DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

DEVAU, Retor, CLAUDE – Volume IV (1771-1800)

d. 14 April 1784 at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (La Pérade, Que.)


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Original title:  John Bracken, Premier of Manitoba, circa 1941.

Archives of Manitoba

Source: Link

Bracken, John, agriculturalist, office holder, university professor and administrator, politician, and farmer; b. 22 June 1883 near Ellisville, Ont., eldest son of Ephraim Bracken and Alberta Gilbert; m. 22 June 1909 Alice Whylie Bruce (d. 1971) in Guelph, Ont., and they had four sons; d. 18 March 1969 in Manotick (Ottawa), and was buried in Rideauvale Cemetery in Kars (Ottawa).

The Brackens were of Scottish, Irish, and English origin. John was named for his paternal great-grandfather, who had come to Upper Canada by way of the Mohawk valley in northern New York State following the War of 1812. Born in a log cabin on his grandparents’ homestead in Leeds County, he moved with his parents the following spring to a more comfortable house nearby; his father continued to work on the family farm, saving money to purchase his own property. By 1889, when Alberta and Ephraim settled on the 240-acre dairy farm in nearby Seeleys Bay that John would always consider his boyhood home, they had three more children. A fifth child would be born in 1898. According to his biographer, John Edward Kendle, John grew up in “a beautiful part of Canada, a pocket of fertile lowland surrounded by ragged granite outcroppings lying just thirteen miles north of Gananoque, where the St Lawrence widens to embrace the Thousand Islands.”

Initially John went to the same one-room school that his father had attended and, after the move to Seeleys Bay, to a two-room school near the farm. He was known as an energetic and determined young man, and an excellent cyclist and athlete. His mother, a woman of deeply held Methodist convictions, worked hard to instil them in her children. She attended church regularly and taught John and his siblings to be responsible adults with a strong sense of loyalty and duty. According to his biographer, later in life John would remark that his mother “was the greatest woman he ever knew.”

Although little information about John’s early studies remains, he placed fifth out of 40 students in the school-leaving examination. His parents valued education and, recognizing his potential, sent him in September 1897 to the Brockville Collegiate Institute, even though it meant that he would be unable to help on the farm. During his first term John did not perform well but he returned after the Christmas holidays determined to improve. In the summer of 1898 he took part I of his junior matriculation exam, a requirement for continuing his education. When the Brockville Times published the names of the successful students he found to his chagrin that he was not listed. Rather than appealing the results, he abandoned thoughts of a legal or medical career. Resolving to make his family’s farm the best in Leeds County, he asked his father for permission to take over management of its daily operations. In 1900 Ephraim was elected a reeve for the county; his duties often kept him in Brockville, so additional responsibilities largely fell to John. Even though he had purchased the first milking machine in the community, the work was strenuous and demanded long hours, seven days a week. The Brackens were close-knit and home life was quiet. Although Ephraim was associated with the Conservative Party of Sir John A. Macdonald*, family political discussions were rare.

In 1902 John left home to pursue a two-year program in agricultural studies at the Ontario Agricultural College [see James Mills*] in Guelph. He worked hard at balancing academics with athletics and enjoyed success in both, earning honours in every subject and a reputation as a star rugby player. At the end of his second year, he decided to remain at the OAC to complete a bachelor of agricultural science degree. He returned to Brockville Collegiate to enquire about writing the necessary examinations. To his surprise he learned that he had passed his junior matriculation exam but had never been informed because of a clerical error. Free to pursue his studies, he also discovered that he had won the Governor General’s Medal for his second year at the OAC, having placed first overall in academic standing.

