Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bible Bill's Boyhood: William Aberhart's Childhood Memories

William "Bible Bill" Aberhart took Alberta by storm in 1935, defeating the United Farmers of Alberta with a majority in the range of 90%.  Aberhart came by his nickname honestly, spreading the spurious doctrine of Social Credit across Alberta via radio, with evangelical zeal and religious fervour.  As Social Credit seemed to offer the bankers as scapegoats for the Great Depression, and a cure in the form of a dividend paid to each citizen monthly, it may be said that he was preaching to the choir.
William Aberhart Standing, far right; His father William Aberhart Sr., seated, far right.
Image No: NA-4454-12 Glenbow Museum Archives
Title: William Aberhart's family in Ontario.
Date: [ca. 1890s]
Aberhart's reminiscences of his childhood in Huron County, Ontario, reveal the influence of his agrarian roots and religion in his formative years. John Irving's Social Credit in Alberta (1959) traces the movement by analyzing the group psychology of those who appealed to Aberhart's rising oratory.  Irving noted that in one of his last speeches before he died, delivered at his Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute, he recalled a favourite anecdote of his childhood.  On a spring day in 1943, Aberhart called out to the crowd,

"My father used to tell us boys on the farm, in our younger days, that we could never plow a straight furrow if we did not focus our attention on a particular post or tree or other landmark away at the end of the field.  He warned us again and again not to allow a big stick or clump of brush or a tree to distract us as we passed along." (Irving, 9)

Aberhart worked hard on his father's dairy farm, and attended the Egmondville Presbyterian Church, but he recalled that his religious inspiration had a more humble source.  After a meeting in Calgary when he had been pounding on a somewhat rickety table he apologized for his fervour:

"Excuse my pounding this table.  It reminds me of the fact that when I was a boy we had protracted revival meetings in our district.  I sat in those meetings night after night and marvelled at the power of the preacher over the people.  The preacher was very emphatic and he pounded the pulpit heavily.  I was so impressed that I went out into a woodlot, day after day, and practised speaking and pounding a pine stump with my clenched fists. I had discovered the power of words and gestures over people, and I have never forgotten the power of that preacher to dominate those people." (Irving, 12)

Title: William Aberhart broadcasting from radio station, CFCN, Calgary, Alberta.
Date: late 1930sFile number: NA-2771-2 GMA

Aberhart's religious zeal, broadcast across Alberta from his headquarters in Calgary, would draw a large number of people into confidence long before he adopted Social Credit ideology as the means to salvation during the Great Depression.

Everything you ever wanted to know and more on Aberhart and Social Credit, including a number of audio clips of the preacher-politician's speeches and radio broadcasts, can be found at:
The Canadian Encyclopedia offers, as is expected of this excellent resource, a brief overview of the man's life:

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