Manitoba History: “Canada’s First Martyr”: The Suspicious Death of David Wells, Winnipeg’s First World War Pentecostal Conscientious Objector [1]

by Martin W. Mittelstadt
Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri

Number 87, Summer 2018

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Canada’s First Martyr

He lies in his quiet grave, our first martyr. He was a conscientious objector to military service, and was sentenced a few weeks ago to two years in the Penitentiary.

He became insane, and a few days before his death he was removed to Selkirk Asylum, where he passed away.

Poor boy; he was almost alone here—his friends all live in England. He had a sweetheart, and in a letter to her he said he rejoiced to have “the privilege of witnessing for Christ.”

Immediately before his arrest, which he supposed was impending, he sent 400 dollars to his mother in England. His name was David Wells.

It may be in the coming years his name will be honoured, but he has gone—gone from this world where true goodness is forever crucified. “He was taken from prison and from judgment.”

The minister of the church to which he belonged, and who conducted the funeral ceremony, said “he was a man of exceptional physique and highest moral character.”

But his sensitive, refined nature could not endure the horrors of a Canadian prison, and his reason fled.

Everyone seems wishful to evade all responsibility. The doctors at the asylum say he was too far gone for them to be able to help him, and that he might have been cured had he been taken there sooner. But the tortured spirit has fled away to rest, and the world goes on—I will not say unheeding or uncaring—for some both heed and care, but they are, for the most part, those who have no power to stop these terrible evils.

One minister, one of the best and bravest in all Canada, Rev. William Ivens, a Methodist minister of Winnipeg, journeyed to Selkirk to attend the funeral. He has written to the Press, calling himself a conscientious objector, and has repeatedly urged the release from prison of all C.O.’s. He has written to Premier Borden asking for a full inquiry into this death, and for the suspension of the prison officials until all is cleared up, which, of course, it can never be. His letters have all been published in the Press.Mentally, I contrast him with another “minister of the Gospel of the Man of Sorrows” who in his pulpit, the day before this poor boy was laid to repose, said that “the conscientious objectors did not deserve to be fed by the State three meals a day, but should all be banished to a cannibal island.”

I have called David Wells “Canada’s First Martyr.” Perhaps this is incorrect, for many Roman Catholic missionaries suffered death at the hands of hostile Indians in the early days of this country.

But I suppose we all thought that the days of martyrdom had passed, and I believe that this poor boy has given his life for the grandest cause that it was ever the lot of man to serve.

He might have suffered as much had he gone to the war, where he would have been but one in a crowd of poor slaughtered men, and instead of dying with them he has died for them; hence he is undoubtedly a martyr, and it is true to-day as ever that “The noble army of martyrs praised Thee, O Lord.”

Gertrude Richardson, 1918. [2]


In 2013 the Canadian Symposium at the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies focussed on the plight of Canadian Pentecostal Conscientious Objectors (CO). As Murray Dempster described their struggles as “the ironic, the tragic, and the heroic,” [3] I was particularly shaken to hear that such atrocities had occurred in “my” Winnipeg. As a “cradle” Pentecostal, I felt betrayed. Why had I not heard these stories? In this article, I describe the Pentecostal “testimony” of young David Wells and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death that deserve to be probed more deeply. To do so, I begin with the context for conscientious objection in Canada, Pentecostal allegiance, and the immediate scene in Winnipeg. Then, I retell the story of Wells and conclude with implications for further research and an exhortation for Canadians to remember and somehow embody the life of David Wells, for his story is indeed our story.