In his final two years Bracken was a rugby star whose exploits graced the pages of the O.A.C. Review (Guelph), and he was chosen by his classmates to receive the college medal as “the best all-round man.” He graduated in the spring of 1906 and accepted a job in Winnipeg with the federal Department of Agriculture as the only representative of its seed branch in Manitoba. The branch enforced the Seed Control Act of 1905, inspected seeds and seed crops, tested seeds, and distributed reference collections of seeds for agricultural purposes. In addition to stimulating interest in the production and use of better seeds, the organization distributed literature on farm weeds and it ran local seed fairs, provincial seed exhibitions, field-crop competitions, and seed-judging classes. Bracken’s tasks required extensive travel throughout western farming communities and he gained intimate knowledge of their needs. He enjoyed the work, and earned the praise of rural and urban newspapers and the respect of the farmers. His reputation spread to Saskatchewan, where he was invited to be a judge at the annual stockbreeders’ show in Regina. There, in March 1907, he met William Richard Motherwell*, the province’s commissioner of agriculture, who offered him a combination of two positions: superintendent of fairs and farmers’ institutes, and secretary of the Saskatchewan Stock Breeders’ Association. Bracken accepted and moved to Regina that May.

In his new role Bracken faced a demanding schedule, which included extensive travel and required that he give lectures and demonstrations, organize farmers’ institutes, publish information bulletins, and judge beef cattle and draft horses. He became accustomed to public speaking and delivered addresses with titles such as “Features of successful grain growing” and “The work of the Agricultural Society.” His speeches made him widely known, but it was his interactions with individual farmers that enhanced his reputation.

In January 1909 Bracken was asked by the deputy commissioner of agriculture, William John Rutherford*, to join the staff of the college of agriculture that had been proposed for the newly established University of Saskatchewan [see Walter Charles Murray*]. He was officially appointed in April 1909, to begin his duties as the professor of extension work the following year. While a student at the OAC he had met and dated Alice Whylie Bruce, a typist at the college. On his 26th birthday the couple were married at her mother’s house in Guelph. John returned with Alice to Regina and soon afterwards he was offered the position of professor of field husbandry rather than extension work. During the winter of 1909–10 he visited institutions in the United States; he spent several months in 1910 at the Agricultural College of the University of Illinois and his observations there would influence his teaching and experiments. He and Alice settled in Saskatoon in May that year. Over the next decade the couple had four boys. During these years Bracken became accustomed to a heavy schedule that included teaching, administration, extension work, and crop and tillage experiments. He wrote for farm newspapers and periodicals about improved practices and was often invited to speak about his experiments.

By 1920 Bracken had become an expert on dry-land farming (techniques used in areas of low precipitation, especially in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan) and his reputation resulted in an offer early in the year to become principal of the Manitoba Agricultural College. He accepted and in June the family moved to Winnipeg, where, in addition to his regular workload, he undertook a major agricultural survey of the province and published two books: Crop production in western Canada (Winnipeg, 1920) and Dry farming in western Canada (Winnipeg, 1921).

The Manitoba Agricultural College was a prominent institution and Bracken quickly became a leading figure in the provincial farming community. The timing of his appointment proved fateful: he arrived during a period when Manitoba’s farmers were becoming dissatisfied with the provincial Liberal government of Tobias Crawford Norris*. Agrarian unrest had been on the rise in Canada even before the defeat of reciprocity in the federal election of 1911 [see James Speakman*]. Farmers’ organizations had sprung up all over the west and the Manitoba Grain Growers’ Association under James William Scallion* openly debated whether it should enter federal politics. The victory of the United Farmers of Ontario in the provincial election of 1919 (they would take office under Ernest Charles Drury) ignited a discussion as to whether political action against the Norris government should be considered. Although the Grain Growers’ Association decided against taking formal action, it was reorganized as the United Farmers of Manitoba and allowed its locals to enter provincial politics. This decision reflected a growing militancy among farmers and a general displeasure with the lack of attention given to agriculture in the national economy. On 29 June 1920 Manitoba elected a Liberal minority government and 12 new UFM members entered the legislature. The UFM could have formed the official opposition, but it refused and did not establish itself as a political party. The result was referred to by historian William Lewis Morton* as “the dissolution of the party system in provincial politics” and for the next two years the Norris government was unable to get any significant legislation passed.

