The first Canadian Knights of Columbus council — Montreal Council 284 — was founded only 30 years after that country became an independent nation. Since then, Canadian Knights have proudly adhered to the principles of charity and patriotism, as exhibited by their service during World War II.
Canada entered the war following Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939 — more than two years before the U.S. declared war on the Axis Powers. Nearly 1.1 million Canadians served on the frontlines in Europe, Northern Africa and the North Atlantic, as well as in the Pacific, from the war’s start to its end in 1945. Meanwhile, thousands of Canadian Knights volunteered to serve their country in defense of freedom.
This wasn’t the first great worldwide crisis through which Knights and the Order persevered. In October 1939, the Supreme Council approved the construction and mobilization of “Knights of Columbus Canadian Army Huts,” similar to the huts hosted by the Knights during World War I.
The K of C Huts during the First World War were praised for their service by military leaders, including General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). He said that “of all the organizations that took part in the winning of the war, with the exception of the military itself, there was none so efficiently and ably administered as the Knights of Columbus.” The huts became known for their slogan “Everybody Welcome, Everything Free” because of their service to soldiers regardless of race or religion.
This same mentality — even the same slogan — was present as huts were built in Canadian cities and across the globe, including in England, Iceland, Italy, Hong Kong and the Middle East. The huts tended to the physical and spiritual welfare of the servicemen, offering not only entertainment and recreation — such as a “toboggan party” in Brandon, Manitoba — but also religious services.
The K of C huts were not quaint dwellings, but large-scale facilities with the ability of serving meals to thousands at a time as well as providing cigarettes, magazines and live shows, like in St. John’s Newfoundland and Sydney Fortress Area, Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, in places like Aldershot, weekly attendance at the K of C chapel was well over 1,000. In 1941 alone, more than one million men in the armed forces were served in huts and hostels in Nova Scotia.
Then-Supreme Knight Francis Matthews — who also served as chairman of the National Catholic Community Service (NCCS) and as one of three vice presidents of the United States Organization (USO) — toured Canadian K. of C. Army Huts in 1943 and was astonished by their work. “They are really a part of the auxiliary service of the Canadian Army,” Supreme Knight Matthews wrote in Columbia (April, 1943). “Everybody says that the work of the Knights of Columbus is indispensable to the Canadian forces.”
The K of C Huts were so integral to the Allied war effort that one hut in St. John’s, Newfoundland, was the target in an alleged-sabotage attack by the Nazis.
Canada became an industrial giant at the outbreak of the war, with 1 in every 14 Canadians —Knights included — engaged in war production. They supplied the Allied forces with munitions and raw materials, as well as tanks, airplanes and other vehicles. Knights councils also organized blood drives. One of these, ─ Council 1942 in Fredericton, New Brunswick ─ was the first local council to aid the Red Cross in its campaign for 100,000 blood donations for soldiers and air raid victims.
Throughout the war, the K. of C. Canadian Army Huts distributed more than 366,101 rosaries, 4,000 missals and 713,415 prayer books to servicemen.
As Supreme Knight Matthews said during the 1942 Supreme Convention, “I extend the appreciation and gratitude of us all for the great religious and patriotic contribution which, to the lasting credit of our society, they are making in behalf of their countrymen in the armed forces of Canada.”
Share your story of how your council is helping strengthen people’s faith and offering support during this time. Email email@example.com.
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. To access Knightline’s archives, click here.
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