Pentecostal COs in the Canadian Context

Before I recount the events between the first report of charges against David Wells for desertion on January 21, 1918, and his tragic death on February 18, his story requires context. [4] When England declared war on Germany in the summer of 1914, Canada automatically entered the war. As the war dragged on, a rising death toll and low volunteerism at home and abroad led Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden to demonstrate his and Canadian allegiance to the UK through adoption of the Military Service Act (MSA). With a goal of 100,000 conscripted reinforcements, the MSA afforded various forms of exemption for those “prohibited from doing so by the tenets and articles of faith.” [5] At the time, only five Canadian denominations held peace-church status, namely, the Doukhobors, Hutterites, Mennonites, Society of Friends (Quakers), and Tunkers (Brethren in Christ). Since CO opportunities depended not upon individual conscience, but denominational stance, self-identifying COs of smaller sects had no recourse to collective conscience and failed to meet the CO qualifications. Nevertheless, appeals for CO status came from men among the Christadelphians, International Bible Students Association (IBSA, Jehovah Witnesses), Plymouth Brethren, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Pentecostals. Though early Pentecostals demonstrated strong pacifistic impulses, Canadian and American objectors found themselves in very different circumstances. When men from the Assemblies of God challenged conscription in the United States, the upstart denomination founded in 1914 registered as a pacifist church, and these men received exemption in 1917. [6] Though the easily travelled border between Canada and United States proved invaluable for the early exchange of pastors and evangelists, this relationship proved inconsequential for Canadian Pentecostals dedicated to conscientious objection.

Gertrude Richardson (1875–1946), seen here with her husband Robert circa 1912, was active in Manitoba’s suffrage movement.
She became active with anti-war socialists during the Boer War, opposed the First World War from the beginning, and became an
anti-conscriptionist in 1915.
Source: Barbara Roberts, A Reconstructed World: A Feminist Biography of Gertrude Richardson,
McGill-Queens University Press, 1996.

I turn now from the larger Canadian context to Winnipeg and the events only days before and after Wells’ story hit the press. Throughout 1917, local news generally updated the public about CO approvals and rejections, but the new year produced a rash of headlines concerning allegations of mistreatment and revealed a restless Winnipeg public. In early January 1918, a Winnipeg Tribune reporter narrated a sobering account of an unnamed man who was denied CO status and of his subsequent refusal to don a uniform. After the officer appealed for “seven volunteers to put [the] man in uniform,” the reporter minced no words: “the storm hit the conscientious objector ‘somewhere’ and in a few moments he was in khaki.” [7]

During the week of 21 January at Minto Street Barracks, three men, Pentecostal Charles Matheson along with IBSA members Robert Clegg and Henry Naish, were twice stripped naked and tortured by cold showers until they would accept duty or collapse. Clegg’s claim of brutal treatment and his subsequent hospitalization produced extreme responses. While an officer familiar with the case called it “school boy pranks,” others such as Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Fred Dixon wired the government at Ottawa and demanded an immediate investigation of conditions at Minto Street Barracks with reference to treatment of all COs. Dixon protested that, “The day of torture should be past... finish(ed).” [8] By the final weekend of January, three similar responses revealed growing concern: (1) a scathing diatribe entitled “Stop It!” with a call for investigation of physical coercion; [9] (2) the congratulatory and encouraging remarks of Methodist minister, Rev. William Ivens, in support of the protest made by the alleged victims; [10] and (3) the grievous remarks of Dr. Horace Ward, pastor of All Souls Church, concerning recent allegations and the general misunderstanding of CO courage. [11] With Clegg in the hospital, Sergeant Simpson, provost marshal at the barracks, was charged and released on bail. [12] When the case came to the court of the King’s Bench, Judge Galt turned it over to military court on 13 February, and Simpson’s case was subsequently dismissed. [13] Like so many others, Clegg, Naish, Charles Matheson and a number of their fellow IBSA objectors, eventually found themselves overseas and subjected to torturous labour. [14]

In the days after Wells’ death on 18 February, the scene in Winnipeg remained tumultuous. Gertrude Richardson reported ongoing atrocities of Winnipeg COs being sent “straight to the front” and afforded no opportunity to say “good-bye” to their loved ones. She was told of “heart-rending scenes... of poor lads [who] were not willing to go” and other COs “taken to the station in ambulance wagons, in handcuffs and irons [to be] shipped over with the draft.” [15] The miserable effects of a Manitoba winter coupled with accusations of brutality and sketchy acquittals produced an increasingly despondent and mixed public. The story of David Wells must be heard in this climate.

