of Manitoba College, and Arts and matriculation as the domain of Wesley College. Knowles and his friend Wilkie, therefore, both lived in Wesley Hall but took courses from Manitoba College faculty. Knowles indicated his intention of receiving his master’s degree, which he could get by writing University of Manitoba examinations in addition to the theological courses he took at United. He even had ambitions to do a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.  Following his established pattern, he threw himself into his work.
The theological curriculum was thorough. It involved sixteen and a-half hours of class time per week, with the first year heavily focused on Old and New Testament studies and languages, Church History, Systematic Theology, and Religious Education. Courses in Public Speaking, in addition to Homiletics, were required for the first two years. Twelve elective credit hours were allowed, but only in the third year. A theological diploma took three years to complete, a Bachelor of Divinity degree, four years. In order to receive a B.D. students took examinations in their major and minor areas and submitted an acceptable thesis. Because of the limited number of faculty, professors taught in more than one area. Principal MacKay, for example, taught New Testament Language and Literature as well as Pastoral Theology, Social Ethics, and Homiletics. All theology students were men, but women in the Deaconess training program sometimes attended the same classes (and shared the same faculty) as their male peers. Faculty closely monitored the academic work of students and made recommendations to the Church regarding their ministerial fitness. 
Field work was integrated into the curriculum. Knowles met this requirement by working for two academic years as Church School Superintendent at the First Baptist Church, even though heand his fatherthought that a “young man of (his) ability and experience would be able to command or get a better position.” He spent the summer of 1931 as student minister at a United Church in Winnipeg Beach. When he returned to the city, he and some of his classmatesincluding Wilkieshared a furnished apartment for one term. It was the depth of the depression, and as friend Lloyd Stinson said, they all needed to “pool their resources.” Knowles then decided to seek ordination in the United Church. He joined Young United, a former Methodist congregation, and was recommended by them for ministry. In 1932, he and fellow student William Hughes shared ministerial work at Central United Church. One year later, the congregation called Knowles to be their permanent pastor and he was ordained a United Church minister. Since housing was not included in the call, Knowles continued his Wesley Hall residence. 
First Baptist Church, Winnipeg where Knowles worked for two years as the Church School Superintendent.
Source: Archives of Manitoba
The class in which Knowles was a part was exceptionally strong. The college was experiencing a revival of sorts, as was the United Church itself. Faculty were thrilled that theological and arts students were “showing a renewed spirit of interest in the future of the world ... (and that) you could feel a movement and desire to learn of spiritual things.” This atmosphere was encouraged as students were expected to attend daily chapel and “Divine Services” on Sunday in a local congregation of their choice. Proper moral behaviour was expected, and students were not allowed to gamble, engage in rough conduct, use foul language or drink alcohol. 
Manitoba delegates to the founding convention of the N.D.P., 1961. Knowles is seated front row, left of centre.
Source: Archives of Manitoba
Knowles did well. Once again, he won numerous prizes and scholarships. Yet he complained that his education emphasized academic content to the neglect of practical matters. “In courses in this department we find a great deal of time spent in investigating the historical, linguistic, geographical, psychological, and philosophical background of religion,” he wrote. He thought more energy ought to be spent on the “study of the way of life which Jesus sought to impart to his fellowmen,” and more emphasis put on Christianity as a source for “creative living” rather than “technical training.” He understood Christianity not as “an end or a static goal to be obtained, but rather a revolutionary movement, whose essence consists in a way that is distinct and different from that commonly accepted by mankind.” Theologically trained ministers were to have a “knowledge of human life in all of its ramifications,” as well as “insight into the creative genius of the Galilean and a visionary passion for realizing that genius in the life of our world.” The purpose of education, including theological education, according to Knowles, was to train people for leadership. 
