They allowed me to review all findings involving Black History in New Brunswick and I was shocked to find a long-standing history of the Ku Klux Klan’s presence in the province.
By 1925, 91 years after slavery had been abolished in the British Empire, the KKK was already established in New Brunswick. According to letters at Provincial Archives, there were chapters of the KKK in at least twelve communities across the province including the capital, Fredericton.
These letters stored at the Provincial Archives span from 1925 to 1940 and track many internal issues within the organisation. Many chapters report financial struggles and issues acquiring membership fees from KKK officers (Kleagles).
More notably, several women wrote to male officers of the KKK asking how to best support their husbands' efforts within the organization as women were not allowed to join the KKK. Support their husbands with what exactly? The KKK chapters in New Brunswick were run by Anglo-Saxon, protestant men who wanted to preserve the purity of their lineage from the Catholic, French-Acadian community who threatened them. Though they, of course, hated any person of colour, as the Acadian community rose with power they were a more direct threat.
Many letters from the KKK ask to preserve “Canadian” nationalism by advocating for the national anthem to be sung more frequently in schools by youth and staff, and that the Canadian flag be flown at more schools and on more houses to show that the white English community was at the heart of Canadian nationalism.
Letters from the KKK in New Brunswick often correspond with the Eastern Headquarters in Toronto, and the Western Headquarters in Vancouver about recruitment, the state of affairs in New Brunswick and ensuring all regulations were met. New Brunswick chapters of the KKK even hosted members of the KKK from Maine, USA as the state and province share a border.
One letter from the KKK New Brunswick chapters and the Eastern Headquarters in Toronto discusses the “Oakville Affair” of which they dictated the story for publication in the press but complain that only extracts were shared. What was the “Oakville Affair”? In short, a Black man tried to marry a white woman and the KKK showed up and marched through the streets in an effort to put a stop to this relationship.
On February 28th, 1930, seventy-five members of the KKK in Oakville, ON, set a cross on fire at a house where Black WWI veteran Ira Junius Johnson and his white girlfriend Isabel Jones were visiting Johnson’s aunt. They took Isabel from the house and returned her to her mother’s home. They also took Ira from the house and brought him to the end of the street where they forced him to watch the burning of a cross they erected. The Klan told Ira that if he was seen walking with a white woman again he would ‘be dealt with’.
Here’s the surprising part, the perpetrators were actually charged and convicted which marked the first time a member of the Klan was ever prosecuted in Canada.
But it’s worth noting that the mayor of Oakville at the time J.B. Moat told the local newspaper, "Personally I think the Ku Klux Klan acted quite properly in the matter. The feeling in the town is generally against such a marriage. It will be quite an object lesson."
Ira and Isabel did end up getting married one month later, they had two kids and stayed married until Ira died in 1966.
The documents saved by Provincial Archives also allow you to skim oaths, tax records, and interestingly a book by a man named C.S. Fowler who was a member of the KKK in New Brunswick. The book discusses the importance of their mission and work toward ‘purity’. But apparently, Fowler took recruitment too far. He told too many people about the organization and was banished from the group for bringing too much attention to their mission.
Though the records and letters at Provincial Archives end around 1940, we know that the KKK’s presence remained in New Brunswick. In 2017, the University of New Brunswick shared research citing 150 hate groups in the province and a resurgence of the KKK’s recruitment in New Brunswick- seemingly tied to the presidency of Donald Trump.
Another group aligned with the views of the KKK is the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys, a hate group founded in the USA by the Co-Founder of Vice Media also had a Canadian presence and were named a terrorist group by the Canadian government in 2021. In New Brunswick there is also a website perpetrating the same ideals called Proudly New Brunswick hoping to restore New Brunswick to ‘what it once was’. As Statistics Canada reported in 2023, hate crimes had been on the rise for three years straight from 2019 to 2021 with a 27% increase between 2020 and 2021.
What’s important in reading these documents are the parallels between then and now. The idea that we must ‘rise up’ and be even more patriotic seems to mirror rhetoric heard during the Truck Convoy of COVID-19 which had racist and Neo-Nazi leaders. Under the guise of ‘preservation’ and ‘purity’ comes racism, hatred, exclusion, and ostracization as opposed to inclusivity, acceptance and education.
When I shared some of these findings on my social media, it was alarming to see people in the comments continuing to deny the existence of the KKK within Canada, though the documents speak for themselves. As always, if we are not careful, ignorance and hatred will win and history will repeat itself.