First Reports of David Wells’ Death

Little is known of David Wells. Richardson’s above-cited letter provides the best synopsis of his life and death and aligns well with Winnipeg newspaper reports.[16] On Monday, 21 January 1918, the Free Press related that Wells and five other men answered to the charge of military absenteeism. [17] Over the previous weekend, Wells became the first of seven men to appear before a city magistrate for defaulting on his appointment for enlistment. Two days later, on 23 January 1918, the Tribune disclosed that David Wells and Chas. H. Edwards became the first two men sentenced by the Winnipeg city police court to two years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary for draft evasion. [18] According to the next day’s Free Press, Wells stated, “I plead guilty before men, but not before God.” In response, prosecutor Capt. Goddard, assistant provost marshal, referred to Wells and Edwards as “religious fanatics who attempted to hide behind their religion,” and Magistrate Hugh John Macdonald declared, “I’m here to administer human not divine law.” [19]

An important element of this story includes the press’s inability to accurately classify Wells’ religious affiliation. Though a Free Press reporter identified Wells as a member of the IBSA, the 24 January 1918 Tribune published the bold clarifications of an unnamed young man who presumably defended Wells before Sergeant J. Palmer of the Military Service Council: “I am aggrieved that David Wells should be described as an International Bible Student. He is not. He is a Christian.” [20] The same young man not only further exclaimed that, if necessary, he would also “defy the earthly king and continue to serve my Master on high,” but he also proclaimed Wells “a martyr now serving two years in the penitentiary for a just cause.” The unfolding drama reveals, first, that early accounts incorrectly identify Wells as an IBSA member and, second, that the day of his sentencing already foreshadows Richardson’s title for Wells as a martyr. [21] By Friday of this same week, the Free Press reported that Wells and Edwards received notice that their two-year sentences would not be granted appeals. [22] Wells’ story fell silent for about a month.

On 26 February 1918, the Tribune’s front page led with the following headline: “Conscientious Objector Sent to ‘Pen’ Dies in Asylum.” [23] Both Winnipeg newspapers provide a few details of Wells’ background and his previous physical condition. Wells came from a military family. His father served in the British navy for thirty years, and two brothers were currently in the British army. Wells appeared healthy, weighed 210 pounds, exhibited strong moral character, worked as a drayman for the Canadian Northern Railway, and sent $400 to his mother in England only a day before the charge of absenteeism.

Following Wells’ death on 18 February, his body was transferred to undertakers at Moody and Sons in Selkirk for preparation. Rev. H. C. Sweet of the Langside Mission and, according to the report, Wells’ former pastor, officiated at the funeral, and Wells was buried on 25 February at Selkirk Cemetery. [24] According to a summary in the Free Press, J. J. McFadden, supervisory physician at Stony Mountain, reported that “everything possible was done for Wells from the moment he was taken to the penitentiary,” and even though Wells received fair and comfortable treatment, “he became a raving maniac and would neither eat, drink, talk, or walk.” [25] McFadden further stated that Wells’ case “was a dangerous one and he had to be removed as quickly as possible.” McFadden contended that Wells not only confessed willingness to join the army, but that efforts were in process to reopen his case before military authorities. However, the deluge of news to emerge in the following weeks never repeats this claim. Though Wells was not required to work and was kept in a comfortable room, McFadden summarizes Wells’ condition: “the disgrace of being in the penitentiary evidently preyed upon his mind to an alarming extent.” [26]

Both the Free Press and the Tribune recounted the days following Wells’ arrival at the Selkirk Asylum. According to A. T. Rice, superintendent of the asylum, Wells’ condition was a woeful one. Wells had to be carried into the facility and was deemed “palpably insane.” Incapable of basic tasks, “Wells [had] to be fed forcibly, he would not lie on his bed, trying to roll on the floor.... When we put the bed on the floor, he still persisted in rolling off the comfortable mattress and springs.... We could not keep him up.” Like McFadden, Dr. Rice offers a stunning synopsis of Wells’ death only seven days after arrival at the facility: “Everything possible was done to help him, but it was a hopeless case from the start and he died on the 18th.” [27]