Knowles already thought of himself as a capable and competent leader. He no longer participated in student-focused activities, for he no longer considered himself a mere student. He had developed a strong self-image and confidence in his own skills. Two interests which continued from his Brandon days, however, were debating and writing for the student newspaper. Both these outlets gave him a platform to express his firm convictions and receive public attention. The event that most successfully met both criteria was the Imperial Debate, which was sponsored by the National Federation of Canadian University Students. It pitted the hometown favourites against a British team. Almost one thousand people were turned away from this happening held in the newly built and packed civic auditorium in November, 1932. The debate topic was controversial but relevant: “Resolved That the Western World Must Travel the Moscow Road.” Knowles was the first of two affirmative speakers. The “Capitalist highway” must be forsaken, he argued, because it has “proven itself a failure, incapable of leading mankind into a successful social and economic order.” It has “failed economically, socially, (and) morally.” He concluded, “because Capitalism is no longer our servant, but our master, and because if Capitalism goes down it will take down with it into utter ruin that society which has not rejected its grip ... we maintain that it rests upon the Western World as a moral obligation to forsake the whole Capitalist system in favor of Communism.” 
Knowles was no communist. Debate decorum simply dictated he fully assume that perspective. He believed what he said regarding capitalism, however. His critique of capitalism made its way into a sermon he preached at Central United the next month: “Is Capitalism Doomed?”  The text Knowles used was from Mark 2:27”The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Knowles repeated what he had said in the debate, namely, that capitalism had failed economically, socially, and morally. He said that while he did not believe, as some did, that capitalism controlled the Christian Church, it was necessary that capitalism, like the church, be active in promoting the well-being of humanity. If it did not do so, than it must be changed or eliminated. He believed that many people found such a thought abhorrent because they granted to capitalism a sacredness it did not inherently possess. He believed Jesus taught that no systems and institutions were sacred in and of themselves. “Economic systems are made for men, and not men for economic systems.” To illustrate his point, Knowles spoke of the recent experience of his father, who had been laid off from his job. At the age of fifty-eight he had no pension and “no redress whatsoever.” Worse was the damage to his father’s spirit. “(H)is very soul is crushed with the feeling that life is done, that he has only the grave to await.” His father’s situation showed the absolute disregard of capitalism for the “human personality.”
By the time Knowles received his theological diploma in 1933, he was more than ready to be a minister, a recognized leader. Principal John MacKay spoke at the graduation ceremony. Stanand his classmatesheard him say that “no class of theological students has ever graduated in more complex and difficult days.” He cast the challenges before them in arduous terms: “Yours is no less a task than to play a big part in the re-making of the world, sadly depressed and woefully out of joint. Nothing but a faith big enough to embrace the whole universe and vital enough to permeate it through and through with life is adequate for today.” He then insisted to his students, “You must be leaders in the thought of your time, but you must also manifest a type of life so strong, so winsome and sympathetic that you become natural leaders.” 
Knowles began full-time work at the Central Church on July 1st, but his student days were not quite finished. He wrote his exams for the B.D. in December. He responded to questions on the “sociological significance of the developments led by Paul,” the “sociological problem of Protestantism,” and discussed the “developments in Christian Social doctrine since the Eighteenth century and the relation of Christianity to the modern social problem.” He then wrote his B.D. thesis on “New Testament Teaching and the Present Social Crisis!”  His theology upheld the radical quality of Jesus’ life and ministry. Although neither theologically lazy nor ignorant of the debates, Knowles believed the church was wasting its energy on theological and creedal discussions. “We expend that energy to hedge around the essential revolution in our life as individuals and as a race with which we are confronted in the life of this One from Galilee.” Knowles believed that Jesus, though a “humble peasant ... gave a way which stands forever as an eternal and inescapable challenge.” It was achallenge not only for the church, but for the entire world.  Knowles was awarded his B.D. degree in 1934, but he never finished his Master’s degree and he never pursued doctoral work. He had more than enough to do.
