A dark chapter: should Edmonton's KKK history be acknowledged?

On a now unremarkable parking lot in downtown Edmonton, there once stood a key source of propaganda for Alberta’s Ku Klux Klan.

'I hadn't realized that they were so active in Edmonton,' says historian laureate Chris Chang-Yen Phillips

The Liberator newspaper building was located in the long-ago demolished Imperial Bank building. (City of Edmonton Archives )

On what is now an unremarkable parking lot in downtown Edmonton, there once stood a key source of propaganda for Alberta's Ku Klux Klan.

In the 1930s, the long-since demolished building housed the Liberator, the Klan-controlled newspaper that published hateful vitriol and helped inflame xenophobia during the depths of Depression-era Alberta.

The site today bears no markers of its dark history.

Rebecca Jade wants to change that.

Jade is asking the city to erect a plaque where the newspaper office once stood.

"Monuments tell stories," Jade said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
Rebecca Jade looks through newspaper articles about the history of the KKK in Alberta. (Chris Chang-Yen Phillips)
 "It makes sense to me that we would use plaques and public monuments to try and address our racist histories and tell different stories, ones that are about being accountable for the racism that has been deployed against people."

Jade said she recently learned about the once powerful hold the Klan had on Alberta.

She did her own research then began to delve into the city archives for traces of the KKK, with help from Edmonton's historian laureate Chris Chang-Yen Phillips.

Jade and Chang-Yen Phillips discovered the Liberator was printed in a building that no longer exists.

The address was 13, 10105 100th St., near the World Trade Centre. Now that the location has been identified, Jade hopes its history will be acknowledged.

"I've lived in Edmonton for five years and I didn't know about this history, and I think that's a real statement about how inaccessible this information is to us," Jade said.

"I think that there is a lot of value in providing opportunities for people to educate themselves."

Jade and Chang-Yen Phillips have collaborated on a number of podcasts chronicling what they've found so far. The documentation, although sparse, provides a sobering view of the past.

The KKK were once a powerful force in Edmonton under the leadership of John James Maloney, a seminarian who had worked to revive the movement in Saskatchewan.

Seeking more political control, Maloney moved to Edmonton in 1930, restored the Alberta Ku Klux Klan, and declared himself the Imperial Wizard.
The well-attended Ku Klux Klan convention in Memorial Hall, Edmonton, 1932. (City of Edmonton Archives )
 He began canvassing the countryside to establish new chapters and collect membership fees, and soon gained powerful allies with a message that was not only hostile toward immigrants and people of colour, but also viciously anti-Catholic.

The KKK hosted lavish dinners and public gatherings, attended by hundreds. In 1931, the group celebrated Daniel Knott's mayoral victory by lighting a fiery cross on Connors Hill.

On more than one occasion during Knott's term, they requested permission to use the Edmonton Exhibition Grounds (now known as Northlands) for a picnic and cross burning.

Both times, Knott approved their request, as evidenced by his official correspondence detailing the logistics of burning a cross, including that the KKK would pay for fire marshals and clean-up of the grounds.
John James Maloney was Grand Wizard of the Alberta KKK in the early 1930's (Saskatchewan Archives Board )
"I hadn't realized that they were so active in Edmonton," said Chang-Yen Phillips. "I didn't realize there was a leader at the time who was giving speeches to hundreds of people. And I certainly didn't realize that they were publishing a newspaper downtown, in a place that many of us walk by regularly."

Jade hopes the painful chapter won't be erased. She has planned a meeting with the Edmonton Historical Board to discuss the possibility of a monument.

"It's really important to learn about the way racism is intentional," Jade said. "It helps us break it down instead of believing it's an accident or doesn't actually exist."


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.