Why crosses were burned on the Prairies?

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan aimed to gain a foothold in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. However, its popularity was short-lived. Even so, every now and again a news story will pop up to suggest the organization never completely went away.

Hello Flatlanders,

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan aimed to gain a foothold in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. However, its popularity was short-lived. Even so, every now and again a news story will pop up to suggest the organization never completely went away.

It was 1927 when the Ku Klux Klan came to the Prairies.

Two men from Indiana – Lewis A. Scott and Hugh Findlay “Pat” Emmons – drummed up anti-Catholic and anti-French sentiment in Moose Jaw and Regina, selling memberships to the KKK for $13. 

But it turned out Scott and Emmons were scam artists and disappeared with the $100,000 they collected in membership fees and from the sale of Klan regalia.

Emmons was later brought back and put on trial for embezzlement, but was acquitted because he had acted in accordance with Klan rules

In theory, this should have been the end of the KKK in Saskatchewan. However, a Regina accountant, John W. Rosborough kept the group going. He became the Imperial Wizard of the Klan, taking over as the provincial leader. Under his leadership the organization raised $50,000 in membership fees.

Under Rosborough, the Saskatchewan Klan cut ties with the American Klan and, as such, the white robes and hoods were no longer worn.

The Saskatchewan KKK meetings were well-attended. At its height, the organization had 40,000 members.

They campaigned against the separate school system using the slogan of “one nation, one flag, one language, one school”.

They also opposed students learning French, crucifixes on public school walls, as well as nuns teaching.

The Catholic Church and the French wouldn’t be their only targets though. The KKK also went after the Saskatchewan Liberal Party and “non-preferred” European immigrants, such as Germans. (The Liberals wanted to bring more immigrants to the province).

The Klan spread misinformation, such as stating that 8,000 Catholic and Jewish immigrants had come to Regina, but this wasn’t true.

Manitoba Free Press, 25 October 1928, page 5.

The KKK around Saskatchewan

  • Moose Jaw held a rally where 7,000 people attended. On June 7, 1937, a cross burning was held on a hill with thousands of people in attendance, and Klan supporters like T.J. Hind, the Reverend of the First Baptist Church in Moose Jaw said the Klan was there to protect the physical racial purity of current and future generations. 
  • In Melfort, a crowd of more than 5,000 sang “The Maple Leaf Forever” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” as two 20-foot crosses burned.
  • The Indian Head KKK chapter held meetings every first and third Wednesday of the month. The Ladies of the Benevolent Order of the KKK was established and held a dance at the Orange Hall. The Indian Head News reported on Nov. 1, 1928, “The affair, patriotically decorated and illuminated by the uplifted fiery cross under which the Doxology was sung, was attended by many citizens of the town and district.”
  • In Saskatoon, on Jan. 10, 1929, Reverend S.P. Rondeau spoke at a Klan meeting at Regent Hall, stating that Quebec was trying to turn Saskatchewan into a second French-speaking province.

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Our Prairie stories.

The KKK’s influence on politics

The Klan played a major role in the 1929 Saskatchewan provincial election, where the Liberals, under James Garfield Gardiner, lost to the Conservatives.

Members of the Klan burned crosses at Gardiner’s rallies, and the provincial treasurer of the Klan in Saskatchewan was Walter Davy Cowan, who would go on to become a Conservative Member of Parliament for Long Lake from 1930 to 1935.

James Thomas Milton Anderson, who became the Premier after Gardener, was accused of working closely with the Klan, but he denied the allegations.

However, when Anderson was in power, he was the Minister of Education in addition to being premier and proposed amendments to the Schools Act to ban teaching French in schools, as well as bans to religious displays in schools including in the Catholic Separate School System.

His government also stopped recognizing teaching certificates from Quebec, which meant teachers were no longer recruited from that province.  

he KKK in Manitoba

Since the KKK was popular in Saskatchewan in the 1920s, it was thought the organization could expand into Manitoba.

Daniel Carlyle Grant, a Moose Jaw-based Klan member, moved to Brandon.

