by Matthew Wangler, research consultant
The arrival of large groups of immigrants to the fledgling Dominion led to debates about the destiny of the Canadian West. Influenced by strong regional biases, these debates were rooted in concerns about the character of the community to be developed on the Prairies, and layered with cultural, spiritual, economic, and political considerations.
Controversy over Mennonite immigration took several forms throughout this group's first decades in Canada. Initially it centred on whether substantial concessions should be made for their block settlement in the West. During the First World War, the community's military exemption became an issue. Throughout their experience in Canada, the Mennonite community's openness to mainstream cultural norms -- embodied in public education -- was a central and divisive issue.
However, the issue of polygamy, more than any other, was the subject of frequent, and often fervent, debate. Some Mormon settlers in Alberta had plural wives in Utah, and commentators across Canada feared they would continue the practice of polygamy in this country. Other public discussions focused on the perceived danger of Mormons coming to dominate regions economically and socially. Local newspapers tended to be far more sympathetic, viewing them as industrious, law-abiding and of great benefit to the local economy and society.
The arguments about Doukhobor immigration to Canada were particularly heated. As a Slavic people and a largely illiterate one, the Doukhobors were seen by some as culturally impoverished. Their communal farm system and unorthodox religious vision raised further questions about their appropriateness as settlers for the Canadian West. Nonetheless, there were those who supported the Doukhobors for their diligent and hospitable ways, while others saw their pacifism and communal ethic as embodying the Christian spirit.