Not surprisingly, these same reports reveal the bewilderment of friends: “when [Wells] went to the penitentiary he was in perfect condition, both physically and mentally.” Mr. Schwab of Argue Brothers, a real estate dealer, was astonished and “had no previous intimation that [Wells’] condition was other than normal.” [28] Members of Well’s Pentecostal congregation told of their rejected attempt to visit Wells at Stony Mountain. Though other unnamed friends were described as “indignant that they were unable to learn of the serious condition of Wells from the authorities,” [29] no one suspected foul play. Rev. Sweet said that he was “shocked.” The pastor acknowledged that the death certificate indicates that “Wells was wrong mentally for some time,” [30] but when asked if Wells’ family would press charges against the penitentiary or the hospital for mistreatment of their son, Sweet replied, “His friends think it strange that a young man of such exceptional physique should succumb so soon. However, I do not intimate that he was mistreated, as I do not know enough about the case.” [31] Though the initial announcements from the two Winnipeg paperssaid little about the potential for foul play, the details reported in the first few days would eventually receive scrutiny, and the tone would change over the course of one week.

Foul Play?

Suddenly on Saturday, 2 March, the Tribune reported growing concern that COs “should be placed on an equal footing, whether a member of a brotherhood or not.” [32] Members of two adjoining churches, the Pentecostal Mission and Plymouth Brethren, circulated a petition decrying Well’s imprisonment and subsequent confinement in the Selkirk asylum. Wells was described not as a member of the Pentecostal Mission, located on Furby Street, but a regular attendee of both congregations. Rev. Sweet entered the foray a few days later. His Langside Pentecostal Mission

announced that the congregation was not convinced by the explanation of Wells’ death, but sought “to be fully satisfied of the cause of the death before we drop the matter entirely.” [33] A similar report on the same day described a petition, presumably led by Sweet, to seek amendment to the Military Service Act. He reportedly stated:

In my opinion, and in the opinion of the followers of our mission, all conscientious objectors should be treated alike. The clause in the service act is all wrong and not British in its spirit. What we want is to see that the conscientious objector is dealt with in the same way as the Mennonite and the farmer. These people are released from service to help in the campaign for greater production, while a city man is jailed when he refuses to fight. We don’t want the public to get the impression that we want to protect slackers. When we refer to objectors we mean real conscientious objectors. If the military authorities jail conscientious objectors, we want to see that the Mennonites and their like are also jailed. If farmers’ sons are allowed to stay on the land, I don’t see why conscientious objectors should not be allowed to do the same. I am sure the majority of these men, while fighting in any form, would gladly do their bit on the soil. [34]

Rev. Ivens, an attendee at Wells’ funeral and interment, also became involved in the cause. In a letter to the editor, he wrote that Wells’ death “made a profound impression on... the reasonable public.” He lamented that “a man should not be treated so as to cause death even though he will not fight. The man who will die rather than violate his conscience may be a fanatic,” but not a slacker, shirker, hypocrite, or coward. [35] After a plea for the government to entertain changes similar to Sweet’s request above, he concluded:

We must face the facts fearlessly. Wells is not the last man who will die for his conscience unless the government amend its present legislation. Every man who has a contribution to give to the life of the nation is needed at this hour. Better send a man with a conscience to the farm or the forge than send him into eternity. Now is the time to act. [36]

Two days later, the Tribune reported that Ivens presented a petition with more than 400 signatures to the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council with a request for amendment to the MSA and the release of COs currently serving at Stony Mountain. [37]

This same newspaper report related the actions of a third clergyman, Dr. Horace Westwood, a Unitarian. Westwood also presented a letter that resulted in passage of the following resolution by the Trades and Labour Council:

Resolved that the public is greatly shocked at the news of the death of David Wells after being incarcerated a month at the penitentiary as a conscientious objector, and

Whereas, at his entrance to the penitentiary, he was in superb physical condition, and
Whereas there appears to be widespread public opinion that his insanity, and subsequent death were the result of treatment inflicted upon him while in the penitentiary.

