Pastor, Editor, Labour Advocate, Legislator & Chiropractor
By George Siamandas
Ivens had been born in the town of Barford in Warwickshire England in 1878 where his father had been a landscape gardener. In 1896 at age 18 Bill Ivens immigrated to Winnipeg where he found work as a labourer. He went to Wesley College (University of Winnipeg) and later attended the University of Manitoba where he earned a Master of Arts degree in 1909.
He was influenced by Salem Bland an advocate of the Social Gospel at meetings in Mobius’s Reading Room on Main St. The Social Gospel taught that human welfare and social justice are moral imperatives and that religion should shift from inner spirituality to public service. This meant involvement and support for issues like temperance, economic reform, fair wages, and pacifism. It was the pacifism issue during WW1 that got Ivens into hot water. And ironically both of his brothers were fighting in the Great War.
Ivens had already begun to be involved in the labour movement and became attracted to the ideals of the labour Church and in July 1918 formed the Labour temple Church. Many thought it was not a church at all. After all it did not preach any creed and seemed more political than it was religious.
Ivens preached to his audiences about inevitable revolution, which sounded at odds with his pacifism. He believed in the destruction of the profit system. In the year of labour unrest preceding the General Strike, he became editor of the Strike Bulletin. Soon the crowds became too large and shut out of several Winnipeg theatres; Ivens took his meetings to Victoria Park where 10,000 gathered to hear. By this time the Methodist Church from which he had obtained a leave of absence voted to permanently defrock him as a Methodist minister.
Ivens was promptly arrested and tried for seditious conspiracy. Like the others, he provided his own defence but was found guilty. After doing his time in a prison farm, Ivens went on a speaking tour in eastern Canada where he was not well received. The Free Press called him: Chief Orator of the Strikers” while the Telegram referred to him as “Ivan the Terrible.” Upon release he took his seat in the Manitoba legislature as a member of the Independent Labour party where he would sit for the next 15 years.
But by 1925 the Labour Church came to an end. Never having a spiritual component it had attracted very secular people who had see the enterprise as a kind of self-help group.
As his MLA salary was only $1,500 annually, Ivens needed a source of financial support. He became a chiropractor and things went well. He bought a cottage at Clear Lake, which he proceeded to call Ukanrest, and rented it out by the week or month. Ivens continued to write on labour issues but found the new CCF and other left organisations not as welcoming of his work. He tried to win a seat in Rainy River Ontario and also tried to set up a chiropractic hospital in the area.
In his later years like many other labour leaders Ivens retired in California. He died at age 80 in 1958. His son Milton became a doctor and moved to the US.