On June 1, 1928, he held his first meeting in Winnipeg at the Royal Templars Hall on Young Street. He made a speech saying the Roman Catholic Church controlled the Dominion of Canada and that Jewish people had crucified the Son of God.

Later that fall, Grant set up at the Marlborough Hotel on Smith Street, north of Portage Avenue and placed an ad in the paper, advertising a Klan meeting at Norman Dance Hall on Sherbrook Street. (The Flatlander wrote about the history of Norman Dance Hall last year).

About 150 people turned up at this meeting. Grant gave a speech bragging about how the Klan cleaned up Moose Jaw and that Winnipeg was next.

He said the Clan would “disembowel Winnipeg of vice.” He also made comments against interracial marriage and talked about how black people needed to show respect to white people. He claimed Jewish people had too much power. And he said the federal Liberal government allowed the “scum of Papist Europe to flood the country and refuse to allow immigrants into the country who are not Roman Catholic.”

The Klan Creed stated that:

The Klan believes in Protestantism; racial purity, gentle economic freedom, just laws and liberty, separation of church and state, pure patriotism, restrictive and selective immigration, freedom of speech and press, law and order, higher moral standards, freedom from mob violence, and one public school. These questions are of paramount importance to all liberty loving Canadian citizens.

Grant gave an interview with the Manitoba Free Press calling for the removal of Winnipeg Chief of Police Chris H. Newton and Morality Inspector William.

He claimed the police failed to raid gambling dens in the city and that the Klan would need to do the police’s job. Since the police chief was popular for a number of high-profile arrests at the time, these comments were largely dismissed.

Threatening St. Boniface

Grant threated that the Klan would hold a meeting at St. Boniface, which is a Catholic Church in a French area of Winnipeg.

The Priest in charge of St. Boniface Cathedral at the time, Monseigneur Wilfred Jubinville, said the Roman Catholic Church would fight the Klan to the full extent of its power. He also said the KKK was just exploiting people’s hatred to raise some easy money.

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The St. Boniface police chief Thomas Gagnon said, if the Klan tried to raid St. Boniface, the police would intervene.   

Winnipeg mayor Daniel McLean, who had been a distinguished soldier in the First World War, told people to ignore the Klan.  

Jewish newspapers at the time criticized the Klan, as did editorials in the Manitoba Free Press and the Manitoban, which is the University of Manitoba newspaper.

Grant later turned his attention to The Pas and held a small meeting there in December 1928 where he tried to claim that 95 per cent of the crimes in The Pas were committed by foreigners.

Grant later left Manitoba and returned to Saskatchewan to campaign against Premier James Gardiner. After the Anderson Conservative Party won, Grant was given a job in charge of the Weyburn Employment Bureau, but he was fired after the Liberal Party’s return to power in 1934.

When it came to Manitoba, the Klan was mostly successful in Brandon and other small towns until 1932.

On July 31, 1931, a cross was burned at Selkirk.

Given that Winnipeg had both a large French-speaking Catholic population, as well as a huge Jewish community and a lot of Eastern European immigrants (the Klan were British purists), the Klan didn’t really fly there.

The end of the Klan?

The Klan died out with The Great Depression. People were concerned about their financial survival and couldn’t afford the dues.

There was an attempted revival of the KKK in the 1960s when members attempted to recruit people in Saskatchewan once again.

This time they tried to create fear around Indigenous people moving off reserves into urban centres, like Saskatoon, Regina, and Prince Albert. However, the KKK didn’t really get the same amount of traction it did in the 1920s.

That said, the Klan did make the news again in 2007, when the CBC reported that the organization intended to have a rally in Moose Jaw that year.

And  James Tucker, the former head of the Manitoba Ku Klux Klan in the 1990s, was fatally stabbed in Winnipeg back in 2016.

So, the KKK is still around.

In 2017, Helmut-Harry Loewen, a former sociology professor at the University of Winnipeg, said the organization and recruitment of fascist and neo-Nazi groups are on the rise in Manitoba as Klan graffiti was found and reported in the province.

Further reading:

If you are interested in reading more on this dark and bizarre time in our Prairie History, you can check out the following articles:

A few books have also been written:

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Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

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Until next week…

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Thanks for reading, and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

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