Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 5, 2005
Knights have served for 98 years
Fraternal order rooted in providing support for widows
By GLEN ARGAN
One bitterly cold January morning in 1907, four train cars full of Knights of Columbus and their wives rolled into Edmonton's Strathcona railway station.
The knights were whisked across the river to the MacKay Avenue School where they spent the next nine hours initiating 37 Catholic men into the first three degrees of the Knights of Columbus.
Two days later, the Winnipeg knights performed another initiation in Calgary, thus launching the first two K of C councils in the new province of Alberta.
The Knights of Columbus was founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1882 by Father Michael McGivney who was concerned about the number of immigrant family breadwinners who died leaving their families penniless.
He set out to establish a fraternal benefit society that would offer low-cost insurance to immigrant families.
The order quickly spread across North America and by the time it reached Alberta 25 years later, more than 1,100 local councils had been established.
Over the past 98 years, the Alberta Knights have kept their focus on protecting widows and orphans. Now more than $1 billion of K of C insurance is in force in the province, protecting thousands of families.
The Knights have also become more than an organization offering insurance. They have sponsored and contributed to an array of projects enriching the religious, social service, educational, cultural and moral life of the province.
The first major K of C project was the establishment of Catholic Army Huts during the First World War. These "huts" provided an opportunity for religious, recreational and educational activities for Canadian troops. Knights across Canada raised nearly $1.3 million in just a few months to erect and supply these huts.
After their beginnings in Edmonton and Calgary, the Knights grew slowly in Alberta. During the Depression, membership was little more than 800 and by 1945, there were still only eight councils in the province. It was only in the post-Second World War period that the order began to expand towards the 16,000 members and 160 councils it counts today.
The Knights have always been active where a church needed to be built or otherwise assisted. Its assistance to parishes and the broader Church has been enormous. Whenever major liturgical events have taken place, fourth degree Knights have been present with their characteristic plumes and swords.
But the order has also contributed much to the broader community. One key area has been that of youth activities. Several local councils have initiated and supported children's summer camps such as Our Lady of Victory Camp near Bentley, Camp Cadicasu at Bragg Creek and Camp McCoy near Medicine Hat.
Other councils have developed the leadership abilities and community involvement of Catholic teens through Squire and Squirette programs. K of C sports programs include a province-wide basketball free throw competition.
Perhaps the best-known K of C youth activity is its minor hockey program in Edmonton. Launched in 1952 as an opportunity for Catholic boys to play hockey in a healthy amateur atmosphere, K of C hockey in the city has grown to include more than 100 teams providing recreation for more than 1,600 players.
The Knights of Columbus involvement in education has often been significant. When the Basilian Fathers assumed control of St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta in the early 1960s, they asked the Knights to fund a proper library. The order raised $55,000 and then set out to provide another $25,000 worth of religious resources to the University of Calgary library.
And when St. Joseph's High School in Edmonton expanded in the late 1990s, it ended up with a theatre but no seats. Local Knights began a lengthy project to raise $500,000 to fill the theatre to capacity with 270 seats.
The Knights have also been a voice on public issues. In the 1970s, they campaigned against drug abuse and pornography; they have provided a consistent witness against abortion; and this year lobbied against the federal government's legislation to allow same-sex marriage.
Several individual knights have also served in public life. Among them is Edmonton's Bill Connelly, now 87, who served as the Knights' state deputy in the 1950s. Connelly was also a city alderman for four years, a director of the Edmonton Exhibition and a director of the Edmonton Eskimos football club among many other Church and community activities.
The Knights have also been involved in cultural activities. The French-speaking LaVerendrye Council sponsored musical programs and variety evenings at the Jubilee Auditorium. Its members were instrumental in founding the French Canadian Association of Alberta in 1925.
Edmonton's Holy Family Council launched the Columbian Choirs in 1965, an organization that has expanded to now include five concert choirs.
The Knights have sponsored sheltered workshops and other programs for the mentally handicapped, assisted with immigrant settlement and provided funds for a myriad of community groups.
The theme for the Alberta-Northwest Territories K of C for 2005-06 is Not for Self but for Others. It's a theme that could well have been applied to the Knights ever since the order came to Alberta that cold January morning in 1907.