From professor to politician to Prairie writer, MacEwan stays true to his western roots

Grant MacEwan was truly a man of the West. He lived it, taught it and wrote about it.

Born in Manitoba, he began his teaching and writing careers in Saskatchewan before turning to politics and going on to represent the Queen in Alberta.

The son of a Prairie farmer, he was born John Walter Grant MacEwan on Aug. 12, 1902 on the family farm near Brandon, Man.

Financial difficulties forced the family to move to Melfort, Sask. in 1915.

MacEwan?s interest in agriculture increased as he grew older, as did his appetite for knowledge. Furthering his education, he left the farm behind to attend the Ontario Agricultural College.

An accomplished student who quickly earned a name for himself, MacEwan graduated in 1926. He then received a fellowship from Iowa State College, where he received his master of science degree two years later.

MacEwan received several offers upon graduating, but opted for a position as assistant professor of animal husbandry at the University of Saskatchewan. He quickly became one of the most popular instructors at the university and a leading academic in the province.

By taking his progressive ideas to the farming communities, he helped raise the profile of the university throughout rural Saskatchewan. MacEwan also travelled the province serving as a judge at agricultural fairs.

Over the years writing became an increasingly important part of his life. In time, MacEwan and a colleague recognized the need for textbooks that focused on agriculture. The first book they wrote was published in 1936.

Along with more books, another side of MacEwan began to emerge. He developed into a much sought after speaker and began to take on a greater public image.

MacEwan?s profile and popularity in the West also drew the politicians. He received several offers to serve at the federal and provincial levels, but he politely turned them down.

However, a change of employment was still in order. After being passed over for a similar position in Saskatchewan in 1937, he accepted the position as dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba in August 1946.

Still, political speculation continued to dog him in Manitoba. The university?s board of governors finally passed a resolution forcing MacEwan to resign his position if and when he accepted a nomination.

The resignation would come sooner than later. Just seven days after the resolution was passed, MacEwan resigned as dean to run for the Liberals in a federal by-election in Brandon in 1951. In a shock to MacEwan and his supporters, he was soundly defeated in his first run at political office.

A brief stop as agriculture editor of the Western Producer was followed by a move to Calgary.

He also gave politics another try as an alderman with the city of Calgary ? a position he would basically hold until 1963, with only a short break between 1958 and 1959. He then served as mayor from 1963 to 1965.

Diving right into the political arena, MacEwan also served double duty for three years. In addition to his duties as an alderman, he was elected as a member of the legislative assembly in 1955.

Moving on to the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party in 1958, his party was absolutely destroyed in the provincial election the following year. In the process, MacEwan also lost his seat.

He would leave politics for good in October 1965, and was appointed the ninth lieutenant-governor of Alberta early the following year.

He was reappointed for a second term and served until 1974.

Following his retirement from public office, MacEwan continued to write books and document Western Canadian history ? finishing with more than 50 titles to his credit. He passed away on June 15, 2000, but his name continues to live on in many buildings, institutions and places in communities around Alberta.

(Paul Spasoff is a freelance writer with an interest in Western Canadian history. Paul can be reached at backtothepast@sasktel.net)