Which was worse in Simcoe county politics: To be a member of the KKK or have a Roman Catholic wife?

Religious fervour is not unknown in Simcoe county politics.

In the 1917 federal election in Simcoe North,  E.C. Drury was rumoured to have been:

  • a drunkard,
  • a member of the Ku Klux Klan,
  • the husband of a Roman Catholic, and
  • contributed money to the repair of the Barrie Catholic church after the K.K.K. set fire to it.

He didn’t win this election.

Excerpt from E.C. Drury’s memoirs:

The [federal] election was set for early December [1917], and I opened my campaign in November after the fall work on the farm…

Some months before, a bunch of young fools in Barrie had held a midnight meeting in their nightshirts (pyjamas had not yet come in) and burned a fiery cross and organized a Ku Klux Klan. Two of their number, carried away by their enthusiasm, set fire to the Catholic church. Fortunately the fire was discovered and put out before it did much damage. The young fellows were arrested and tried and found guilty and sent to prison and their K.K.K. friends didn’t come forward to help. Around Phelpston, a strongly Catholic community, the rumour ran during the campaign that I was a member of the K.K.K. and had attended the midnight meeting where the Klan was organized. Around Elmvale a few miles away, where the Orange vote was strong, the rumour ran that my wife was a Catholic and that I had subscribed to a fund to restore the damaged church. One morning, when I got off the train in Stayner, I met on the platform the Methodist minister, the Reverend Harold Toye. I knew Harold very well, from the time when he was a boy and had saved another boy from drowning in White’s Pond about three miles north of our place. As he came toward me now he was grinning and turning his head from side to side. I asked him what was the meaning of all. “Oh,” he said, “I just wanted to see whether you could walk straight this morning. The story around these parts is that you are a heavy drinker and never go to bed sober.” Temperance sentiment around Stayner was very strong.

All of these stories were of course ridiculous. I never had anything to do with K.K.K., which I despised. My wife was not a Catholic, but a Methodist. I never subscribed to a fund to restore the damaged church – I never was asked to. Finally, like my father before me, I was a lifelong total abstainer. Yet these rumours were circulated, and doubtless they had their effect how great I do not know.

Farmer Premier: The Memoirs of E.C. Drury, E. C. Drury, McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1966, p. 78-9.

St. Mary’s Church, Barrie 1872 – 1970 (1890 shown)

First of two attempts to destroy the church: this one by fire in 1917 and a bomb in May 1926 (see here).  Location: NE corner of Mulcaster and McDonald Streets, the parking lot across from 90 Mulcaster Street, see here. Image by the Simcoe County Archives

Ku Klux Klan in Canada

The Ku Klux Klan is an ultraconservative, secret fraternal organization dedicated to the supremacy of an Anglo-Saxon, Protestant society. Formed in Pulaski, Tenn, in November 1865 by 6 ex-Confederate soldiers, it was outlawed in 1871 because of violent and outrageous acts against blacks and northerners. Revived in November 1915 in Atlanta, Ga, it drew its support from middle- and lower-class Americans who feared the loss of conservative and rural values.

In 1921 the Klan was reported active in Montréal; by 1925 “klans,” or locals, had been established all across Canada. Like their American counterparts, Canadian Klansmen had a fanatical hatred for all things Roman Catholic and feared that the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race was being jeopardized by new immigration. Moreover, they were not averse to stepping outside the law to achieve their goals.

From the The Canadian Encyclopedia.


One Response to Which was worse in Simcoe county politics: To be a member of the KKK or have a Roman Catholic wife?

  1. I think that E.C., who was who quite elderly when he wrote his memoirs, may have confused his 1917 election campaign with his 1926 campaign which followed the KKK rally and arson. . A few similar errors with dates like that in his autobiography. Though no doubt the anti-Catholic and alcoholic rumours were pretty everpresent in most election campaigns in those days.


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