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Conflict And Struggle

Klan Gained Hold In Saskatchewan

Winnipeg Free Press
May 8, 1965. p.14

By Ron MacDonald

Regina -- A cross burned on a hilltop while white-hooded men preached politics laced with prejudice.

This was the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, carrying on its work in Saskatchewan in the 1920s.

The province has the dubious distinction of apparently being the only part of the world outside the United States where the Klan gained a foothold.

In the U.S., the Klan started as a fraternal club 100 years ago, became an instrument of prejudice against Negroes, Roman Catholics and Jews in the 1920s and this year is the subject of a congressional investigation after being denounced by President Johnson as a society of hooded bigots.

In Saskatchewan the Klan was started late in 1926 by a group of men who came by train to Moose Jaw from the U.S. via Eastern Canada.

There were few Negroes in Saskatchewan, but the Klan found plenty of adherents -- one of its organizers claimed a peak membership of 47,000 -- when it directed its attacks against Catholics and Jews, then immigrating to Canada in large numbers from Europe.

The Klan, calling for "100 percent Canadianism," warned that Protestant Anglo-Saxons would lose their power and influence when swamped by European immigrants.

A man who once joined the organization out of curiosity in Weyburn, Sask., characterized its organizers this way, "These were a bunch of sharpies who figured Saskatchewan would be a good place to make a few fast bucks." Adult membership was $15 a year.

The Klan in Saskatchewan was a political force rather than an instrument of terror.

The late Jimmy Gardiner, premier from 1926 to 1929, was a prime political target of the Klan. He called it "an organization which has no place in the British parliamentary system."

Premier Gardiner many times accused his Conservative opponents, led by the late Dr. J.T.M. Anderson, of seeking Klan support, but no proof was offered.

During the 1929 provincial election campaign, crosses were burned at numerous points where Mr. Gardiner held rallies.

Mr. Gardiner and Dr. J.H. Hawkins, a principal Klan organizer, held a debate at Lemberg. RCMP confiscated six rifles from persons in the crowd.

Premier Gardiner's son, J.W. Gardiner, now provincial public works minister, tells of another incident during the campaign. "On election night my mother got a telephone call saying Dad would be shot before he got home. He was a little late getting home and there were a few anxious moments before he turned up."

In the 1920s a Roman Catholic shrine in Lebret, Sask., was destroyed by fire and an attempt was made to burn down the legislature building in Regina. Both actions were attributed to the Klan but again there was no proof.

During the election campaign both the Klan and the Conservatives complained Roman Catholics were guilty of religious excesses in their separate schools. They complained of crucifixes being hung on school walls and said children were fed anti-Protestant propaganda.

Hooded Klansmen marched through one Catholic church during a service.

Klansmen went from community to community on horseback to spread their word. They told listeners that people called one another "Mac" at that time in the U.S. and Canada because it was a secret codeword, symbol of a plot to "Make America Catholic."

The movement spread from Estevan in the south to Prince Albert in the north, having its greatest success in the heavily Anglo-Saxon Protestant south.

In the 1929 election, Mr. Gardiner's Liberals lost 22 seats and shortly afterward gave up the reins of government to Dr. Anderson and his Conservatives.

The Conservatives condemned the Klan after taking office. The Klan swiftly disappeared then, perhaps because rural folk with strong tradition of co-operative action couldn't support its divisive ideas.

Political opponents long afterward reiterated Mr. Gardiner's charges of a Conservative-Klan link, but the Conservatives consistently rejected the claims.

Despite the denials, some political observers have said the mere suggestion of a link was enough to give the kiss of political death to the Conservatives, who were wiped out in the legislature in 1935 and failed to elect a member until last year, when they elected one.

Pat Emmons, a Grand Wizard of the Klan, once scheduled a public meeting at which he said he would expose the alleged Conservative link, but he couldn't make himself heard over shouts and jeers.

The original Klan organizers included Dr. Hawkins, impeccably dressed in striped suit and bowler, his silver hair meticulously combed; Emmons; "Father" Rondeau, a Protestant minister who claimed he had been a Roman Catholic priest; and J.J. Maloney.

The Klan started with a campaign to clean up Moose Jaw, then a tough city where criminals appeared able to defy the law openly. It claimed support from prominent Americans such as Henry Ford (he denied it) and organized cross-bearing marches down the main street.

Feb. 28, 1928, Dr. Hawkins told a Regina meeting, "The Jew is granted greater privileges in Canada than in any other country in the world.

"You can't become a member of his synagogue, you can't join his B'nai B'rith order ... Do you mean to tell me that the Klan doesn't have the right let the Jew remain outside of it?"

Noting the influx of Roman Catholics, Dr. Hawkins added, "Prior to 1920 Canada was in every sense of the word a British dominion .... Today ... less than 47 per cent of the people living in Canada are of British descent. The balance of power has passed out of your hands completely." The 1921 census showed Saskatchewan had 147,000 Catholics out of a total population of 758,000.