A Day at the Grove: The Kingston Klan Rally

By all accounts, it was a beautiful day.

The short drive west of Kingston on Highway 2 would have been a bright and lovely trip in the midsummer sun, but the majority of attendees were not from the Limestone city. The majority traveled in from the surrounding areas, as far north as Ottawa, and as far south as Watertown, New York. One newspaper advertisement happily promised “good speakers, music (and) lunches”, and as the packed highways in and around the city directed people to the celebration, two provincial police officers were needed to direct the clogged lanes of traffic. Finally, when the destination was reached, a sign greeted those who arrived: “KKK WELCOMES YOU.”

The day was July 31st, 1927, and the Canadian branches of the Ku Klux Klan were near their peak in popularity. The KKK had promoted the events through their own back-channels and even took out an advertisement in the local paper, putting out a call that “All white Gentile Protestants are cordially invited to be present.” Not all white Gentile Protestants accepted the invitation, but 25,000 of them did. Opening with “God Save The King”, and singing hymns through the day, the promises of music were, at the very least, fulfilled.

While the size of the congregation was outstanding, the presence of Klan robes and blood drop crosses in that era was not. A thirty foot crucifix, spanning 20-feet across was set alight on Zwick’s Island in the Bay of Quinte, 1925. Robert Nesbitt, who would later become Police Chief in Kingston, recalled a demonstration in his youth at a farm site west of town that had attracted the interest of curious bystanders when the congregants set crosses alight. A community member named Charles Isaacks remarked seeing hooded members walking up Princess Street on that day, headed for an out-of-town rendezvous.

Kingston certainly had a Klavern of its own, but coupled with the location, it was also a good point of connection for other major Ontario clubs. Without chapters from Ottawa, Toronto, London, Brockville, Smith Falls and Belleville, the event would not have been as large as it became. These chapters relied on one another to thrive; Belleville, for example, hosted a Klan rally on June 27, 1926, with “the imperial commander of the Ladies/ Ku Klux Klan of Kanada” slated to speak. At that same event, it was reported that a ladies detachment of the KKK from Kingston was present. Another rally in Smiths Falls that year also describes a women’s detachment from Kingston, likely the same group.

The main speaker at the Kingston rally was J.S Lord coming in from Toronto, described as the “Imperial Scribe of the Invisible Empire.” This refers to James Simpson Lord, or “Dirty” Jim. Lord had been in contact with members from New York before his work in founding the New Brunswick Klavern, and through his role was named its leader in 1925.

Despite the overt racism implicit in the mere presence of the Klan, they claimed they were a non-violent organization. A speaker at the aforementioned Smith’s Falls rally claimed that the Klan “had no ill-feeling towards the Black, yellow or brown races and was not out to fight them.”

This, of course, was a lie. Members of the London community dressed in Klan hoods had surrounded a man’s house in 1924 in an intimidation attempt, suspecting that he was married to a black woman (the man reportedly kicked two of them to the road and threatened to call the cops). On March 20, 1925, a group of Vancouver policemen dressed in Klan uniforms kidnapped Wong Foon Sin, a man they suspected of murdering a woman named Janet Smith, and tortured him for six weeks. After releasing him, his kidnappers circled the block, and returned in their police uniforms to immediately place him under arrest. As well, on June 11th, 1926, Klan members had attempted to bomb a Roman Catholic Church in Barrie, Ontario.

The Canadian Ku Klux Klan may have placed their emphasis on a hatred of Catholics, but separating the Klan from their foundational white supremacy would be a ridiculous notion. In open defiance of their attempts to claim “no ill-will”, the Kingston rally provided ample context to rail against interracial marriage, and to proclaim their desire to keep Canada for the “Anglo-Saxon” races, i.e white, gentile, and Protestant. Dirty Jim himself was said to have known of the Barrie church bombing before its attempt.

But as it often is with fascists, bad publicity did not cripple them, and Lord’s career in hate would only continue to rise. Building off of his work in New Brunswick and working with clubs from British Columbia, he would go on to imbue Canada with more and more Klan members. In fact, he went on to become the official Imperial Wizard of the Canadian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan later that very same year.

This night was a proud step towards that title. The numbers were plentiful, and two formal sessions were held, one at 2:30pm, and the other at 7:30pm. While the greater number of people attended later in the day, there were estimations of between 500 and just over 1000 vehicles circled in the field. Forty-two candidates were presented for initiation or “naturalization” into the group, though other sources claim only sixteen men and nine women were inducted. All of this meant good publicity, recruitment opportunities, and political potential for Lord.

The evening ended with the staple symbol of the KKK, a cross burning. Four crosses, twenty feet high were placed in the field, with another one sitting fifty feet into the air, towering among the rest. A hollow square of attendees surrounded the flaming crucifixes, witnessing the new recruits to the Canadian Ku Klux Klan, celebrating their presence, their influence, and the numbers that had come out to show each attendee that, they too, wanted a Canada only for the white, gentile, and Protestant people who inhabited it.

A reporter who attended would write about the event for a Kingston paper, detailing the Canadian KKK’s show of force in the city. Even though the sight of such a hateful group appealing to thousands was witnessed, his demeanor was strangely lacking. In the piece, he wrote the following words: “…those present seeking for the sensational and dramatic were disappointed. No mention of any kind was made of politics.”

Opening with “God Save The King,” the day was rife with speeches denigrating interracial marriage, hymns and burning crosses under the full moon, but alas, no mention of politics.

This work could not have been meticulously researched without the immense help of Joanne Stanbridge, who works in the Local History and Geneology department of Kingston Frontenac Public Library, and Peter Gower at Kingston Historical Society, who helped direct me to the approximate area the rally was held. For more reading on the KKK’s activities in Canada, see the excellent book: “The Ku Klux Klan in Canada: A Century of Promoting Racism and Hate in the Peaceable Kingdom” by Allan Bartley

Scott Martin is a writer for The Beaverton, and runs the YouTube channel Pinko Punko. He can be found on Twitter.

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Scott Martin

Scott Martin

Writer with articles in Canadian Dimension, Passage, and The Beaverton, Pinko Punko on YouTube, sole member of The Tar Sands. Terminally online.