Christian Service Brigade | Canada has been around since 1943.
Brigade has a remarkable past. Here’s our history.
Christian Service Brigade | Canada We’ve been “Building Godly Men of Today and Tomorrow” since 1943.
“What I really remember about CSB is not what we did or learned. I remember those men pouring their lives into me, living their lives in front of me, challenging and training me to live as a man of God. That’s the key: relationships.”
One of the more remarkable chapters in the history of Brigade is its growth and development in Canada. From its earliest beginnings in 1942 to its present status as. a nationwide boys’ work organization, CSB Canada has represented a unique fulfillment of the original vision of Christian Service Brigade. A single chapter in this volume can hardly do justice to all the Canadian men who participated in ministries to boys but at least the stories of a few can be told. As in every other region, certain men cast long shadows. Their participation in Brigade made the difference and numerous others joined in the movement because of these men.
The first man to contact the tiny Christian Service Brigade organization in Chicago was George W. Smith, a businessman from Niagara Falls, Ontario and an active member of a Christian Business Men’s Committee chapter. Smith met Joe Coughlin at a CBMC convention in Detroit in 1942. He had been active with the Boy Scouts and was immediately attracted to Coughlin’s emphasis on Christ-centered boys’ programming. Smith invited Coughlin to visit him in Niagara Falls that same year, which led to the formation of the first Canadian Battalion at Grace Gospel Church. Smith travelled to Cedarville, Michigan, to assist Coughlin at Camp Kaskitowa. The Smiths served as cooks at this rugged wilderness camp.
At the same time that Coughlin was developing his contact with Smith, he was also corresponding with a young accountant in Vancouver, Hedlay Nielsen, who had started his own program for boys but wanted to use the Brigade approach. Nielsen was a Norwegian immigrant converted at the age of 18. While working at Burrard Inlet Bible Camp, his life was miraculously spared when a piano that was being moved fell on top of him. Nielsen’s response was to dedicate his life to Christian boys’ work. His first boys’ group was a Sunday School class at Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Vancouver which Nielsen transformed into “The Knights and Squires of Gideon.” An article about Christian Service Brigade in the SUNDAY SCHOOL PROMOTER caught Nielsen’s attention and he wrote to Coughlin. By the fall of 1943, a Battalion program was officially organized; Nielsen even began his own publication, THE TORCH.
Nielsen and several co-workers soon expanded their operations. He began a group in a Chinese Presbyterian Church that met on Saturday afternoons. Then they rented a former dance hall for $12 a month, called it the King’s Castle, and led several boys’ clubs on different evenings. Some girls’ clubs used the facility as well. This cluster of boys’ groups continued for several years and drew the attention of the small CSB staff in Chicago. Kenneth Hansen, the general director, visited the Vancouver area to encourage and promote the Brigade movement. Eventually, Hansen invited Nielsen to work in the Wheaton office as business manager and treasurer.
Meanwhile, Coughlin continued to cultivate his contacts in the Toronto area. He met Jabez Benning, a jeweler and church leader with a genuine interest in youth work; within months, Benning had started a group at his church, Bethel Baptist. That same year, several men at Winona Gospel Church outside Hamilton, Ontario, began a Battalion program after meeting with George Smith. The key leaders were Harold Smith, who was also the Sunday School superintendent, and Tom Peake, an experienced Scout leader who was looking for a distinctly Christian boys’ program. In late 1943, Coughlin visited Smith’s Battalion and introduced the idea of junior leaders, or noncoms, to Smith. Coughlin, in fact, helped Smith select the most eligible young men. One of those boys was 13-year-old Morry Worozbyt who was so impressed by the expectations of these men that he dedicated his life to Christ.
Peake assumed the leadership of Winona Gospel’s Battalion in 1946 and became a vigorous promoter of the program in other churches. He recruited Ronald Smith and William Boettger to take over the Stockade group, the first one started in Canada. Peake even signed a contract with Baton’s Company to produce a Brigade uniform (the shirt was blue and the words “Christian Service Brigade” were sewn in red letters across the left pocket). Peake’s greatest influence, however, was on his young junior leader, Worozbyt, who decided to attend the London College of Bible and Missions in order to prepare for missionary service to boys.
Peake’s sudden death in 1958 was a great loss but his discipling work had already produced its fmit.
By 1957, Worozbyt had established a Canadian Brigade office in his home in Burlington, Ontario. His assignment from CSB general director, Joe Bubar, was to stimulate the growth of Brigade in eastern Canada. His home was also the supplies depot for Brigade materials. Within several years, the Brigade movement in Ontario had mushroomed. Worozbyt rented an office in 1960 and hired a full-time secretary, Doric Lane, a veteran missionary. He also helped Ontario Brigade leaders obtain their own permanent Brigade campsite. A camp corporation was formed in 1959 and property in the Haliburton Highlands was purchased the following year. The 200 acres on Basshaunt Lake was called Kakeka, which meant “everlasting.”
