Frederick Haultain and the North West Territories

*Note from Duckie, I know Wednesdays are our Gospel days, but we have an article by CDS and wanted to get this posted this week.  Since it’s a bit of Canadian history & politics, and today being ‘Boxing Day’ in Canada, I figured it’d go well here 🙂 
We’ll post the last Chapter of Matthew Saturday, and resume regular schedule next week with the beginning of the Gospel of Mark on Wednesday, and Walter’s last couple of articles from his Climate Change series next Tuesday



It was the 1890s. Canadians elected a new Liberal majority government lead by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier of Quebec in the Summer of 1896. There was a gold rush in the Klondike which lead to the creation of the Yukon Territory West of the Mackenzie Mountains in the Spring of 1898. European and Eastern Canadian farmers and other people purchased train tickets to the prairies of Western Canada and settled there.

Sir Wilfred Laurier

The Northwest Territories (NWT) (i.e. the area East of the Rocky Mountains and West of Manitoba and Ontario) had seen some changes with the increased population. The capital city had moved a few times, ending up in Regina, in order to be on the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The federal government in Ottawa allowed the NWT to have their own limited elected council in 1875. This council was replaced by a Legislative Assembly in 1888. The politicians were not affiliated with political parties at the local level (although many openly supported the Conservatives or Liberals federally).

Frederick William Alpin Gordon Haultain was born in England in 1857 and moved with his family to Canada at the age of three. He lived, worked and was educated in Ontario and Quebec before practicing law in the NWT in 1884. He was first elected to the territorial council in 1887 for the riding of Macleod (in the Southwest) and soon became chairman of its advisory council/executive committee, acting as sort of an unofficial Premier.

Mr. Haultain and the councillors were frustrated at the lack of organization and power for the local government. He convinced the federal Conservative government to increase the financial grants from Ottawa and to let the Assembly decide how to use them in 1892. The federal Liberal government granted additional responsibility to the NWT’s cabinet in 1897 and Mr. Haultain became the first official Premier.

However, these measures were still inadequate by the early 1900s. Unlike a provincial government, the territorial government did not have important powers that would have been useful for an area with a growing population. The NWT could not borrow money, easily impose new taxes, charter railways or exercise control over the natural resources within its boundaries. Ottawa still called the shots on key matters like these.

Mr. Haultain began a campaign to call for the creation of a single large province called Buffalo. The geographical location of this province would have been roughly the Southern prairie area of the existing NWT. Regina would likely have remained the capital city. The government of Buffalo could have the powers that it needed and have its non-partisan representatives deal with the federal government in a united manner. The federal Conservative party endorsed this idea of a single province in 1902.

So, what did Prime Minister Laurier think of this plan? Not much. He did not want a single unified, geographically large province to rival Ontario and Quebec, especially if its population one day could surpass that of those Eastern provinces. He wanted the federal government to keep control of the natural resources so that Ottawa could continue to orchestrate the settlement and development of the West. Finally, he wanted to introduce political parties in the NWT so that the politicians might not be unified against Ottawa and in order to create the political machinery to facilitate federal election victories.

So, Mr. Laurier made a vague promise that if the Liberals won the next federal election in 1904, then Ottawa would grant some sort of provincial status for the areas that currently made up the NWT. Premier Haultain decided to openly endorse the Conservatives in that federal election. Laurier and the Liberals won again.

In September of 1905, the two provinces of Alberta (AB) and Saskatchewan (SK) were created by federal legislation. Their Northern boundaries would extend to 60 degrees North latitude (the same as the British Columbia/Yukon boundary) and the border between them became the 110 degree West latitude line, cutting right through the town of Lloydminster. Ottawa would keep control of the land and resources (but the provinces received some financial compensation for this) until 1930. Prime Minister Laurier chose Liberal Lieutenant Governors for both AB and SK (George Bulyea and Amédée Forget). Interim Liberal Premiers were appointed: Alexander Rutherford for AB and Walter Scott for SK.

The first provincial general elections took place later that year. In November in AB, the Liberals won a majority government against future Conservative Canadian Prime Minister R.B. Bennett and would remain in power until 1921. In December in SK, the Liberals also won a majority government – against Frederick Haultain, who was then the leader of the Provincial Rights party and had decided to live in SK (where his law practice was located) instead of AB. The SK Liberals would remain in power until 1929.

Mr. Haultain eventually left politics in 1912, becoming both a chief justice in SK and the second chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan in 1917. He died at Montreal, Quebec on January 30, 1942. His ashes were buried in the University area of Saskatoon.

Mr. Laurier remained a popular Prime Minister of Canada until 1911. His picture is on the Canadian $5 bill. He died in Ottawa on February 17, 1919.

What happened to the remaining Northern areas of the Northwest Territories? The Eastern portion became Nunavut in 1999, a territory based on Inuit land claims negotiated under the federal Progressive Conservative government in the early 1990s. The Western part, with an approximate population of 44,000 people, is still the NWT, with the capital in Yellowknife on the shore of the Great Slave Lake. There is a Legislative Assembly with 19 non-partisan members, including a Premier. Ottawa still calls the shots on key matters.

Primary Sources:
“Alberta Premiers of the Twentieth Century” (Bradford J. Rennie and Patricia Roome, 2004)
“Saskatchewan Premiers of the Twentieth Century” (Gordon L. Barnhart, 2004)

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