The year 1922 was a turning point in Bracken’s life. The UFM had succeeded in attracting support from the Winnipeg business community, which wanted a responsible and financially restrained administration. In the provincial election of 18 July, 24 of its members were victorious, along with 7 Liberals, 6 Conservatives, 6 labour candidates, 8 independents, and 1 member of the Progressive Party. Deferred elections in three constituencies would be held in the autumn. The UFM was called on to form a government by the lieutenant governor, Sir James Albert Manning Aikins*. Still leaderless, it now faced the responsibility of finding a man capable of assuming the premiership. Shortly after midnight on 21 July Bracken was awakened by a telephone call from United Farmer mla William Reid Clubb. A startled Bracken was informed that he was one of three men being considered as leader. Clubb requested that, if he were interested, Bracken attend a meeting of the UFM that morning in Winnipeg. Bracken was surprised by the message. He had never pursued politics or expressed any interest in a political career; his initial reaction was to refuse. He discussed the possibility with his wife and concluded that he had to at least present himself. The other candidates, Thomas Alexander Crerar*, leader of the federal Progressive Party, and Robert Alexander Hoey, a Manitoba Progressive mp, met with the farmers but both declined the post. After his appearance the farm group concluded unanimously that Bracken was their choice and he accepted; the decision was announced to the public that evening. Later Bracken would claim that he had become premier to help the farmers succeed. He believed that his bureaucratic experience would enable him to provide a sound administration and he was attracted by the non-partisan nature of the UFM. His selection was well received throughout the province and garnered endorsements from both the Conservative and the Liberal press, most notably from John Wesley Dafoe*, the powerful editor of the Manitoba Free Press (Winnipeg).

Once in power Bracken faced three immediate tasks: forming a cabinet, finding a seat in the legislature, and setting an agenda. In short order he constructed a small cabinet, choosing five men who possessed a keen sense of businesslike organization. They all took office on 8 August. To keep costs down Bracken assumed the education portfolio himself and also served as railway commissioner and provincial lands commissioner. He named Richard W. Craig attorney general, Francis Mollison Black provincial treasurer and minister of telephones and telegraphs, Neil Cameron minister of agriculture and immigration, Duncan Lloyd Mcleod provincial secretary, and Clubb minister of public works. He then filed to run in the northern constituency of The Pas in the 5 October by-election, a contest he won handily.

Manitoba’s budgetary deficit was costing the province $3,500 per day in interest payments and Bracken made repayment of the debt a priority. In his first speech from the throne, he signalled that a new, non-partisan era in Manitoba politics had begun and he declared his willingness to cooperate with members of the opposition. He eschewed the politics of class and self-interest, establishing an approach to government and leadership that would characterize his political career. The peculiar brand of non-partisanship and coalition government he would set up in Manitoba, eventually known as Brackenism, would change the structure of politics in the province.

Although the public supported the new government’s emphasis on non-partisanship, Bracken was hampered by the inexperience of his caucus members. The opposition was filled with formidable veterans ready to pounce on unpractised newcomers. Still, Bracken proved to be an able student, as his handling of the wheat-board debate in 1923 demonstrated. In 1922 the federal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King*, acting on a request from western farmers, had re-established a federal wheat board but stipulated that the act would become operative when enabling legislation was passed in any two of the three prairie provinces. Alberta and Saskatchewan quickly complied, but assumed that Manitoba would also participate. Bracken faced a dilemma: an important minority in his farm caucus opposed the establishment of a board. To avoid dividing his government he permitted a free vote, which led to the defeat of the legislation. In the end, the federal wheat board was dead but the premier’s administration remained intact, and he retained control of the legislature.

Bracken found another non-partisan solution to a second problem. To address the issue of the rising costs of education he appointed the royal commission on education in 1923 and named University of Saskatchewan president Walter Charles Murray its chairman. Although, for financial reasons, he was unable to implement many of the commission’s recommendations, he introduced legislation to prevent the closing of rural schools for lack of funds.

The strength of the Bracken administration led some provincial Liberals to talk about a coalition with the UFM. The idea was not popular with the Liberal leadership or with the party’s diehard faction that had opposed Norris’s support for the federal Union government of Sir Robert Laird Borden*. Bracken viewed the idea favourably and relished the thought of a united front against the Conservatives, whose support he was losing. The coalition did not, however, materialize in time for the election of 28 June 1927. Bracken’s followers, who had adopted the Progressive label shortly after their election in 1922, won 29 seats, but the return of economic prosperity also brought with it a resurgence of support for the traditional parties. The Conservatives, with 15 members, were the chief beneficiaries. The Liberals held on to 7 seats, Labour representation declined to 3, and only 1 independent candidate was successful.

