Religious Society of Friends

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is a faith which began in Britain in the mid-17th century. Friends have a strong spiritual belief that God dwells within everyone, and strong social beliefs in peace, social justice and respect for creation.

The first Quakers in Saskatchewan were members of a conservative strand of Friends, (Halcyonia Meeting), who settled in the Borden area in the early 1900s, where their descendents continue to live and worship as a non-affiliated Quaker meeting. Later, a group of more liberal Quakers (Swarthmore Meeting) settled in the Unity area, but by the mid-20th century they had merged with the United Church. By the 1960s there were a number of liberal Friends in Saskatchewan, living mostly in Regina and Saskatoon. In 1966, these Quakers helped found Prairie Monthly Meeting, which affiliated with the national Quaker body, Canadian Yearly Meeting.

In the following decades, Prairie Monthly Meeting was eldered by such Friends as the late Mary Hinde and the late Martin Cohnstaedt, both of whom combined a deep spirituality with social activism. During the Vietnam War, Saskatchewan Friends assisted American draft-resisters in entering and remaining in Canada. Since the 1970s, several Friends in the province have been active in opposing uranium mining, and in 1995 Prairie Monthly Meeting endorsed the 1994 Christian leaders’ statement opposing the nuclear industry in Saskatchewan—making the Quakers an endorsing denomination of the Inter-Church Uranium Committee, an inter-church group which opposes uranium mining on both peace and environmental grounds.

Friends have worked on global development issues through the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation, and on Aboriginal rights issues through the Canadian Friends Service Committee. Others have expressed their spirituality in such areas as medicine, professional writing, the humanities and social sciences, and in work involving renewable energy systems. In the 1990s, Prairie Monthly Meeting helped initiate an Alternatives to Violence Program in Saskatchewan, which helps people in prisons and in the wider community to learn non-violent ways of dealing with anger and personal pain.

After the events of September 11, 2001, Saskatchewan Friends joined in the work of local and national peace organizations, bearing witness—in a time of war, fear and oppression—to a vision of peace, love, hope and justice for all.

David Greenfield