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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Government of Alberta

Government of Canada


Ethnic Settlement: Hutterites, Part Two

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Alberta is home to more than 25 thousand Hutterites. They are descendents of Hutterites who've re-established themselves several times since the 1600s, to avoid persecution for their beliefs.

As historian David Leonard points out, the Hutterites left Germany to live in Moravia, under the benevolent rule of Catherine the Great.

And so they did for a century or so, until the policies of Czar Alexander II and Alexander III began to stress Russification of all the peoples living within the Russian empire. They demanded that all peoples, including the Hutterites and other sects, serve in their army, and they demanded that they pay greater tribute to the Czar and the orthodox faith that they had.

The result of that being, led by one Michael Wolgner and others, in the 1870s, they began to make their way to the plains of America to establish communes and settlements in the Great Plains where the Mormons had already proven that religious toleration could be achieved, because there were not yet vast hordes of other people to threaten them.

And so, in the 1870s and the 1880s, this is where they came - primarily to South Dakota, and to various locations in southern Montana.

But soon after they arrived, the American west began opening up to all kinds of settlement. Once again, the Hutterites experienced the hostility of new neighbours who did not share their beliefs.

During the Spanish American War, 1899-1900, the demand for military service began to be forced upon them. When they began to inquire of the government of Canada where some of them might be able to settle north of the 49th parallel and continue to adhere to their traditional ways, which included communal living, education of their children, and, primarily, freedom from military service.

The Canadian government, in vaguely-worded terms, concurred with them; that they should be allowed to do this, and would be allowed to do this if they settled on the Canadian prairies, because the government of this time was kind of worried that the Canadian west had not been settled as extensively as the American west.

So, promises were made as early as 1899-1900.

Even so, it wasn't until 1917 that Hutterites began moving to Alberta in large numbers. That came after the United States government adopted a military draft that would force Hutterites to fight in World War One.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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