History of the Salvation Army in Canada
The Salvation Army began its work in Canada in 1882, just fifteen years after Confederation, and quickly began giving hope to those in need in this country and around the world.
The first open-air ‘meetings’, or worship services, were held in Toronto in January, 1882. These were led by British immigrants who had known the Army in their homeland. Official Salvation Army operations began in July of that year when Major Thomas Moore arrived from the U.S. headquarters to take charge. By then there were eleven ‘corps’ or church congregations in Ontario, and a year later Canada was declared an independent ‘Territory’, responsible for its own governance within the worldwide organization.
From the beginning, the Army in Canada adopted founder William Booth’s philosophy that there is little point preaching ‘salvation’ to hungry people. And so the concept of ‘soup and salvation’ took hold, later to be developed into the comprehensive social service programs The Salvation Army operates today, many of them in partnership with government.
But when the Army came to Canada, there was much opposition to its methods from civic politicians and other entrenched interests in the early days, and Salvationists were often beaten and jailed for their activities in the streets of Canada’s cities and towns. Despite this, there was eventual acceptance of the movement as it demonstrated the social benefits that accrued from its activities. The men’s social work began in 1890 with a Prison Gate Home in Toronto. The first Maternity home was opened in Saint John, N.B. in 1898. In 1901 The Salvation Army recommended to the federal government that a prisoner probation system be adopted, leading to Canada’s first parole program. In 1908 salvage work (now called recycling) began in Toronto, leading to the well-known Thrift Stores.
Innovation in social services continued even as the organization matured: the first seniors’ residence, or Eventide Home, was opened in Edmonton in 1926, and Grace Hospitals were opened in major cities across the country, as were homes for unmarried mothers.
The development of The Salvation Army and the Canadian nation paralleled each other with the influx of ‘new Canadians’ in the post-war years. As the ethnic and cultural makeup of the country changed, so did the demographics of the Army. The assumption that the Army’s congregations would continue to be almost exclusively white and English-speaking gradually gave way to reflect the fact that Canada, particularly in its large cities, is one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world. Canadian
Salvationists now formally worship in 11 languages and provide services in many others. In the post-war years further social service innovations included an anti-suicide bureau and victim witness assistance programs, the latter eventually being absorbed by the criminal justice system.
The Salvation Army is now the largest non-governmental direct provider of social services in the country. It strives to give hope and support to vulnerable people today and everyday in 400 communities across Canada and more than 120 countries around the world. The Salvation Army offers practical assistance for children and families, often tending to the basic necessities of life, provides shelter for homeless people and rehabilitation for people who have lost control of their lives to an addiction.
Today in Canada The Salvation Army has 877 active officers (clergy), more than 18,000 soldiers (church members) and close to 44,000 adherents; that is, people who claim the Army as their church home, but who are not formal members. There are 311 corps (churches) and more than 330 social-service institutions of various kinds. As well as the many thousands of volunteers, more than 10,000 people are employed by The Salvation Army in the Canada and Bermuda Territory.