Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig's War Against Big Oil


283 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55199-053-9
DDC 364.1'64'0971231




Reviewed by David W. Leonard

David W. Leonard is the project historian (Northern Alberta) in the
Historic Sites and Archives Service, Alberta Community Development. He
is the author of Delayed Frontier: The Peace River Country to 1909 and
coauthor of The Lure of the Peace River Count


For much of the late 1990s, people in northwestern Alberta were gripped
by the strange saga of Wiebo Ludwig, a defrocked Christian Reformed
pastor who now ministered over a tiny colony near the village of Hythe.
As time passed, curiosity about the unorthodox commune soon evolved into
concern about the increasingly hostile stand Ludwig was taking against
gas companies operating in the area. As incidents of vandalism became
more frequent, and more violent, the story became a national one.
“Oppressed Environmentalist vs. the Energy Industry” was one view.
For most of Ludwig’s neighbors, however, the story was
“Attention-Seeking Egocentric vs. Public Safety.” Tragically, one
incident involved the shooting death of a local teenager, who had been
trespassing on the Ludwig property with friends early one June morning
in 1999. While Ludwig was convicted of vandalism in April 2000, the
killing of Carman Willis has yet to be resolved.

As described by the publisher, “[Saboteurs] is a taut, careful work
of nonfiction that reads like a thriller.” While the “taut” and
“thriller” descriptions are true, the author is not always
“careful,” choosing to sensationalize matters rather than
objectively analyze them. The oil and gas industry is portrayed as “an
irresistible force,” Ludwig as “an immovable object,” the police
force as bungling, the provincial government as uncaring, and the local
population as unsophisticated. As a result, Ludwig’s account of
matters is accepted largely without question. For example, on the matter
of his disposition by the Christian Reformed Church in Goderich,
Ontario, Nikiforuk—who was not there—claims that the community was
“a quarrelsome lot,” and that Ludwig “did his best” in the
dispute, but to no avail. Would the people of Goderich contend

Most annoying is Nikiforuk’s failure to examine the concerns of the
people around Hythe and Beaverlodge who, rather than being polarized by
events, seem to have been brought closer together by them. The author
did attend at least one meeting of the West Country Concerned Citizens,
but he does not appear to have actually interviewed any of them. Thus,
while threats and vulgarities ascribed to some are amply quoted, adding
to the sensation of it all, the more cautionary views of others are
omitted. The scene, of course, was intended to be one of pending mob
violence. Had Nikiforuk conducted more research, he would have found
that many of these people are actually concerned about sour gas well
emissions, but opposed to the Ludwig method of dealing with them. In
time, it is hoped that a more thorough and balanced account of Ludwig
will be published that will acknowledge all perspectives and be based on
all available evidence.


Nikiforuk, Andrew., “Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig's War Against Big Oil,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed October 1, 2023,