The Ku Klux Klan in Canada: A Century of Promoting Racism and Hate in the Peaceable Kingdom
By Allan Bartley, Formac Publishing Company Ltd. (Halifax, 2020)
$24.95 | 319pp.
For many Canadians, there will be a strong temptation, as we watch the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, to indulge in one of our nation’s favourite pastimes, congratulating ourselves on how different our political life is from that alarming, lethal gong show down south. No QAnon shamans or rage-intoxicated, beard-braiding Bubbas with Bazookas for us! We are a civilized country.
Enjoyable as such self-praise can be, there is no reason to believe that Canada is magically immune to hate mongers and authoritarianism. Too often in our history, homegrown bigots have emerged to spread hate and fear, and often enough those villains have taken at least some of their inspiration from American bullies. We have, for example, seen alarmingly pro-Trump and anti-mask demonstrations in Canadian cities recently.
And this is not the first time that hate groups from America have established branch plants here. Carlton University academic Allan Bartley’s The Ku Klux Klan in Canada, published late last year, describes the history of the KKK from its beginnings in a campaign of domestic terrorism against Black Americans in the wake of the U.S. Civil War through its renewed prominence after pioneer movie maker DW Griffith’s pro-Klan Birth of a Nation appeared in 1915.
Within a few years, a resurgent Klan in America turned its attention north and sent recruiters to Canada, where they were able to establish KKK operations in the Maritimes, Ontario, the Prairies and B.C. Through the 1920s and early 1930s, Klan crosses inflamed the Canadian night and inspired acts of violence against Blacks, Indigenous people, Jews and Catholics.
The Klan even had a luxurious headquarters in Vancouver’s exclusive Shaughnessy neighbourhood in the 1920s, and Klan intervention, some historians say, determined the outcome of at least one Saskatchewan election for the Conservatives.
Wherever it flourished, the Klan, which operated as a sort of pyramid scheme for bigots, soon devolved into squabbles about who got the members’ dues money or the revenues from selling official KKK swag, but not before polluting public conversation with its swill. One of the strengths of Bartley’s book lies in the pungent, incisive thumbnail descriptions he provides of the swindlers, grifters and con men who successfully monetized hatred in the Klan’s many pyramid schemes.
More recently, a new generation of Canadian white supremacists with Klan links or aspirations have emerged, and Bartley does a good job telling some of their stories, too.
Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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