Walking with the soldiers of solace

Visitors to the opening of Called to Serve admire some of the many vintage uniforms on display. Photo: Michael Hudson
Visitors to the opening of Called to Serve admire some of the many vintage uniforms on display. Photo: Michael Hudson
Published November 13, 2014

To mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, Canada’s first-ever exhibition on military chaplains is under way at Toronto’s Cathedral Church of St. James. “While chaplaincy-focused museums exist in England and the United States, there had never before been an exhibit on chaplains in this country-not even at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa,” said Nancy Mallett, archivist at St. James and exhibit chair.

That lack has been remedied in Called to Serve: an exhibit honouring Canada’s military chaplains of all faiths, which is open to the public until Nov. 16. Launched on Nov. 6 with a visit from Brig.-Gen. the Rev John Fletcher, chaplain general to the Canadian Forces, the sweeping display is set up in the aisles of the historic cathedral with its memorial plaques dating back to the American Revolution, the Battle of York and the Crimean War.

The display looks at war through the compassionate eyes of the chaplains, who though non-combatants, accompanied their country’s troops to the front. “Unarmed with conventional weapons, they took the love of God into the heart of unbelievable evil,” noted the Very Rev. Douglas Stoute, dean of Toronto and cathedral rector, in his preface to the exhibit.

Many chaplains were awarded high military honours for their courage and service: in World War II, for example, Padre John Foote of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry received Britain’s Victoria Cross.

Items date as far back as 1767 in the form of a letter from Guy Carleton, acting governor of Quebec, ordering payment to the garrison chaplain, the Rev. Dr. John Brooke. They range from the small and intimate, such as excerpts from chaplains’ letters and diaries and a bullet-pierced Gospel According to St. Luke, to the large and magnificent, such as a stunning cope and mitre presented to Bishop Charles Henry Brent by the people of France for his services during World War I.

A stole recovered from the field after the bloody Battle of the Somme in 1916 bears witness to the ministry of presence of the priest who was killed there and others like him.

One poignant highlight of Called to Serve is the WWI struggle of Canada’s black citizens to enter the military. This effort was led by the Rev. William White, a Baptist minister from Halifax who became the first black chaplain and officer in the Canadian and British Expeditionary Force and whose diary is on display.

The exhibit also salutes the efforts of soldiers’ compatriots at home. It features a picturesque array of paper tags used in WWI to raise money at home for the troops. In addition, there are several modern hooked rugs honouring those who served, notably In Flanders and Other Fields, 1939-1945, by Ann VanDelman, which honours the many Jewish soldiers who served during WWII.

The exhibit also traces the evolution of military chaplaincy from its roots in ancient times to the current Royal Canadian Chaplain Service, a vibrant, multi-faith ministry for spiritual care with 350 enrolled clergy. These include chaplains from eight different Christian denominations, as well as three from the Muslim faith and two from the Jewish faith.

The Unknown Soldier, a special multi-media concert by composer Andrew Ager, will take place on Friday, Nov. 14 at 7:00 p.m. For more information, call 416-364-7865, ext. 233.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

Related Posts

Skip to content