After Knowles went into politics, people began to ask him why he was a socialist, and why he worked so hard for those who had so little. He responded by talking about the death of his mother, the lay-off of his father, and his father’s death shortly thereafter. He talked about the depression on the prairies and the poverty in the cities. People seemed satisfied with such homespun ramble. But familial tragedy and the observation of economic need do not explain how Knowles became radicalized. Most people, after all, experience tragedy and observe human need without becoming activists. What radicalized Knowles was his education. Although he became critical of its academic emphasis, he could not have been so without first having it. The thoroughness of his educationin theology, history, philosophy, sociology, and so onenabled him to construct an all-encompassing interpretive framework of the world. He became practical only after he was theoretical. In the final analysis, Knowles was motivated more by convictions of the mind than by matters of the heart. Once he knewin his headthat Christianity was social, economic, and ultimately political, and that the Church needed to be concerned about individuals and communities, he let his heartand then his preaching, and then his politicsfollow. Intellectual certainty combined with a deeply embodied desire to be useful is a most potent mix.
When Knowles caught the train to his “field” in the city, he did not know that the church was not his final stop. But Knowles probably accomplished more in politics than possible in the church. Former professors and mentors may have been disappointed by the direction of his service because they knew the church needed someone with his talent, ability, and devotion. But the institutional church has little room (and even less grace) for loyal opposition. Knowles most likely disembarked at the right station. Once again, the wise words of Aunt Lois may be evoked.
MA-BCMcKee Archives, Brandon University
NACNational Archives of Canada, Stanley H. Knowles Fond
UCAUnited Church Archives, Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, University of Winnipeg
UWAUniversity of Winnipeg Archives
PP-DSKPersonal Papers of David S. Knowles (Ottawa, Ontario)
4. United Church Observer (July/August 1997), 49. Richard Allen, in his book The Social Passion: Religion and Social Reform in Canada, 1914-1928 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971), utilizes the three-strand framework of the social gospel movementconservative, progressive, radical (p. 17), a typology first proposed by C. H. Hopkins in The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940). Ramsay Cook’s The Regenerators: Social Criticism in Late Victorian English Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985) and David B. Marshall’s Secularizing the Faith: Canadian Protestant Clergy and the Crisis of Belief, 1850-1940 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992) both analyze the impact of the social gospel within the Canadian context.
6. Two biographies have been written on Knowles: Susan Mann Trofimenkoff, Stanley Knowles: The Man From Winnipeg North Centre (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1982), and Gerry Harrop, Advocate of Compassion: Stanley Knowles in the Political Process (Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press, 1984).
7. On the Labor Church movement, refer to Vera Fast, “The Labor Church in Winnipeg” in Prairie Spirit: Perspectives on the Heritage of the United Church of Canada in the West. Dennis L. Butcher et al., eds. (Winnipeg: The University of Manitoba Press, 1985). On the Canadian churches during this time period refer to John Webster Grant, The Church in the Canadian Era (Burlington, Ontario: Welch Publishing Company Inc., 1988), George A. Rawlyk, ed., The Canadian Protestant Experience, 1760-1990 (Burlington, Ontario: Welch Publishing Company Inc., 1990), and Nancy Christie and Michael Gauvreau, A Full-Orbed Christianity: The Protestant Churches and Social Welfare in Canada, 1900-1940 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996).
8. Knowles, “The Church in the Social Crises” in VOX Vol VI, No 2 (March 1933), p 11. This interpretation of Knowles’ theological development supports the argument proposed by Christie and Gauvreau in A Full-Orbed Christianity.
9. Knowles’ Certificate of Naturalization was issued 26 April 1935, and Certificate of Canadian Citizenship was issued 24 September 1949; refer also to story by Francis Steven in The Winnipeg Free Press, 26 November 1942. NAC, Vol 496-6.
14. Lois Knowles to SHK, 6 September 1918. NAC, Vol 390-2. Mary Lois Knowles (1884-1967) was part of the Nova Scotia relatives. Stanley remained her favourite nephew and he eventually conducted her committal service. PPDSK.
