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GRANT, ROBERT HENRY, farmer and politician; b. 5 Aug. 1860 in Ottawa, eldest child of Robert Grant and Eliza Hardy; m. first 10 Jan. 1886 Sara Christiana Cuddie (d. 31 July 1887) in Perth, Ont.; m. secondly 17 June 1891 Sarah Maria Gourlay (d. 18 Feb. 1927) in Huntley Township, Ont., and they had six sons and three daughters; d. 26 Nov. 1930 near Hazeldean (Ottawa), Ont.

Following her husband's death in a fire in 1870, Eliza Grant moved with her children to Ottawa, where Robert Henry managed to obtain a secondary education. He spent some time at the University of Toronto and the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph before taking over the family's large farm near Hazeldean in Goulbourn Township, where he also became active in local government. He represented Goulbourn on Carleton County Council from 1882 to 1891 and then served as county auditor for 12 years. In 1884 he was appointed a justice of the peace. The dominion government engaged him the following year to assist in evaluating land to be purchased for the Central Experimental Farm at Ottawa and in 1915 for the military base at Valcartier, Que. A freemason and member of St Paul's Anglican Church in Hazeldean, he served as secretary of a local cheese factory and telephone company, the Farmers' Institute of Carleton, and the Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec Plowmen's Association.

Though a long-time Conservative, Grant joined the United Farmers of Ontario, the agrarian movement formed in 1914. When it fielded candidates in the provincial election of October 1919, he reluctantly accepted the nomination for Carleton, an old Conservative constituency, and ran a solid, if understated, campaign. Grant accused his Tory opponent, fellow farmer Adam Holland Acres, of blind party loyalty and argued that all organizations, including legislatures, could be improved by the presence of farmers. He obtained a stunning majority; "Carleton Sells Birthright," proclaimed the Carp Review (Carp, Ont.). Provincially, the Farmers won more seats than any other party and, with 11 Independent Labor mpps, they formed a coalition government. Grant sat on the committee that selected Ernest Charles Drury* as premier. Although early rumours placed Grant in the agriculture portfolio, Drury made him minister of education, to some extent because of his post-secondary experience. This nomination marked the first time that a Carleton mpp had been appointed to cabinet. Grant displayed typical modesty in an interview shortly after his appointment: "I was born a farmer, am a farmer and am nothing else. My farm has been my principal attraction and comfort despite the other activities in my life."

During his three-year tenure as minister, Grant performed competently but not spectacularly. From the beginning he emphasized the improvement of rural schools, a sector where he met with some success: the salaries of teachers were increased, a director of rural school organization was named (William John Karr), and classes were begun at agricultural schools in Ridgetown and Kemptville. The government's efforts, however, to enforce the 1921 act that extended the age of compulsory attendance from 14 to 16 met with resistance from rural backbenchers, and school attendance fell off. Drury believed that Grant, rather than use his own judgement, too often deferred to his department's officials, who included such experienced authorities as Arthur Hugh Urquhart Colquhoun (deputy), Francis Walter Merchant* (industrial and technical education), and William Oliver Carson (public libraries). Grant occasionally stood his ground. When Charles Vincent Massey* offered in 1920 to fund a commission on Ontario schools, Grant, because he had not been consulted, threatened to resign if Drury went ahead with the plan. Drury backed down, in part because the Farmers were wary of any external commission and of Massey because of his family's involvement in the implement business. On other important matters, Grant was either unable or unwilling to act upon Farmers' principles. Regulation 17, a measure passed by the former Conservative government of Sir James Pliny Whitney* to restrict the use of French in schools, was opposed by the Farmers, but Grant did not revoke it. Although he claimed inaction because of tensions between French- and English-speaking Catholics, the fact that his riding contained 87 Orange lodges was probably an important factor in his decision. The failure to rescind the regulation underscored the differences between the Farmers' rank-and-file members and their elected officials, who moderated or ignored several key planks of the party's platform.

In the election of June 1923, Grant again faced A. H. Acres, and was defeated. He returned to his farm and never ran again, though he continued to have an interest in education. He believed his Conservative successor as minister, George Howard Ferguson* of Kemptville (not far from Goulbourn), had a solid grasp of educational matters, and they corresponded. While Grant attended to his farm in the 1920s, his wife maintained her public profile. She was an honorary vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Home and School Associations, and in 1927 she represented the Federated Women's Institutes of Ontario at the annual meeting of the League of Nations Society in Canada. R. H. Grant died in 1930 and was buried in Maple Grove cemetery at Hazeldean.

Grant was fairly typical of the United Farmers returned in 1919 and the extent to which they diverged from other party members. He had believed that if farmers were elected, policies favourable to their calling would result. But, once at Queen's Park, the mpps largely failed to satisfy the membership's desire for sweeping changes to the political, economic, and social systems that went beyond agricultural concerns.

Kerry Badgley

AO, RG 80-5-0-142, no.5994; RG 80-5-0-184, no.1976. LAC, RG 31, C1, 1871, Ottawa, Wellington Ward, div.1: 7; 1901, Goulbourn Township, Ont., div.5: 3. Carp Review (Carp, Ont.), 16, 23 Oct., 20 Nov. 1919; 7 June 1923; 24 Feb. 1927; 4 Dec. 1930. Ottawa Evening Journal, 27 Nov. 1930. Kerry Badgley, Ringing in the common love of good: the United Farmers of Ontario, 1914–1926 (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 2000). Canadian annual rev., 1920: 540. E. C. Drury, Farmer premier: memoirs of the Honourable E. C. Drury (Toronto, 1966). C. M. Johnston, E. C. Drury: agrarian idealist (Toronto, 1986). K. M. Nicholson, "Policies of the Department of Education during the administration of Premier E. C. Drury, 1919–1923" (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1972). Peter Oliver, G. Howard Ferguson: Ontario Tory (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1977). Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers, reports of the minister of education, 1919–22. R. M. Stamp, The schools of Ontario, 1876–1976 (Toronto, 1982).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Kerry Badgley, “GRANT, ROBERT HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 29, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/grant_robert_henry_15E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/grant_robert_henry_15E.html
Author of Article: Kerry Badgley
Title of Article: GRANT, ROBERT HENRY
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 2005
Year of revision: 2005
Access Date: July 29, 2014