There are 484 Hutterite colonies in North America. They have a total population of 40,000.
Most colonies (348) are in the three Prairie provinces. Just about all the rest are in South Dakota and Montana.
Manitoba accounts for 109 colonies.
In our own neighbourhood of Starbuck, Sanford, Elie and Cartier, there are 14
Hutterites have never before been so numerous or so well off as they are now.
But just before they migrated from Ukraine to North America in 1874, they were on the verge of extinction.
The Hutterite communal way of living started in 1528 in what’s now the Czech Republic. Their first leader was a man named Jacob. We don’t know his last name, but he was a hatter by trade. The word hatter in German is hutter, so he became known as Jacob the Hutter, or Jacob Hutter for short.
Persecuted by Catholics for their religious practices, and by government authorities for their unwillingness to join the army, Hutter’s followers fled first to Hungary, then to Transylvania and Romania, and eventually to an area near Kiev in Ukraine.
Then, in the early 19th century, the flame of religious fervour that held the Hutterites together flickered and died. Communal life was abandoned. Hutterites took to living on independent family farms in settlements much like those of, and sometimes with, Mennonites, who spring from similar religious roots.
But by 1860, their interest in the communal lifestyle began to revive.
Their host country, however, made clear it would no longer cut them any slack when it came to military service or learning the national language.
So off they went to the U.S.
Conditions there were good until the First World War, when Americans developed resentment toward a people in their midst who spoke the enemy language, German, and refused to serve in the army. Some were dragged off, imprisoned, and tortured. Their property was seized and they were barred from selling their produce.
The Hutterites began to look to Canada, which offered them exemption from military service. In 1918, they started to relocate north of the border, and by 1950, 60 colonies were going strong in western Canada.
The mistreatment Hutterites were subjected to in the U.S. was not repeated in Canada, though provincial and municipal restrictions were directed at them to try to regulate their growth.
Over time, these restrictions have been rescinded in the face of human rights
Now all is well.
Or is it?
Don’t miss my next column.
Bob Holloway is a community correspondent for Headingley.