And frightened they had every right to be. Enough Catholic
buildings had been destroyed by fire in southern Alberta for
insurance companies to consider refusing policies for them.
Anti-catholic sentiment, already endemic on the Prairies, had
risen to a fever pitch during negotiations between Alberta,
Saskatchewan, and Manitoba on one side and the Liberal federal
government of William Lyon Mackenzie King on the other over
transfer of control of mineral rights to the provinces, a power
already enjoyed by other provincial governments. Albertans
believed that Ottawa was using mineral rights as a lever to impose
a separate, but publicly funded, Catholic school system on the
Prairies. Premier John Brownlee and his Saskatchewan and Manitoba
colleagues eventually accepted Ottawa's terms-and ushered in a
legacy of Western alienation and anti-Liberal Party attitudes that
persists in Alberta to this day.
The southern-Alberta strain of KKK extremism made its way to
Calgary and environs from Vancouver, where it had an anti-Chinese,
-Japanese, -Asian tone. In the absence of significant numbers of
those visible minorities in southern Alberta, organizers appealed
to the anti-Catholic, anti-French, anti-immigrant feelings of the
day with so much success that the fledgling KKK cadre soon held
around $10, 000 in membership dues, collected $10 at a time from
some of Calgary's "prominent" (Calgary Albertan,
December 6, 1924), if anonymous citizens. Able to resist
everything but temptation, the KKK organizers rode off into the
sunset, taking the money and leaving a surprisingly untarnished
image of the KKK behind them (Calgary Herald, October 5, 1927).
Alberta's sticky-fingered Klansmen were pikers compared to their
Saskatchewan counterparts, who allegedly made off with $100, 000,
dampening anti-Catholic enthusiasms long enough for homegrown
organizers to set up their
own "independent" Klan-just in time to help a
sympathetic and grateful Conservative Party defeat the Liberal
government of the day. Flushed with success from the Klan's
activities in Saskatchewan, two anti-Catholic agitators, R.C.
Snelgrove and J.J. Maloney came into Alberta out of the East,
Snelgrove as an itinerant recruiter and speaker for the Orange
Order, Maloney invited to speak at Orangemen's Day festivities in
Vermillion by the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge of Alberta on
July 12, 1929. Both Maloney and Snelgrove soon cut a wide swath
through central Alberta, attacking Catholics and
"non-preferred" immigrants from Eastern Europe
(contrasted with preferred immigrants from the British Isles,
Ontario, and the U.S.).
Maloney generally stayed close to Edmonton, which he denounced as
"the heart of popishness" in Alberta, in desperate need
of the liberating benefits of anti-Catholic bigotry. He attracted
large, enthusiastic audiences and seemed poised to establish a
political power base. But he overreached himself. A lapsed
Catholic rumoured to have been driven out of the Church in
disgrace, Maloney carried his anti-Catholic rhetoric to extremes.
His opposition to the church seemed more and more like personal
vengeance that political vision, says Baergen, and many in his
audiences were unwilling to join his apparent vendetta.