Therefore we, the Winnipeg Trades and Labor council request, Firstly, that a searching and immediate inquiry be made into the death of David Wells and the treatment of conscientious objectors generally and that the results of such inquiry be made public. Secondly, that in harmony with present methods of prison reform, a copy of the penitentiary rules and regulations, as applied to all prisoners, be made public.

Whereas it is evident that the Military Service act is discriminating in its application to conscientious objectors, exempting those conscientious objectors belonging to particular and specified sects, but imprisoning other bona fide objectors not belonging to such sects.

We therefore request that the act be so amended as to apply equally to all bona fide conscientious objectors and that conscientious objectors now suffering incarceration under the act be immediately released by being placed in the same category as those belonging to a recognized church. [38]

The proposal’s opening line revealed the initial motivation. Secondary concerns linked to Westwood’s comments that COs were entitled to only one visit every three months and none of them from a clergyman. Other comments included those of A. H. Tripp, a friend and fellow teamster of Wells, who described his friend as a “big and healthy man,” and James Painters who asserted that the “government had forced Wells to his death.” [39]

Unfortunately, Wells’ story would gain no specific traction. Except for Richardson’s tribute and memorial, the petitions failed to produce results. Questions surrounding the death of David Wells drew to an end.

The Conscientious Objector

To the Editor of The Tribune:*

Sir: The death of David Wells, the conscientious objector, sentenced to two years in the penitentiary, in the Selkirk asylum, has made a profound impression on the mind of the reasonable public. The feeling is that a man should not be so treated as to cause death, even though he will not consent to fight. The man who will die rather than violate his conscience may be a fanatic, etc., but he cannot fairly be described as a slacker, a shirker, a hypocrite, and a coward.

The Military Service act recognizes the C.O., and has made provision for his exemption from military service if he belongs to a recognized pacifist organization such as the Quakers, the Mennonites or the Doukhobors, etc. If, however, he does not belong to such an organization he is liable to military service. Wells really belonged to no organization. He was drafted, refused exemption, imprisoned, and is now dead. His death demonstrates the sincerity of his purpose, whether it does credit to his reason or not, and proves the need of such amendments to the “act” as may be necessary to secure the same treatment for all C.O.’s whether within or without an institution opposed to military service. Either all such men should be exempted, or none should be exempted.

Men are opposed to military service for three reasons:
1. Religious objectors. These people believe that war is antagonistic to the teachings of Christ and choose rather to offend the law of the land rather than that which they conceive to be the law of God.
2. The intellectual objector …
3. The Socialist. War is the antithesis of socialism. It destroys human life and so denies the unity of humanity. It is the conflict of nationalism against internationalism. He says, I cannot fight against the workers of another nation.

Within these groups there are also three grades of objectors:
1. The out-and-outer, or the absolutist. He refuses to have anything whatever to do with war. He prefers death to military service, and in Britain he has many times faced the death sentence. Speaking in the house of lords, Jan. 26, 1916. Lord Lansdowne said, “In our view it is much better that the tribunals should be in a position to give what I may call, without disrespect, the out-and-out conscientious objector an absolute dispensation.” Government action followed that advice. Here are the provisions of the act in Britain: “Any certificate of exemption may be absolute, conditional or temporary, as the authorities by whom it is granted think best suited to the case, and also in the case of application on conscientious grounds may take the form of an exemption from combatant service only, or may be conditional on the application being engaged in some work which in the opinion of the tribunal dealing with the case is of national importance.”
2. Then there is the C.O. who will do non-combatant work. He will do Red Cross work, or medical corps work, etc., but will not fight.
3. There are others who will not do the above work, but willing to do other work of national importance. We must face the facts fearlessly.

Wells is not the last man who will die for his conscience unless the government amend its present legislation. Every man who has a contribution to give to the life of the nation is needed at this hour. Better send a man with a conscience to the farm or the forge than send him into eternity. Now is the time to act.

* Winnipeg Tribune, 6 March 1918, page 4.

Implications: Pentecostals, Conscientious Objectors, and Martyrs?

