James Shaver "J.S." Woodsworth
James Shaver Woodsworth was born in Ontario in 1874. His early life was strongly influenced by the activities of his father, a Methodist minister and Superintendent of Methodist Missions for all of Western Canada. It was not surprising, therefore, that he elected to follow the same course as his father and become a minister. During his theological training, Woodsworth did missionary work in the slums of Winnipeg and Toronto, an experience that heightened his awareness of the injustice and inequality in Canadian society.
Woodsworth never readily accepted the institutional church, disappointed in the church's lack of commitment to social justice. As he developed a more radical theology of the Social Gospel he moved from pastoral charge ministry to front line social ministry with the poor as superintendent of the All Peoples Mission on Stella Avenue in Winnipeg's North End.
At the Mission, Woodsworth was confronted by some of the worst injustices of Winnipeg's emerging industrial society. He became aware of the desperate poverty faced by many working class immigrants, and he expressed this with passion in several books including Strangers Within Our Gates (1909) and My Neighbour (1911). These works displayed a keen sense of the suffering created by the failure to provide workers with a living wage and the need to create a more compassionate and egalitarian society. Frustrated by what he perceived to be the inadequacy of the Methodist church's position on social issues, he left it altogether in 1918.
"Religion is for me not so much a personal reflection between 'me' and 'God' as rather the identifying of myself with or perhaps the losing of myself in some larger whole. ... The very heart of the teaching of Jesus was the setting up of the Kingdom of God on earth. The vision splendid has sent forth an increasing group to attempt the task of 'Christianizing the Social Order'. Some of us whose study of history and economics and social conditions has driven us to the socialist position find it easy to associate the Ideal Kingdom of Jesus with the co-operative commonwealth of socialism." (From the Toronto Star, June 1926)
Woodsworth's writings attracted the attention of social reformers across the country, and in 1913 he left Winnipeg to become Secretary of the Canadian Welfare League for all of the western provinces. This appointment came to an end in 1917, when the federal government abolished the League, largely to silence Woodsworth's outspoken opposition to Canada's involvement in the First World War, and in particular his opposition to the very sensitive issue of conscription.
After several years working in Vancouver as a longshoreman, Woodsworth changed careers again and began to tour as a speaker and advocate for working people. He was on one such lecture tour in the summer 1919 when, at the invitation of William Ivens, he became involved in the Winnipeg General Strike. When Ivens, editor of the Strike Bulletin of the Western Labour News, was arrested, Woodsworth stepped in as editor. Woodsworth too was arrested, but in the end, the charges were never prosecuted.
The events of 1919 firmly established Woodsworth as a powerful advocate for working people, and in the years that followed, he became increasingly committed to creating a fairer society, and became a confirmed socialist. In 1921, he was elected as a Labour Member of Parliament for Winnipeg North Centre, a seat which he held until his death in 1942. As a member of parliament, he was a tireless advocate for farmers, labourers and immigrants, pressing for a more co-operative and more humane society. In 1932, this commitment found expression in the creation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a political party that was the precursor to the modern NDP.
In 1987, the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation's numbers were strengthened through a merger with the Ontario Woodsworth Memorial Foundation.
Grace Before Meat
"We are thankful for these and all the good things of life. We recognize that they are a part of our common heritage and come to us through the efforts of our brothers and sisters the world over. What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all. To this end, may we take our share in the world's work and the world's struggles."
- J.S. Woodsworth