The Hutterites originated during the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century and are one of three surviving Anabaptist groups. The other two are the Mennonites and the Old Order Amish. The Hutterite branch of the Anabaptists wished to establish Christian-type communities in which private property would be abolished and possessions surrendered voluntarily.
The Hutterites regard 1528 as their founding date. While fleeing from Nikolsburg to Austerlitz, a group of religious refugees introduced the practice of "community of goods". They shared all material goods and selected overseers to distribute them fairly. The first colony was founded in Austerlitz, in Moravia. Hutterites are named after their most outstanding leader, Jacob Hutter, who was whipped and burned at the stake in 1536.
Since Hutterites were outstanding farmers and craftsmen, they were tolerated for a time in Moravia. This was a time of growth and prosperity as they expanded to about eighty colonies, containing around 20,000 people. Colony trades included ceramics, cutlery, milling, wine making, spinning, weaving, tailoring, clock making, and carriage making, and all young men were apprenticed into one of these. Hutterite nurses, midwives, and doctors were in great demand, as were Hutterite schools. The development of Kindergartens by Hutterites, occurred in Europe during this time.
Growing intolerance for Hutterites followed prosperity. They were accused of monopoly and were the targets of raids and robbery. Following the war between Austria and Turkey in 1593, Hutterites were driven from Moravia, east into Slovakia and other small states. Here they were pressured under torture to return to the Catholic faith and many did, but a small group relocated to the Ukraine in 1770. In Russia, economic recovery was followed by a period of decline and illiteracy, and then religious revival. By 1872, all Hutterites were forced to leave Europe. They did so voluntarily since they were no longer allowed to teach German in their schools and religious freedom was in jeopardy.
The Hutterites, who were 800 in number, relocated to South Dakota, where about half chose to homestead individually. The others established three separate colonies, between 1874 and 1877. At first things went well and the Hutterites were largely ignored by the general populace. However, when the First World War began in 1914, and the U.S. became involved, Hutterites were viewed as enemy foreigners, because of their refusal to participate in military service. During this time, Hutterite men were beaten and tortured, livestock was raided and people were forbidden to speak German. This caused many Hutterites to immigrate to Canada. The war had created a labor shortage on the Canadian prairies and the Canadian government was anxious to settle Hutterites here. Consequently they were assured of military exemption and religious freedom. Land was purchased in Alberta and Manitoba in 1918. There was some anxiety among other settlers, especially in Alberta, but this passed when the war was over.
The fifteen colonies that settled in Canada in 1918 were located in grain-growing areas, similar to South Dakota. The Schmiedeleut settled six colonies in Manitoba, and the Darius and Lehrerleut, settled nine colonies in southwestern Alberta. Between 1918 and 1929, four additional colonies were founded in Manitoba, and eleven in Alberta. This rapid expansion of Hutterite holdings, along with Mennonite immigration to the Canadian prairies, caused some concern that these groups were buying up the best lands in the province, but when the Depression hit in the 1930’s, opposition died out. The Hutterite groups were self-sufficient, and did not require assistance to get through tough economic times, although they were still very poor. Because land prices were low at this time, more colonies were established: seven new Schmiedeleut Colonies in Manitoba and seven new Darius and Lehrerleut Colonies in Alberta.
By 1940, there were 52 Hutterite Colonies in Canada, which were well-off and on good terms with their neighbours. This changed when World War II began, as Hutterites refused to enter military service and were classified as conscientious objectors. In lieu of jail time, many chose to do alternative service like planting trees, handling grain at elevators and running church camps. Much of the hostility towards Hutterites came from their continued expansion, at a time when farming was again profitable and land prices more competitive. During the 1940’s, a series of discriminatory government acts in Alberta, like the “Communal Property Act”, made selling land to Hutterites, almost impossible, and forced colony expansion into Saskatchewan, Montana and northern Alberta. Twelve colonies were established in Montana and eight in Saskatchewan during this time. Smooth transitions to Hutterite ownership were facilitated, especially in Saskatchewan. Eventually the Government in Alberta set up a Communal Property Control Board to regulate Hutterite expansion. At this time, there was a sixty mile minimum set between Colony properties. Twelve new Hutterite colonies were started in Manitoba, during the 1950’s. Colonies were spread out more and did not get to be as large as those in Alberta.
The opposition and restrictive legislation directed towards the Hutterites after World War II in Canada drew them more closely together. In 1950, the three main branches of the Hutterites, the Dariusleut, Lehrerleut and Schmiedeleut unified to form the Hutterian Brethren Church. This organization meets once a year to discuss matters of common concern.
In 1960, the Bill of Rights, which was passed by the Diefenbaker Government, made people more aware of civil liberties and attacks on minorities became less tolerated. In Alberta, the Communal Property Act was repealed in 1973, allowing Hutterites to purchase land for the first time in 30 years. As a result, seven new colonies were established.