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Hutterite Settlement

Hutterite settlers first began arriving in Alberta from the Dakotas in 1918. World War I had brought with it a necessary patriotism in the United States, and with it persecution of the antiwar colonists, some of whom were forcibly drafted or sent to objector camps. The Hutterites' preservation of a communal, conservative, and pacifist lifestyle meant that they sought exemption from public office or military service, and educated their children through an independent school system. The terms of a 1899 agreement between Hutterites and the Canadian government seemed to support this lifestyle, but the contract has not always gone uncontested. Popular opinion in Alberta, as elsewhere, has alternately supported or condemned Hutterites for their unique way of life.

Hutterite colony near Stand Off, Alberta, ca. 1920. Hutterites are the most radical sect of Anabaptists still in existence. They are allied with the Mennonites and Amish, who also practice adult baptism, but the Hutterite doctrine follows strictly a passage from Acts 2:44: "And all that believed were together, and had all things in common." Absolute and eternal authority comes from God, Hutterites believe, and those that would follow Him must give up the transitory nature of worldly living in order to reflect His spiritual permanence. Man's natural rebelliousness is given expression outside of the colony, which is afflicted with countless social problems and individual misery, but communal living - hierarchical, disciplined, and conservative - leads man closer to God.

The history of the Hutterites, as faithfully preserved in prayers, songs, and manuscripts, is largely one of persecution. In 1528, Moravian and Tyrolese peasants organized under Jakob Huter in order to oppose war and war taxes. But their collective way of living and religious nonconformity angered the authorities, and, in 1536, Huter was arrested and burnt at the stake. Many Hutterites found refuge with Moravian nobles throughout the rest of the sixteenth century, but, by 1620, things had turned for the worse. Many Hutterites fled to Hungary, where they were protected by Protestant nobles, but their communal existence, always under attack, was abandoned from 1683 to 1761. Around 1740, when persecution again intensified under the reign of Catholic Maria Theresa, fleeing groups of brethren made converts from Transylvania and Wallachia.

In 1770, in response to an invitation by Catherine the Great, a remnant of Hutterite peoples moved to Russia. Peace and prosperity arose in the years to come, but so did discontent. In 1818, having developed considerable skill and perseverance in agriculture, Hutterites decided to again pursue a life without private property. A revival was underway by the 1850s, and, in 1859, a group under Michael Waldner reestablished a communal lifestyle. Russification policies of the new Tsarist government again pressured Hutterite colonies into assimilation, however, and in 1874, the first Hutterite groups set sail for the United States.

Hutterites at Ewelme Colony, southern Alberta, 1961. Children on barnyard fence. The Hutterite history in Alberta, although not quite so dramatic, has not been without hardship. Their agreement with Canada was reassuring, but the moves to Alberta between 1918 and 1920 were undertaken by many colonies at a considerable loss. Five Lehrerleut and four Dariusleut colonies (named after founders Lehrer and Darius) moved into southern Alberta, either between Magrath and Cardston, or just northeast of Calgary. Land agents had assembled land in the area, but the first years of settlement were particularly difficult for the displaced settlers. The establishment of communal living patterns entailed erecting a familiar pattern of buildings, digging wells, and buying agricultural machinery and livestock.

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  • Ethnic Settlement: Hutterites, Part One - Listen to learn about the history of the Hutterites: the events that led to their eventual emigration to America.
    Read | Listen
  • Ethnic Settlement: Hutterites, Part Two - The over 25,000 Hutterites who now live in Alberta have a long history of persecution since the seventeenth century. Hear how they came to the plains of America in the late nineteenth century, and to Alberta in 1917.
    Read | Listen
  • Ethnic Settlement: Hutterites, Part Three - The Alberta government passed the Land Sales Prohibition Act in 1942, limiting the spread of Hutterite colonies. Hear how Hutterites have fared in Alberta until the present day.
    Read | Listen

We also recommend:

  • The University of Calgary's History Department's Doukhbors, Mennonites and Hutterites feature
  • NFB Films:
    • The Hutterites: The followers of Jacob Hutter live in farm communities, devoutly holding to the rules their founder laid down. Through the kindness of a Hutterite colony in Alberta, this film, in black and white, was made inside the community and shows all aspects of the Hutterites' daily life. 1964.
    • Born Hutterite: The communal Hutterite way of life is utopian. Food, shelter and clothing are guaranteed. But it is a world that limits individual choices. Born Hutterite chronicles the struggles of two individuals who found it impossible to stay in the colony. Meet Sam Hofer, a spiritually rebellious young writer who left to explore alternative sources of spiritual inspiration, and Mary Wipf, an outspoken mother of 10 who left when she could not convince the Hutterite authorities that a strong intervention was needed to save her family from her abusive, alcoholic husband. A candid look at two people struggling to create a new life and at a community struggling to hang on to its collective future. 1997.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.