Meanwhile in western Canada, Brigade field representative Arnold Swanson was encountering many interested churches in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton. Working from his base in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Swanson visited the Prairie Provinces on a regular basis during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He established area committees in these cities to oversee the Brigade work, while he concentrated on training leaders and meeting pastors. Denominations such as the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches, the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the Mennonite Brethren were especially supportive of the Brigade program and encouraged their congregations to establish units. Men like Am Cummins, John Wilkie, Ed Maza, Dave Wilson, John Klassen and Cecil Hindmarsh were key local leaders in the three provinces. Contacts were also made with churches in British Columbia by CSB representatives, Keith Smith and Lowell Martin, who served in the Pacific Northwest.
Growth in Western Canada was so impressive in 1960s that additional field staff were needed. Don Merrett, an Ontario pastor who joined the Brigade staff in 1964 to help Worozbyt, moved to Winnipeg in 1968. By then, over 350 Canadian churches were conducting a Brigade ministry. Merrett was to be joined by veteran Brigade leader, Frank Phillips, who had developed an outstanding Battalion at Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa. Phillips and his family moved to Calgary in 1968, but Phillips became seriously ill and died that same year. Merrett then recruited additional staff for Western Canada including Jim Cunningham, George Regier and Bill Cousins. These men pioneered summer trip camps for Battalion boys, noncom conferences for junior leaders and memorable camporees in the Rocky Mountains.
It was evident to both Canadian and U.S. Brigade staff by the mid-60s that the Canadian work had developed to such a degree that incorporation and administrative autonomy was necessary. There were many reasons for this step. One of every five Brigade units was Canadian and the many experienced leaders in these Canadian groups were anxious to have more control over their work. Additional Canadian staff, like Paul Florence, gave the Canadians the ability to provide their own field service.
The Canadian office in Burlington, now under the management of Bob Clayton, a veteran Brigade leader, was staffed and equipped to handle registration and supplies for Canadian units. Finally, the practical difficulties of currency exchange and import duties on U.S. supplies encouraged the movement toward a separate Canadian operation.
Thus, in 1968, a separate Canadian board of directors was formed (first led by Ev Moller and later Frank Henkleman) and a general director chosen. Tom Swan, an Associated Gospel Church pastor with extensive Brigade experience and a member of the CSB board, assumed the leadership of the autonomous Canadian Brigade work. Swan, who had been an instructor in the Canadian Army, brought strong leadership to the new organization. He developed a basic and advanced training program (called Star Schools) for all Brigade leaders across Canada and also annual Brigade men’s conferences that emphasized a common theme. He shaped the Canadian staff members (which now included Wayne Topping, Harold Naylor, Jim Nicolle and Gordon Vair) into an effective team that worked hard to maintain contact with every Brigade unit. By the late 1970s, the Canadian Brigade family involved over 500 churches, the peak of its growth.
Clayton took over in 1981 after Swan returned to the pastorate. He brought several other men to the Brigade staff, including Wally Mills, John Miller, Bill Wong, Wayne Pederson, Brian Kuhn and his own son, Mark. One of Clayton’s major efforts was to expand the Brigade program into French-speaking Quebec. By 1982, he initiated a translation project to provide the basic boys’ achievement materials and the leaders’ manuals in the French language; in 1985, he also recruited a Quebec native, Daniel Oligny, to be the first Brigade representative in that province. Clayton also wrestled with the problems that had faced U.S. Brigade leaders earlier: decline of Brigade units, and competition from other youth organizations. By the 1980s, Brigade in Canada had become a mature organization. Though still dependent on its U.S. counterpart for program development and literature, the movement clearly had its own momentum.
In terms of Coughlin’s original vision for the Brigade movement, the Canadian organization may have achieved it even more fully than their American brothers. Their Battalions and Stockades tended to be larger in size as a rule and more concerned about implementing the total program in all its details. Uniforms, achievement progress, leadership training and loyalty to the Brigade cause were important values for numerous Canadian Brigade men. And their camping efforts were exciting outdoor events that were particularly geared to teenage boys. While the U.S. Brigade movement spread out to include younger boys, fathers and even young adult men, the Canadian branch kept its primary focus on the adolescent boy.
There are good reasons for the way Brigade took shape in Canada. The easy access to wilderness areas enjoyed by most Brigade units allowed innovative camping to be done at both local and regional levels. The All-Canada Camporee in Calgary in 1987 serves as one example of this dedication to man/boy ministry in the outdoors. As a rule, Canadian culture tends to be more reserved, formal and even traditional. In many cases, leaders ran their Brigade programs “the way it was supposed to be run.” Nor were the supporting churches as diverse as the American denominations and independent churches; few relied on professional staff but encouraged volunteer leadership, the key to Brigade success. Uniformity was far more achievable across Canada under these conditions. One cannot overlook the strong leadership of the Canadian Brigade staff. Together these factors made Brigade in Canada a cohesive national movement that reached a sizable number of boys and men.
“Christian Service Brigade had a huge impact on my life. The relationships and mentoring from Godly men were crucial in my spiritual growth. The achievement-oriented program helped me to develop a self-discipline that continues to influence me today […] The ministry / leadership tools I use today are a direct result of the skills I developed in the Brigade program.”
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