The Hutterian Brethren (Hutterites) are a communal Anabaptist Protestant sect that emigrated en masse from Russia to the United States in the 1870s. Large numbers of them then moved to the southern Canadian prairies beginning in 1919. They were one of the few ethnic communities to retain most of the distinctive features of their religious and ethnic roots throughout the 20th century. In 2003, there were approximately 36,000 Hutterites living in 434 “colonies” in North America. In Canada, they were concentrated in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba; in the United States, most of the colonies were in South Dakota and Montana.
Emerging from the Anabaptist movement of the Protestant Reformation in 1528, the Hutterite Brethren, like the Amish (see Amish immigration) and Mennonites (see Mennonite immigration), believed in adult baptism and in pacifism. They also lived communally, holding all goods in common, a practice that often put them at odds with their neighbors. Originally German-speaking Swiss, they migrated to Moravia, in the present-day Czech Republic. In 1536, their leader, Jacob Hutter, was burned at the stake, leading to an ongoing migration in search of refuge. Hutterites were hardworking and well organized and thus frequently welcomed in other lands. They were nevertheless viewed with suspicion and envy, especially during hard economic times. Their communal lifestyle and use of Tyrolean German continued to set them apart from the native inhabitants around them. As a result, they were persecuted and driven successively from Austria, Moravia, Slovakia, Transylvania (Romania), and Wallachia (Romania). During the 18th century, most Hutterites migrated to the Ukraine, where the Russian czar promised freedom of worship and freedom from military service.
When Russian guarantees were rescinded in the 1870s, the Hutterites began a mass migration to the United States and Canada. Between 1874 and 1877, virtually all Hutterites—approximately 1,300—immigrated to the Dakota Territory. Several hundred left the communal church, eventually merging with more liberal Mennonites, though most retained their traditional social organization. Persecuted and fearing conscription during World War I (1914–18), a large group of Hutterites determined to move to Canada in 1918, founding six colonies in southern Manitoba and nine in southern Alberta. Although restrictions were placed on Hutterite immigration (1919–22) and on land purchases in Alberta (1942–72), their rural, isolated colonies prospered.