Remembering the founding of Peace Brigades International in 1981

Published by Brent Patterson on

Daniel N. Clark tells the story of the founding of Peace Brigades International on Grindstone Island which is situated about 100 kilometres southwest of Ottawa, Canada on unceded Algonquin, Anishinabek territory.

Ironically, the lodge on Big Rideau Lake where that meeting took place had been built as a summer home for Admiral Sir Charles Edmund Kingsmill, who had played a prominent role in founding the Royal Canadian Navy. It was his daughter, Diana, who made the home available after his passing to the Quakers as a retreat for peace studies.

In this overview, Clark notes that the eleven people gathered at that lodge in 1981 included Hans Sinn (“a Canadian nonviolence trainer and social defence advocate”), Gene Keyes (“a Canadian scholar and writer”), Murray Thomson (“of Project Ploughshares in Canada”) and Henry Wiseman (“a Canadian serving as director of Peacekeeping Programs at the International Peace Academy in New York”).

He then writes, “The consultation began on the evening of Monday, August 31 with introductions of the participants.  The first session, chaired by Hans Sinn, began with a reading from Gandhi by Ray Magee [of Peaceworkers from California].”

“The deployment discussion [on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 1] included my suggestion for a peace brigade in Central America, particularly in Guatemala where the government had been wiping out remote villages and Mexico was rebuffing refugees.”

“Next came the naming process [it’s not clear if that was on Wednesday, September 2 or Thursday, September 3]. During a coffee break, ‘Peace Brigades International’ was first voiced by Narayan [Desai from India], seized on by Charlie [Walker from the United States], and on reconvening accepted by everyone.”

Clark highlights, “On the final day at Grindstone, we adopted the Founding Declaration of Peace Brigades International, which read, ‘We have decided to establish an organization which will form and support international peace brigades.’”

This website notes that “2 copies of the founding statement, September 4, 1981” are kept in Box 52 at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Of the four PBI founders who were based in Canada, Thomson died in Ottawa on May 2 of this year at 96 years of age; Wiseman passed away in Guelph, Ontario in January 2017 at 93 years of age; Sinn continues to be a Perth, Ontario-based peace activist at 90 years of age; and Keyes, who is now 77 years of age, lives in Berwick, Nova Scotia.

Notably, Clark also recalls in his overview, “In Canada, Hans Sinn had sent out a mailing [in 1982] funded by Murray Thomson’s Operation Ploughshares to over 1000 people, including Canadian organizations and peace churches, asking for volunteers and money. To assist in the effort, Hans had also been working on the formation of PBI-Canada, which was to become PBI’s first country group.”

An Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations document notes that “Peace Brigades International, Canada” was incorporated on January 31, 1984.

A gathering to celebrate the life of Murray Thomson, which will undoubtedly include a remembrance of his role in founding Peace Brigades International, is scheduled to take place on Wednesday October 23, from 1 pm to 4 pm, at the First Unitarian Church in Ottawa.

For more on the ongoing work of Peace Brigades International, its annual reviews from 1990 to present can be found here.

Categories: News Updates


Hans Sinn · August 13, 2019 at 3:20 pm

Thank you Brent. It is great to see the PBI founding recalled. It will make it easier to plan our next steps.

    Louise Casselman · August 15, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing this history. So important to remember the legacy of these 4 Canadians and many others from around the world who contributed to this rich history.

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