The question remains: how does a strapping “210 pound” drayman apparently in “perfect” physical and mental condition come to such a stunning end? How is it that clergymen, friends, and co-workers seem unaware of any previous health concerns? In a related vein, what about the evidence concerning Wells’ rapid mental deterioration? If Wells brings no pre-condition to prison, is it possible that a crushed spirit leads to his death? Given the proximity to other reports of mistreatment, is it only mere conjecture that Wells suffered similar treatment at Minto Street Barracks, Stony Mountain penitentiary, and/or the Selkirk Asylum. And if Wells sent a generous gift of support to his mother (possibly a widow) only days before the charge of absenteeism, did he suspect difficulty ahead?

Second, it could be that Wells received reasonable support from his Pentecostal community. The attempted visits of Mr. Schwab, who is undoubtedly connected to Argue’s Mission; [40] the pastoral response (funeral and interment) and petitions for investigation by Rev. Sweet; and the petitionary protest launched by the Pentecostal Mission on Furby Street demonstrate his association to Pentecostal churches and their concern over his imprisonment and subsequent death. On the other hand, where is the Argue family? Given Sweet’s affiliation with Argue, how is it that Wells’ story receives news coverage over two months, and the voices of Argue and leaders of the Argue mission are absent? [41]

Third, what did Pentecostals in Winnipeg think about pacifism? Was Wells a renegade or representative? Why is there only one other report of a Pentecostal CO (Charles Matheson)? The Furby Mission demonstrates solidarity with Wells through their pursuit of justice, but did they share his pacifistic impulse? Since the Furby Mission shared a building with a Plymouth Brethren congregation, did they share pacifistic views? If so, are these representative of Pentecostals throughout Winnipeg? It is noteworthy that Rev. Sweet of the Langside Mission sought justice, but unlike Rev. Ivens, a radical pacifist, local reports did not reveal Sweet’s position on military service. [42]

What about the Canadian Pentecostal COs across Canada? Historian Amy Shaw has produced the most comprehensive list of CO claims by Canadians in the First World War. [43] Of the 325 claims, only six further claimants beyond Wells and Matheson identify as Pentecostals, and all of them come from Ontario: Frederick Leader (Caledonia), Elmor Morrison (Moorefield), Clarence Morton (Brantford), John Philips (White Hall), Vernal Running (Lansdowne), and William Steinburg (Seguin Falls). I would ask the same questions from the preceding paragraph concerning their experiences and their communities. Do trends and trajectories emerge? What about data by province, region, community (e.g., 35 claims are made by men with connections to Manitoba)? How do the various publics respond? Given Winnipeg’s impulse toward activism, comparisons across Canada would prove valuable.

Fourth, I have long been a critic regarding recent American policies on torture from Guantánamo Bay, to President Donald Trump’s desire to reapply torture because it works “absolutely” and the US must “fight fire with fire.” [44] But much to my own shame, a recent trip to the Canadian Human Rights Museum—in Winnipeg nonetheless—crushed my arrogance and demonstrated that the Canadian story of injustice looks rather similar to the larger human story. [45] The story of David Wells is a Canadian story.

Finally, Wells’ story proves yet again the need to do away with stereotypes. Pacifism does not mean passive. CO does not mean fragile. Peace-making calls for Spirit-inspired passion, witness by resistance, and if necessary, martyrdom. The story of David Wells serves as an “ironic, tragic, and heroic” testimony, a story well suited for our day. If indeed Pentecostals cherish the art of testimony as a primary practice, the story of David Wells deserves a place in Pentecostal lore. Whether Wells’ death came as the result of a crushed spirit, the effects of physical torture, or both, his words, “I plead guilty before men, but not before God,” strongly suggest that, as Gertrude Richardson maintained, David Wells deserves the title of martyr.


1. I presented this paper for the Canadian Pentecostal Symposium at the 44th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies at Urshan College (St. Louis, MO) on 8 March 2017.

