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
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
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.