June 1, 2015

Even though Alberta's Catholic heritage is hidden in plain sight, from the mural at Edmonton's Grandin LRT Station depicting Bishop Vital Grandin himself to the statue of a nun in front of the Legislature acknowledging the work of the various orders of sisters in our province, most people are probably unaware of the contribution of Catholics to Albertan politics.

We may, in fact, take it for granted nowadays, with the prominence that the Ukrainian community has in Alberta. But we should remember that, for much of Alberta's history, politics was largely controlled by parties like the United Farmers of Alberta and the Social Credit Party, both largely Protestant bodies which, for various reasons, were unappealing or unwelcome to Catholics.

The UFA, for example, opened and closed its meetings with Presbyterian hymns, and the Socred premier "Bible Bill" Aberhardt appointed a cabinet minister with connections to the Ku Klux Klan.


Nevertheless, Catholics have always played an important role in the Albertan political scene (the Socreds seemed to make a point of always having a Catholic in the cabinet), and we should be careful lest that part of our history slips out of our collective memory.

In their book, Alberta Catholic Politicians, Dr. Ernest Mardon and his son, Dr. Austin Mardon, have done their part to compile that information and make it readily accessible to anyone interested in studying this matter.

Alberta Catholic Politicians is a well-researched reference work compiling as many politicians in Alberta history as went on record as being Catholics, whether they served as senators, MPs, MLAs, or judges; it has everything from the first postmaster of Debolt to former Prime Minister Joe Clark.

But the research conducted is not merely from other reference works or history texts; the Mardons have made a point of doing original research and interviewing primary sources to gather this information before it slipped into obscurity.


It therefore contains information probably unavailable anywhere else, as well as a helpful pair of introductions explaining the mechanics of the Alberta legislative system as well as the history of Catholics in the province. For the student of the history of religion in Canada, it's an invaluable resource.

It should be mentioned that, detailed as it is, this is a reference work, not a chronological or detailed history. It does not go into detail about the contribution of Catholics to Albertan political thought.

It does not, for example, mention the late Link Byfield, who was strictly speaking never a politician (though he was at one point a candidate for the Senate) but who served as published of the influential Alberta Report magazine and co-founded the Wildrose Party.

Moreover, because some of the research that went into the book were interviews conducted by the co-authors, it is possible that some of the factual details are fudgy or ill-remembered.


But this isn't necessarily a problem: For those of us who weren't there, it gives us a good sense of the impression that these people and these events left on the people who were there.

The overall effect is an inspiring picture of our forerunners who, despite being a somewhat disadvantaged minority, made an important difference in a volatile and exciting new land. It is a great resource.