Little Moscow in Southern Alberta

By Ryan Dutchak

During the 1920s, the local economy of Blairmore, Alberta had been collapsing. Heading into the depression years, unemployment and poverty continued to grow. Blairmorites had begun looking for politicians who would handle the hardships of the Depression with practicality.

Bill Knight was the Mine Workers’ Union of Canada candidate for mayor in the 1933 Blairmore municipal election. A shareholder in the town’s pool hall, and an employee of West Canadian Colleries, the local coal mining company, Knight’s personal connection to Blairmore appealed to voters. He used his working-class background to portray himself as “a man of the people.”

Knight blamed the capitalist governments in Edmonton and Ottawa for Blairmore’s economic hardships. His political agenda, known as the “Knight Manifesto,” challenged provincial and federal authorities. He had also called for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to be disbanded due to their controversial role in the 1932 Crowsnest Pass strikes.

Ninety percent of local residents voted in the 1933 Blairmore election. Out of 788 casted ballots, only a margin of only 29 votes separated the most- and least-popular candidates. When the votes were tallied, all four of the Mine Workers’ Union nominees, including Knight, had been elected to the town’s council.

Taking advantage of the public’s perception of provincial inaction, Mayor Knight implemented a new municipal relief policy that required workers to pay five per cent of their wages to an unemployment fund. Blairmore gained national attention after Knight, the council, and the school board chose to make November 7 a holiday to honour the Russian Revolution. Across Canada, Blairmore became known as “little Moscow.”

Bill Knight’s political career was cut short by a financial scandal in 1936. Knight exceeded his travelling expenses when attending the “Congress Against War and Fascism” in Toronto. He had asked his colleagues to use money from the town treasury to cover the costs, but they had refused and turned against him. Knight was forced to withdraw from the next municipal election. His tenure as Canada’s first communist mayor was over.