people deserve to be treated with kindness and compassion, including
those with a physical or mental illness. The work of conscientious
objectors in hospitals during the Second World War helped to change
the way society treated these people.
Manitoba, nearly one hundred conscientious objectors served in hospitals
as part of their alternative service, most of them in mental health
facilities. This work allowed COs to promote health and peace instead
of war and to take the place of hospital workers in the military.
Most importantly, though, the COs provided loving and caring service
and changed the way hospitals treated patients after the war.
illness is harder to understand and treat than a physical injury.
In the past, shock treatments with electricity, drugs, and cold
water were used on people with mental illness. For the COs who served
in mental hospitals during the Second World War, the experience
opened their eyes to a world they could never
J. Brandt remembers what it was like the first time he worked in
the Brandon Mental Hospital: “Although it was daytime, the ward
was only dimly lit. The odour was strong, but not that of a hospital.
There was a pungent smell of detergent combined with body odours.
I thought it was most unpleasant.”
[ASM, 122-132] William J. Kehler,
who worked at the Manitoba School for Mentally Defective Persons
in Portage la Prairie, has similar memories: “My first impression
of the work was that of a strange and somewhat repulsive
Henry H. Funk first walked up to the Manitoba School for Mentally
Defective Persons, patients greeted him with shouts and jeers.“
At the moment,” he later wrote, “I was plain scared. Society had
a lot of prejudiced notions about the mentally ill and I shared
those notions. They sounded strange and acted strange and looked
strange and they were part of my very strange future.” This feeling
didn't last. “Later,” Funk continues, “I would learn to know some
of them personally and to like them as individuals and as persons.”
Enns, who served with Funk, agrees: “As time went by, I got to know
the patients by name and as individuals, with their own unique personalities.
The experience of caring for the patients and seeing their response
was very rewarding.” [ASM, 107-110] Jake Reimer appreciated
the opportunity be a Christian witness. “In the mental hospital
the work was interesting and challenging. Here we did not have to
talk about our Christianity, but rather live it, and people respond
far quicker to action than words.” [MHC, 1015-43]
the war ended, the COs who served in the mental hospitals moved
on to other jobs, but the need for improved mental health services
remained. Some of the COs had seen things which disturbed them and
which they knew should be improved. Gradually, other Mennonites
became interested as well. In 1957, the Manitoba Mennonite churches,
together with the Province of Manitoba, began planning a new mental
health hospital. This facility, called Eden Mental Health Centre
and located in Winkler, Manitoba, provided a wide-range of community
mental health services. The official opening and dedication ceremonies
were held on June 3, 1967.
ten years passed between the end of the war and the initial planning
for Eden Mental Health Centre, conscientious objectors played a
large role in its formation. The connection in the United States
was more immediate. There, more than 1,500 Mennonites served in
mental hospitals. This small but vocal group helped create the Mennonite
Mental Health Services (MMHS) branch of the Mennonite Central Committee
(MCC) in 1947. The MMHS went on to found a number of mental health
institutions in the United States. It also helped in the creation
of Eden Mental Health Centre.
more about the history of Eden Mental Health
motto of the Eden Mental Health Centre is “Let us do good to all
people.” This reflects the influence of the alternative service
years in mental hospitals and the desire of Mennonites to be good
Eden Mental Health Centre has expanded into Eden Health Care Services.
It is still a church-based organization, and, in conjunction with
the Regional Health Authority-Central Manitoba, provides a much-needed
service throughout southern Manitoba . It treats people with all
sorts of mental illness, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The options for clients include group therapy, individual counselling,
and psychiatric assessments. Eden also provides training so that
disadvantaged people can find a job.
these ways, the Eden Mental Health Centre continues the work of
CO hospital workers during the Second World War.