Preaching a Social Gospel
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Preaching a Social Gospel
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Preaching a Social Gospel
A prairie minister helps Canada's newcomers overcome troubles in their new land
As impoverished immigrants crowded into Canadian cities in the early 1900s, a prairie minister named James Shaver Woodsworth preached an emerging form of social justice for the newcomers.
In 1907, James Shaver Woodsworth, a Methodist minister, moved his young family to the slums of North End Winnipeg to help impoverished immigrants. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
In 1907, James Shaver Woodsworth, a Methodist minister, moved his young family to the slums of North End Winnipeg to help impoverished immigrants. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

In 1907, Woodsworth, a Methodist minister, moved his young family to The All Peoples Mission in North End Winnipeg, north of the CPR tracks. The area, nicknamed the "Foreign Quarter", was crowded with immigrants - many from Eastern Europe - living in slum-like conditions

Woodsworths neighbours included people like John Klenbyel. He and his wife and their six children shared four dirty rented rooms with more than a dozen other boarders.

The minister also met the Yakoffs, a Russian family barely getting by.

"Peter, the oldest boy, eight years old, has to go out along the streets and lanes where he can find sticks of wood, empty barrels, for which he gets a few cents to help keep the family. Of course, he does not go to school," observed Woodsworth

In the first decade of the century more than a million immigrants, many from Europe, flooded into the country. Many newcomers became the targets of increased resentment from other Canadians who believed the newcomers were to blame for rising social problems in the country.

Conservative Member of Parliament Dr. Thomas Sproule, leader of the Protestant Orange Order voiced a common concern.

"Canada is today the dumping ground for the refuse of every country in the world."

In contrast, Woodsworth believed it was his duty to improve the lives of immigrants. But the effort must be not merely to preach to the people, but to educate them and to improve their entire social conditions. It was a new type of "Social Gospel" that was taking hold in protestant churches.

For Woodsworth the best way to help immigrants was assimilation. He said immigrants needed to be "Canadianized" and "Christianized" to improve their lot in their new county.

He felt language was the key to assimilation so he organized English kindergartens through his mission and raised funds for a permanent school. He also started evening classes for working adults too learn English.

"If Canada is to become in any real sense a nation, if our people are to become one people, we must have one language. Hence the necessity of national schools where the teaching of English - our national language - is compulsory," said Woodsworth.

In 1909, after two years working and living in the North End, Woodworth published a book with his views on immigration, entitled Strangers Within Our Gates.

"What does the ordinary Canadian know about our immigrants? He classifies all men as white men and foreigners. The foreigners he thinks of as the men who dig the sewers and get into trouble at the police court. They are all supposed to dress in outlandish garb, and speak a barbarian tongue, and smell abominably."

Woodsworth called on Canadians to stop using the word "foreigner" and welcome the new Canadians. Strangers Within Our Gates sold ten thousand copies and brought Woodsworth national recognition.

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