When people look at the Klu Klux Klan, its natural to see it as an organization of the past, despite still existing, most present in the American South.
Interestingly enough, Canada had its own chapter of the KKK and for a time, at least in Saskatchewan, it was a political force to be reckoned with.
In the United States, the KKK had existed from the end of the American Civil War until 1872 when the Klu Klux Klan Act resulted in the termination of the organization.
Things were quiet on the KKK front until a film called The Birth Of A Nation was released by D.W. Griffith in 1915. The film, which is a masterpiece of filmmaking due to the many innovations it created, is also a pile of racist propaganda that used historical revisionism to portray the KKK as heroes against what the film portrayed as the black menace.
The day after Thanksgiving in 1915, William Joseph Simmons, inspired by the film, recruited 15 of his friends to establish the second Klu Klux Klan on Stone Mountain in Georgia.
A decade later in 1925, the Klu Klux Klan would arrive in Canada after C. Lewis Fowler of New York City, John Hawkins of Virginia and Richard Cowan of Toronto signed an agreement to establish the Klu Klux Klan of Canada.
Chapters began to spring up throughout Canada but this version of the Klu Klux Klan was very different from that seen in the United States. The organization made efforts to distinguish itself from the American organization. John Hawkins stated in a rally in London, Ontario that the Canadian Klu Klux Klan was not lawless and that it abided by the laws of the nation but that it would work to change laws that it did not support.
The Klan robes used in Canada also featured a maple leaf on them, to distinguish from the Americans.
The organization in Canada also had a more narrow focus than the United States organization, with its main focus to preserve the Britishness of Canada with respect to ethnicity. Rather than focus on blacks, the organization railed against the immigration of what it was as Eastern Europeans that were flooding into Canada at the time.
That is not to say that this Canadian organization wasn’t violent. Property damage was a common tactic of the KKK in Canada, which included the razing of Saint-Boniface College in Winnipeg, which resulted in 10 deaths, the total destruction of the building and the loss of its library and all the records inside. In 1926, dynamite was detonated at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Barrie, Ontario. The man who placed the dynamite in the furnace room was caught and said he was ordered to conduct the terrorism by the KKK. From this point on, with religious leaders and politicians speaking out against the Klan, membership began to decline.
It was at this time that things began to move farther west.
The Klu Klux Klan of Kanada, was another group in the country and they spelled Canada with a K. Their principles were white supremacy that required members to pledge that they were white, gentile and Protestant. The organizers of what I will call a side chapter pledged allegiance to Canada and the Union Jack and did not allows Jewish people to be members. Roman Catholics could not be members either as their first allegiance was to the Pope.
So, through the years the KKK would move across to the west and eventually reach Saskatchewan. In 1926, KKK organizers Hugh Emmons and Lewis Scott from Indiana established a chapter in Saskatchewan. They then spent most of 1927 travelling around establishing branches in the province, charging $13 per individual. They also spread their propaganda and burned crosses in the province. They then took all the money they raised and left the province with it. The amount totalled $100,000, or $1.4 million in today’s funds. If we take how much each person paid, based on how much was stolen, it means roughly 7,600 people signed up in that first initial run.
Enter in John James Maloney, who worked with John Hawkins to revive the organization in the province. Under the leadership of Maloney, the organization raised over $50,000 in membership fees and they claimed to have 70,000 members but it was probably more like 25,000 – 40,000. One of the reasons for this success is believed to be because of opposition to the Liberal provincial government and its efforts to bring in new immigration to the province. Many of the supporters of the KKK in Saskatchewan were Conservative Party of Saskatchewan supporters who were unhappy with the Liberals and their support of Catholics.
The Klan in Saskatchewan was anti-Catholic and anti-French. They campaigned against the separate school system using the slogan of “one nation, one flag, one language, one school”. They opposed crucifixes on public school walls, nuns teaching and the teaching of French. They also blamed Saskatchewan’s issues on Quebec.
At the Klan’s first rally in Saskatchewan in Moose Jaw, 7,000 people attended. In Melfort, a crowd of 5,000 to 10,000 gathered and sang “The Maple Leaf Forever” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” as two 20-foot crosses burned.
In Indian Head, the Klu Klux Klan chapter was established in 1928 and it held its meetings every first and third Wednesday of each month. That same year, the Ladies of the Benevolent Order of KKK was also established and held their first drive and dance at the Orange Hall. As the Indian Head News reported on Nov. 1, 1928, “The affair, patriotically decorated and illuminated by the uplifted fiery cross under which the Doxology was sung, was attended by many citizens of the town and district.”
It should be pointed out that not everyone who attended these rallies were in agreement with the KKK, many were there because they were paid to, or lied to about what it was.
John Stewart of Nipawin was standing on a street corner when he was approached by a man who said he would see that John got a job. He then gave him five dollars to attend a meeting in Moose Jaw that evening. Stewart did and, in his son’s words, “it didn’t take long to realize this was a meeting of the Klu Klux Klan. He said he got out of there as fast as he could and never stopped running until he reached Weyburn.”
