As with Thomas Kinkade, over at Happolati’s Miscellany recently, I noted the recent passing of Wiebo Ludwig, and am doing a longer, follow-up post here. As a Reformed believer who has lived in both Ontario and Alberta, I have a strong interest in the enigma that was Wiebo Ludwig.
Wiebo Ludwig was a complex character. He had fled with his family to Alberta from Ontario, to start a new life in the wilderness, off-the-grid in more ways than one – economic and energy and food self-sufficiency, as much as possible, but also to separate physically from the greater society at large, to keep themselves more morally pure; kinda like Anabaptists. Dutch Reformed types have historical precedent for doing this sort of thing; the early 19th-century founding of ‘De Colonie’ near what is now Grand Rapids, Michigan, was very much the same sort of thing; they fled from across the sea to a then-still-wilderness part of America, in order to freely practice their religion, and live according to the values they held to, where they felt they could not back in the Netherlands. Ludwig had felt his denomination had gone too much the way of the world, and wanted to separate out from them. (I myself belong to a denomination which broke away from the same one the Ludwigs left, so I have much sympathy.)
So Wiebo attempted a secession from society; like Noah, separating out himself and his extended family, going off on their own, to do their own thing. But the rest of the world wasn’t destroyed by flood; on the contrary, it encroached on him and his family, what with poisoning of their land from sour gas leaks on oil company property next to their farms. Sadly, the Ludwigs couldn’t even stop drilling under their property if they wished to, because in Alberta, property-owners only have ‘surface rights’, just a short distance underground, close to the surface; they don’t actually own all the land under their property. Oil companies rule Alberta, and can drill where they please, with the government’s blessing, since they bring in jobs and wealth to Alberta, doncha know.
Sour gas caused the Ludwigs to experience miscarriages in both the people in their compound, and their livestock; as well as deformities; health problems of all kinds…
And so, Wiebo Ludwig felt his back was against the wall, and like David, had to take on Goliath, i.e. the oil companies.
And so, he did. Creating lots of enemies, but also winning unexpected allies; environmentalist leftists who otherwise wouldn’t have much time for a patriarchical, traditionalist Calvinist separatist-community-leader.
Pipe bombs exploded; oil company equipment was damaged. Locals came to hate him, since the oil industry is the main source of most people’s livelihoods in that part of Alberta.
Then came the unfortunate Karman Willis incident; a buncha idiot teenagers went joyriding onto the compound late one night. Shots were fired, and a teenage girl ended up dead. The white-knighting, pedestalizing, overly-chivalrous outraged locals wanted the Ludwigs run out of town on a rail, if they’d had their druthers. But nothing was proven, no charges were laid. IMO, the stupid teens had no-one to blame but themselves. Not a good idea to ride onto the property of people who legitimately have reason to feel targeted – even if their tactics were part of the reason – in the middle of the night. Sometimes, dumbass teens who do dumbass teen things have to pay with their lives. Oh well.
Things quieted down after that, but Ludwig kept up his struggle against the oil companies.
Was he right to act as he did? Was he wrong? I don’t know. I sympathize greatly, though. And am inclined to agree, that sometimes, one has to do, what one feels one has to do.
Ludwig was interviewed recently, when he knew his days were coming to an end; that interview is here.
R.I.P., Brother Ludwig.
I recommend highly Andrew Nikiforuk’s Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig’s War Against Big Oil; an excellent book; gives much background into Ludwig’s past, and formational life experiences, including here in Ontario.
I also recommend the 2011 National Film Board of Canada documentary Wiebo’s War; like the book, lays out the whole story, but takes you inside the Trickle Creek compound, to let you meet the rest of the family, too. Well done; surprisingly rivetting, for a documentary – and fairly balanced, also surprisingly.
*Update: Andrew Nikiforuk, who wrote the book mentioned above, wrote an obituary for Wiebo Ludwig, here.
**Update: BTW, they’re still there…