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Undercurrents of Intolerance: Swimming in KKK Waters

By Allan Sheppard

If the issues were not serious and the potential consequences not sobering to the people affected, one might be tempted to dismiss the history of the Ku Klux Klan in Alberta in the 1920s and '30s as a joke-a bad joke, certainly, but still a joke, cut mercifully short by its own irrelevance and the incompetence of its promoters. 

But the issues were serious, as they still are. The potential consequences were sobering, as they would be today. And there is no reason to assume that the undercurrent of intolerance and bigotry the KKK stirred up disappeared with it. On the contrary, there is good reason to suspect the current might still be flowing today, deep beneath apparently still waters.

The Ku Klux Klan's extremist messages fell on fertile ground in Alberta during the 1920s and '30s, ground that had been broken, ploughed, tilled and seeded by extremists in the Orange Lodges of central and southern Alberta.

Dr. William Baergen, a Commissioner on the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission since 1995, chronicles the story of the "romance" and eventual "clandestine marriage" between the Klan and Alberta's Orange Lodges. Orangemen and the Ku Klux Klan in Central Alberta, published by the central Alberta Historical Society is scheduled for release in late May 2000. A long-time resident of Stettler and a college and high school administrator and social studies teacher, Baergen began preparing his history upon retirement in 1991.

In a prepublication interview, Baergen said he is surprised that he seems to be the first person to look extensively into this dark corner of Alberta's history. The late University of Calgary historian, Howard Palmer (in Patterns of Prejudice: A History of Nativism in Alberta, 1982), journalist Julian Sher (in White Hoods, 1983), lawyer Warren Kinsella (in Web of hate: Inside Canada's Far Right, 1994), historian James H. gray (in The Roar of the Twenties), the Byfield publishing empire (in History of Alberta), and historian Tom M. Henson in an article in Alberta History ("Ku Klux Klan in Western Canada," Autumn 1977) devote chapters or short passages and anecdotes. But there has been no full-scale academic or popular research and analysis of the period. Even Baergen's study only looks at central Alberta.
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Reprinted with the permission of Allan Sheppard and Legacy (Summer 2000): 26-29.
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