2. Gertrude Richardson, “Canada’s First Martyr,” Leicester Pioneer (LP), 12 April 1918. The English-born Richardson (1875-1946) played an integral role as a Manitoban activist for labour, suffrage, peace, and socialist movements. She wrote regular columns (and subversive poetry) for newspapers from Swan River, Brandon, and Winnipeg, to Leicester, England. See further Barbara Ann Roberts, A Reconstructed World: A Feminist Biography of Gertrude Richardson, Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1996.

3. I served as guest editor for the subsequent publication of these papers in the Canadian Journal of Pentecostal Christianity (CJPC). Dempster’s essay is titled: “The Canada-Britain-USA Triad: Canadian Pentecostal Pacifism in WWI and WWII,” CJPC 4 (2013): 1–26.

4. See the brief summary in Demspter, “The Canada-Britain-USA Triad” and extended analyses by Amy J. Shaw, Crisis of Conscience: Conscientious Objection during the First World War (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2009) and Thomas P. Socknat, Witness Against War: Pacifism in Canada 1900–1945, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987.

5. See Military Service Act, Accessed 20 January 2017.

6. See the recent documentary history by Brian K. Pipkin and Jay Beaman, Early Pentecostals on Nonviolence and Social Justice: A Reader. Pentecostals, Peacemaking, and Social Justice 10. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2016.

7. “War Heroes Force Husky Objector Into Uniform,” Winnipeg Tribune (WT), 12 January 1918.

8. See “Conscientious Objectors Said To Have Been Roughly Handled,” Manitoba Free Press (MFP), 24 January 1918, and “Treatment of Drafted Men Under Probe,” WT, 24 January 1918.

9. “Stop It!” MFP, 25 January 1918. The writer laments: “The evidence is conclusive that methods of ‘hazing’ and physical coercion have been resorted to in this city.... It is idle to pretend that, in cases like this, the hazing is the result of spontaneous indignation by the companions of the recalcitrant; these things happen because someone in authority is desirous that they should happen.... There will doubtless be an investigation; with the awarding of due punishment to those to whom the responsibility for these acts is brought home.”

10. “Ivens Praises Men Who Protest Treatment to Minto Soldiers,”WT, 26 January 1918.

11. “Westwood Raps ‘Torture Bath,’”WT, 28 January 1918.

12. “Three Charges against Simpson,” MFP, 28 January 1918; and “Sergt. Simpson to be Tried by Court-Martial,” WT, 28 January 1918.

13. “Judge Galt Refuses to Order MacDonald to Try Sergt. Simpson,”WT, 13 February 1918; “Alleged Hazing Case Dismissed,” MFP, 14 February 2018, p. 3; “Simpson is Not Guilty of Hazing,” MFP, 19 February 1918.

14. “Come From ‘Pen’ To Be Soldiers,” WT, Monday, 8 April 1918; “Conscientious Objectors, Free from Pen, Go to War,” WT, 10 April 1918; and Richardson, “‘Democratic’ Militarism,” LP, 14 June 1918. Amy Shaw also documents numerous horrific punishments given particularly to COs of small and unrecognized “denominations” (Crisis of Conscience, 93-97).

15. Richardson, “The Cruelty of War,” LP, 22 March 1918; and “The Spring–and the Breaking of Chains,” LP, 31 May 1918.

16. Shaw (Crisis of Conscience, 91–93) provides the most comprehensive modern reconstruction of Wells’ story. She cites only primary material from the MFP and seems either unaware of, or ignores, the WT. Though duplication between the major newspapers occurs, WT definitely fills certain gaps. I found further references to primary source material via the Barbara Roberts’ Biography of Richardson. See also M. James Penton, “Wells, David,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003, (accessed 20 October 2016).

17. “Rounding Up the Absentees: City and Provincial Police Deal Actively with Draft Law Evaders,” MFP, 21 January 1918.

18. “2 Conscientious Objectors Sent to Jail for 2 Years,” WT, 23 January 1918.

19. “Two Years’ Sentence for Draft Evaders” MFP, 24 January 1918. Like Wells, Edwards defied the authorities and offered a similar motivation: “I consider this a grand and glorious privilege to witness for the Lord.” This same story also appeared as “Serving the Lord” in Vancouver Daily World, 24 January 1918.

