Academic journal article Alberta History

Upholding Social Decency and Political Equality: The Lacombe Western Globe and the Ku Klux Klan, 1929-1932

Academic journal article Alberta History

Upholding Social Decency and Political Equality: The Lacombe Western Globe and the Ku Klux Klan, 1929-1932

Article excerpt

In 1926, the Blairmore Enterprise reported a Calgary' clergyman's warning that the Ku Klux Klan was not welcome in the West because of its well known traditions of vigilantism and taking "the law into its own hands." (1) However, when the Klan became active in the province three years later, it was evident that some Albertans were willing to endorse, or at least turn a blind eye to, the history of the Klan and its message. Yet the Klan was a short-lived phenomenon in Alberta, and by 1932 it was a spent force in the province.

Some historians have seen this flare-up of support for the Klan as only another element in a history of discrimination in the province. This explanation is only partly convincing--Alberta was not more racist than other provinces, and much less than some, such as British Columbia, where the Klan enjoyed even less success. Other historians have seen the Klan as part of a tradition of anti-Catholicism, resentment of Canada's bicultural constitutional traditions, and fear of immigrants in prairie Canada. Most observers have also credited the power of charismatic leadership in times of uncertainty or change. (2)

But important as it is to understand the Klan's appeal, an equally significant matter to investigate is how society can deal with an organisation like the Klan. How can society grapple with doctrines that preach hatred and with attempts to destroy equality before the law, the social and political equality of all citizens, and the rule of law?

Various factors led to the failure of the Klan in Alberta, one of which was resistance by the province's newspaper editors. Indeed, Peter Baergen, in his history of the Klan in central Alberta, notes that Alberta's press, typified by individuals such as Charles Halpin of the Lacombe Western Globe, Archie Key of the Drumheller Mail, Charles Clark of the High River Times, and A.L. Horton of the Vegreville Observer, openly and actively opposed the Klan. In contrast, in Saskatchewan, where Klan support was perhaps only marginally greater than in Alberta, many newspapers either openly supported the Klan or refused to take sides, a circumstance that "may well be part of the reason for the different degrees of political success achieved by the Klan in the two provinces." (3)

The reaction to the Klan of the Lacombe Globe and its editor, Charles "Barney" Halpin, is a clear example of this resistance. Halpin, the son of a former editor of the Calgary Albertan, had edited the Globe since 1906. From almost the beginning of Klan activity in Alberta in 1929, Halpin fought against it in the pages of the Globe. He used a number of tactics in confronting the Klan. At the outset, he denied its legitimacy to speak for society and reiterated tirelessly the need to uphold the rule of law and principles of social decency and political equality. Halpin ridiculed the Klan leaders and their doctrines, defended its victims and, to unmask its motives, demonstrated the falseness of its claims. In addition, he publicised opposition to the Klan from other parts of the province and confronted publicly the Klan's attempts to bully him into silence.

The American history of the Ku Klux Klan is well known. Formed after the civil war, the Klan represented a complex tangling of social, economic, and political responses to social and economic change. The Klan disappeared about 1869, but was revived in the 1920s when it gained a very large following. It also spread northward to Canada where its message of hatred for Roman Catholics, Jews, French Canadians, other non-Anglo-Saxons and, of course, Asians and Black Africans, found fleeting support in most parts of English Canada. Through exaggerated rhetoric and adolescent rituals, the Klan upheld Protestantism, a righteous conventional morality, the "sanctity of womanhood," and the assertion that Canada was an English-speaking country. It also opposed socialism and communism, and to suit local sensitivities, claimed to uphold Canada's British legal and political traditions. …

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