On Jan. 10, 1929, Reverend S.P. Rondeau spoke at a Klan meeting at Regent Hall in Saskatoon, stating that Quebec was trying to turn Saskatchewan into a second French-speaking province.
The Klan would play a major role in the 1929 Saskatchewan General Election, which would result in the Liberals under James Garfield Gardiner, the fourth premier of Saskatchewan, falling to the Conservatives who created a coalition government after a Vote of Non Confidence. The Conservatives were led by James Thomas Milton Anderson, who was accused of working closely with the Klu Klux Klan. Pat Emmons, who was a defector from the Klan and had been a senior member, stated that Anderson met often with Klan officials and the Liberal Party accused the Conservatives of being a front fro the Klan. Anderson denied the allegations but it should be pointed out that when he came to power, he took the Minister of Education portfolio along with the premiership and proposed amendments to the Schools Act to ban teaching French in schools, ban religious displays in schools including the Catholic Separate School System. The new government also terminated recognition of teaching certificates granted by Quebec, which halted the recruitment of teachers from Quebec. The Klan also went to several of the election rallies for James Garfield and burned crosses. The provincial treasurer of the Klan in Saskatchewan was also Walter Davy Cowan, who would go on to become a Conservative Member of Parliament for Long Lake from 1930 to 1935.
One person accused of being a supporter of the Klan was Young Saskatchewan Conservative member John Diefenbaker, future Prime Minister of Canada. Considering he was seen as progressive and would give the Indigenous the right to vote, its highly unlikely he was a member of the Klan.
One man, who was not identified but joined the Klan out of curiosity in Weyburn, stated that, in his words, “These were a bunch of sharpies who figured Saskatchewan would be a good place to make a few fast bucks.”
Like in other places, the Klan wasn’t above some violence and intimidation to get their message across. The Roman Catholic shrine at Lebret, Saskatchewan was destroyed by fire and an attempt was made to burn down the Legislature in Regina. While there was no proof it was the Klan, both actions were attributed to them.
Primarily, the Klan found its most success in southern Saskatchewan, but chapters were found across the province in every major community.
Firmly entrenched in Saskatchewan now, Klan supporters like T.J. Hind, the Reverend of the First Baptist Church in Moose Jaw stated that the Klan was there for the protection of the physical purity of current and future generations. The Klan also began to put out false information including stating that 8,000 immigrants had come to Regina, but only seven of those immigrants were Protestants. They also wanted to implement a 100 per cent Canadian policy to deter the declining influence of Protestant Canadians because of immigration from Eastern Europe.
Hawkins would say at one meeting in Regina on Feb. 28, 1928 that “The Jew is granted greater privileges in Canada than in any other country in the world.”
He would also add, “Prior to 1920, Canada was in every sense of the word a British dominion. Today, less than 47 per cent of the people living in Canada are of British descent. The balance of power has passed out your hands completely.
It should be noted that in a 1921 census, Saskatchewan had only 147,000 Catholics out of a population of 758,000, so not exactly taking over.
In another case in October of 1927, at a Klan meeting at Regina City Hall, Maloney stated that he had received a letter from the President of Mexico in which it was stated that Mexico had an illiteracy rate of 80 per cent because of the control of the Catholic Church over the education system over the past 400 years.
I don’t want to make it seem as though Saskatchewan was totally on board with the KKK. In fact, there was a great deal of vocal opposition to the organization. In Biggar, the Biggar United Church would suffer a schism because of the KKK. From 1927 to 1929, Reverend Ramns was leading the congregation but he was also a follower of the KKK. This brought about a division that led the Presbyterians to form their own congregation at a new church, rather than be part of this church anymore.
In Keeler, Duncan Keeler, whose family helped found the community, relates about a time the Klu Klux Klan came to the community. In his story, someone else opposed the KKK when many did not.
“We, as kids, were not allowed in. The windows were covered with tarpaper but we could peek in and hear a lot. They talked a long time, then asked that anyone who did not agree with what they said stand up. We had a little United Church minister by the name of McVicar. He did not talk very loud but was the only one to stand up and he said in no uncertain terms that he did not agree with anything they said. He was asked to leave, so picked up his coat and left from the front of the hall where he had been sitting. I always had very kind thoughts about this man.”
In Broderick, Will Treleaven said “I remember the fear when we would see the fiery crosses burning in the night, one even burned on the western outskirts of Broderick.”
In Ceylon, the KKK came to the community in 1929 looking to hold a rally but the government of the community refused to allow the organization to use any of their lodges.
The high times for the organization would not last though. With The Great Depression, people were more concerned with finding enough to eat and making money to feed their families and house them. Suddenly, the worries of the Klan faded away quickly. Within a few years, the organization began to decline in Saskatchewan.
Looking at today, we can see several parallels between what you may see shared on Facebook and Twitter and the message of the Klan in the 1920s. Bill Waiser elaborates.
Information comes from Wikipedia, The Canadian Encyclopedia, the Winnipeg Free Press, the Regina Leader-Post, Early History Of Saskatchewan Churches, Builders of A Great Land, Bridging The Years, Milestones and Memories, Blacks In Deep Snow, the History of Indian Head and District