20. Differentiation between IBSA and Christian serves not as an indictment of IBSA. This response of this young man would be consistent with Fundamentalist and proto-Evangelical opinions of IBSA. Originally named “Russellites” after their founder Charles Taze Russell and often self-described as IBSA, the sect endured numerous splits and emerged as “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in 1931.

21. “Going to War is Crime, Young Man Informs Officer,” WT, 24 January 1918.

22. “No Appeals for Bible Students,” MFP, 25 January 1918. Wells continues to be identified as a “Bible Student.”

23. WT, 26 February 1918, p. 1.

24. In “‘Sweet’ Memories” (The Portal of Western Bible College Yearbook, 1949), the unnamed author confirms the early identification of Henry Charles Sweet with the burgeoning Pentecostals in Winnipeg: “as early as 1916 he became identified with the Pentecostal movement, (Rev. A. H. Argue then leading in this gracious work). The identification preceded any formal organization of the Movement, and it was during these early years that Dr. Sweet was privileged to baptize in water, among others... Rev. Watson Argue” (4). Though Sweet never pursued Pentecostal ordination, his participation among and influence upon Pentecostals in Winnipeg is well documented (see Ronald Kydd, “H. C. Sweet: Canadian Churchman,” Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society 20 (1978) 19-30.

25. “‘Objector’ Dies Raving Lunatic,” MFP, 27 February 1918.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. “Taken from Penitentiary.”

32. “Ask All Objectors to Draft Be Given Equal Legal Rights” WT, 2 March 1918.

33. “Pentecostal Mission to Ask Probe of Death” WT, 6 March 1918.

34. “Objectors Seek to Change Act. Pentecostal Mission Followers to Petition For Amend to Military Service Law,” Reference? 6 March, 1918.

35. Rev. J. W. Ivens, “The Conscientious Objector.” WT, 6 March 1918.

36. Ibid.

37. “Labor Council Demands Probe of Wells’ Death and Treatment at ‘Pen’” WT, 8 March 1918.

38. Ibid.

39. Ibid.

40. Zelma Argue (What Meaneth This? The Story of our Personal Experiences and Evangelistic Campaigns: The Argue Evangelistic Party. Winnipeg, no date) affirms the presence of one of our Winnipeg business men, Brother A. E. Schwab, at one of the early meetings in May 1907. Zelma writes “I can still see the glory that lighted up his face till it shone with heaven’s own light, as with upraised arm and closed eyes, he walked up and down the length of the double parlor, while from his lips flowed a stream of worship in a language straight from heaven” (11). On the occasion of her ordination in 1920, Zelma reflects on the gifts she received from “my father’s brother, Dr. George Argue... and his younger brother, M. Willis Argue, President of Argue Bros., a leading business firm of Winnipeg” (26).

41. Argue and Sweet shared ministries at the Langside Mission. See 50 Years. 1907-1957 and a Golden Jubilee, Calvary Temple, Winnipeg, 1957, p. 5. The Langside Mission advertised meetings in the MFP for the second week of February (9 February 1918) and a baptismal service on February 16 (16 February 1918) with Rev. Sweet presiding.

42. To complicate matters, Amy Shaw cites Sweet: “The Pentecostals are not united on this question of objection to military service... Some of them are believers in war and others are not. They are not a unit, and therefore I don’t think the matter will be discussed by them as a body.” Much to my dismay, Shaw’s reference, “Pentecostal Missionites Would Not Take Action” (MFP, 26 January 1918) does not exist. She also writes that Sweet’s comments follow Wells’ death, yet Wells does not die until 18 February. I searched madly for this statement, but no avail. Undoubtedly, such a report would provide further context, and possible hints concerning Sweet’s leanings (Shaw, Crisis in Conscience, pp. 93, 219).

43. See Table 1 in Shaw, Crisis of Conscience, pp. 167–190.

44. Matthew Weaver and Spencer Ackerman, “Trump Claims Torture Works, But Warns of its ‘Potentially Existential’ Costs,” The Guardian, January 26, 2017 (


We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

Page revised: 6 April 2021