18. The Fall 1925 Registrar’s Report indicates a total enrollment of 314, with 164 new students. Almost half (159) of the students belonged to the Christian denomination, with the remainder belonging to Methodist (46), Presbyterian (26), Baptist (12), etc. Nineteen and sixteen of the students enrolled indicated ministry and missions as their future profession or calling, respectively. A third of the students indicated teaching. California Christian Collegian Vol 1, No 5 (October 1925). At least one former high school friend of Stanley’s also went to CCC. Bill (?) to SHK, 10 February 1925. NAC, Vol 390-3.
20. The cover of the California Christian Collegian Vol 1, No 10 (March 1926) states the perspective of the college: “CCC Believes, Teaches and Stands for(1) God, our loving Father ... (2) Jesus, the Divine Son of God ... (3) The Bible, the Inspired Word of God, and (4) The Church of the New Testament ...”
23. It was a reformation of the defunct Prairie College and the dwindling McKee Academy. Refer to C. G. Stone and F. Joan Garnett, Brandon College: A History, 1899-1967 (Brandon: Brandon University, 1969), and Walter E. Ellis, “What the Times Demand: Brandon College and Baptist Higher Education in Western Canada,” pp 62 - 87 in Canadian Baptists and Christian Higher Education, G. A. Rawlyk, ed. (Kingston, Ont: McGill-Queen’s University Press,1988).
25. Harris Lachlan MacNeill was born in Ontario in 1871 and was a Baptist minister. While at Brandon College, he was granted a leave to complete his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School, a degree he received in 1910. He served as Dean of Arts for many years and as Acting President from 1924 to 1927. When he left Brandon after the academic year of 1929-1930, he pastored the Fairview Church in Vancouver, and then taught at McMaster University from 1932 to his retirement in 1943. He lived for over a century.
28. Refer to David L. Smith, “The Brandon College Commission Investigation, 1922-23: An Assessment, “Didaskalia (Journal of Providence Theological Seminary), Vol 7, No 2 (Spring 1996), pp 15-30, who argues that MacNeill should have been censured because he was not a fundamentalist. Smith does not acknowledge the study of Samantha Thompson, “Brandon College and the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy, 1919-1926,” MA Thesis, University of Calgary, 1990, who argues that MacNeill was not a modernist, although he was an “evangelical liberal.”
29. “Student Registration and Transcript.” NAC, Vol 490; “Another Year of Christian Education, Brandon College Report, 1929-30,” The Western Baptist (Winnipeg) Vol XXIII, No 6 (July 1930), p 2. John Robert Charles Evans was appointed president in 1928, after serving since 1923 as professor of Geology, resident master, and faculty advisor to the debating club. He received his B.A. from the college in 1913, and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1923.
30. The Making of a Socialist: The Recollections of T. C. Douglas, Lewis H. Thomas, ed. (Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press,1988), p 50f.; Thomas H. McLeod and Ian McLeod, Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1987), 19f.; Brandon College Sickle, 1929-1930, p 6f.
33. J. Willard Litch (Superintendent of Missions) to SHK, 3 March 1928. W. P. Freeman (Director of Young People and Sunday School Work) to SHK, 1 October 1928. PPDHK; SHK to Brandon College, 10 July 1928. MA-BC, R81-30, Series 1, Subseries 5, Box 1, File #13.
36. SEK to SHK, 9 June 1929, SEK to SHK, 16 June 1929. NAC, Vol 500-3. The relationship shared between Stanley Ernest and Stanley Howard supports the thesis of William R. Hutchison, “Cultural Strain and Protestant Liberalism,” American Historical Review Vol 26, No 2 (April 1971), p 386-411. Hutchison argues that liberal Protestant leaders shared significant relationships with their fathers or uncles, who communicated to them that “change would not explode orthodoxy; (but rather) that change is compatible with orthodoxy or even integral to it” (p 402). Refer also to Christie and Gauvreau, A Full-Orbed Christianity, who reject equating social evangelism and secularization: the “emphasis placed by social evangelism on outward Christian experience as evidence of firm religious commitment resulted in a form of evangelical piety as coherent as the more intellectual adherence to the systems of Victorian theology” ()ii).
37. SEK to SHK, 28 September 1930. NAC, Vol 500-4. Knowles’ theological position may parallel that of J. S. Woodsworth. Refer to “The Crisis of Faith and Social Christianity: The Ethical Pilgrimage of James Shaver Woodsworth” pp 343 to 379 in Victorian Faith in Crisis: Essays on continuity and Change in Nineteenth-Century Religious Belief. Richard J. Helmstadter and Bernard Lightman, eds. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), and Ramsay Cook, The Regenerators, p. 213f.
45. “Manitoba Baptist Convention” The Western Baptist Vol XXIII, No 6 (July 1930), p 4. MacKay (1870-1938) was a respected educator and churchman. In 1936 he officiated at the marriage of Knowles and Vida Cruikshank (1904-1978). Vida had done her deaconess training at United prior to Knowles’ arrival. NAC, Vol 497-1.
46. No study deals precisely with this time period or with Manitoba College, but the following provide an historical framework: Richard Allen, “Children of Prophecy: Wesley College Students in an Age of Reform,” Red River Valley Historical Society, Summer 1974, 15-20; Ramsey Cook, “Ambiguous Heritage: Wesley College and the Social Gospel Re-considered,” Manitoba History, Summer 1990, 2-11; “Principal J. H. Riddell and Wesley College: Sane and Safe Leadership,” in River Road: Essays on Manitoba and Prairie History (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1996), p. 107 - 119. Also refer to A. G. Bedford, The University of Winnipeg: A History of the Founding Colleges (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976); Michael Gauvreau, The Evangelical Century: College and Creed in English Canada from the Great Revival to the Great Depression (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991); and Neil Semple, The Lord’s Dominion; The History of Canadian Methodism (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University, 1996), esp. Chapter Ten on Methodist Education.
47. “The Executive Committee of the Board of Manitoba and Wesley Colleges,” 15 February 1926. UWA, UC-3-1, Joint Executive Board, Minutes, np; VOX (United Colleges) Vol V, No 3, p 6 (June 1932); SHK to Dr. Evans, 15 December 1930. MA-BC, R81-30, Series 1B, Subseries 1,1929-35, Box 1, File #7; SEK to SHK, 10 August 1930. NAC, Vol 500-4.
49. Bulletin, First Baptist Church, 22 February 1931. PPDSK; SEK to SHK, 20 September 1930. NAC, Vol 500-4; VOX Vol V, No 3 (June 1932), p 77; “Stanley Knowles: The Honorable Member for Winnipeg North Centre,” (speech by Lloyd Stinson), nd. NAC, Vol 496-6; Bulletin, Young Church, 8 January 1933. The three other ministerial students simultaneously recommended by the congregation were Hartley Harland, Fred Stevens, and S. J. Onions. PPDSK; “Central Church Has Reached Its 51st Milestone,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 December 1933, p. 6, col 1; Central Church to Winnipeg Presbytery, 26 April and 28 April 1933. UCA, Presbytery of Winnipeg. Minutes, 1926-1935. In 1934, the Faculty expressed concern about theological students preaching every Sunday, and by 1935, disallowed it. Manitoba College (microfilm), Senate of United Colleges (Theological) from April 1927.
50. Minutes of the United Theological Faculty of Manitoba and Wesley Colleges. UWA, UC-3-2; Joint Executive Board. Minutes, 7 October 1926 - 12 November 1937.” UWA, UC-3-1. Refer to “The United Church and the ‘Revival of Personal Religion”, Chapter 7 in Christie and Gauvreau, A Full-Orbed Christianity, for discussion of the increased religious atmosphere of the 1930s.
55. “B. D. New Testament Minor,” Rev. Stanley Knowles, December 1933. Personal Papers, John MacKay, Box 3, File 22 (microfilm). Knowles’ submitted his thesis to Dr. MacKay in March of 1934. A copy of it has not yet been located. NAC, Vol 496-6.
Page revised: 11 February 2023