Despite his emphasis on an honest and responsible administration, Bracken suffered a political scandal that threatened both his government’s survival and his own good name. In 1928 the government considered building a new hydroelectric plant at Seven Sisters Falls on the Winnipeg River to deliver electricity to the province. Bracken’s administration had expressed in the legislature its commitment to continued government development of such resources. When expert advice determined that public ownership was unfeasible, the premier shifted tactics and negotiated with the Winnipeg Electric Company for low consumer rates. In response, Conservative leader Fawcett Gowler Taylor claimed that Bracken had circumvented the legislature’s resolution on public ownership and had personally benefited from the negotiations by accepting bribes. In 1929 the royal commission re. Seven Sisters Falls agreement exonerated Bracken and his government, but the scandal took a toll on the premier’s health.

In 1930 Manitoba obtained jurisdiction over its natural resources, resolving a question that dated back to the province’s entrance into confederation in 1870. Ottawa had retained control of the resources of the prairie provinces in order to foster a settlement policy, but created a regional issue in the process. Negotiations with the provinces commenced in 1911 but became bogged down over the matter of compensation for resources used. On 15 July 1930 the transfer was finalized in a ceremony in Winnipeg. Prime Minister King delivered a settlement cheque for $4,700,000 and Bracken observed that the payment marked the “culmination of a long and tedious controversy which arose out of an unfortunate misunderstanding of Confederation days.”

Despite this success Bracken faced serious challenges during his second term. Besides the hydroelectricity scandal, there was the Great Depression. The economic crisis quickly overshadowed the federal resource-transfer compensation as the prairies confronted an unprecedented agricultural crisis. Farmers endured a severe drought while the price of wheat plummeted to historic lows. Bracken travelled throughout the province, counselling his farming audiences to work hard, be patient, and remain optimistic. He argued that Canadian agriculture needed international markets, and he was critical of Conservative prime minister Richard Bedford Bennett*’s high tariff policy, believing that Ottawa continued to favour eastern manufacturers at the expense of western farmers. Bracken rallied to support the faltering provincial wheat pool, and in February 1931 his government passed the Wheat Pool Guarantee Act, backing the $1.00 per bushel the pool had promised farmers. When the price fell further, the province lost more than $3 million.

During the depression Manitoba experienced the most significant unemployment crisis in its history. The province had to deal with declining tax revenues, historically high jobless rates, and municipalities which were ill equipped to respond to escalating demands for relief. Although he was willing to cooperate with the federal government’s programs, Bracken believed that Ottawa was shifting the burden when it required that the province match its contributions dollar for dollar on most assistance schemes. At a federal–provincial conference in 1931 he noted that western agriculture was harder hit than other sectors of the economy. Manitoba and its municipalities could not sustain the cost of relief.

In January 1932 Bracken finally formed the desired coalition with the provincial Liberals, then under Murdoch Mackay. The new leader had fewer qualms than his predecessor about the arrangement. On 27 May three Liberals joined the cabinet. The combined forces won a solid majority in the election of 16 June, obtaining 38 of the 55 seats and a new mandate to combat the depression.

Over the next four years Bracken trimmed expenses, but the financial picture did not improve and annual crop failures continued. Chronic unemployment persisted. In 1933 Bracken’s relationship with Ottawa deteriorated further when Bennett wrote to him on 9 March threatening to bring in a controller to manage Manitoba’s finances if the premier could not balance the budget. Bracken was disturbed by the letter, and he met with the provincial Conservatives to produce a package of further cuts and approve a tax increase. Provincial unrest increased as the depression deepened, but he retained unwavering faith in the market economy. He was unsympathetic towards radicalism, as shown during 1934 by his inflexible attitude towards striking miners in Flin Flon whom he believed were being led by Communist agitators. Although the tax increase and austerity measures enabled Manitoba to maintain a relatively strong fiscal position, they cost Bracken popular support. In the election of 27 July 1936 he lost his majority; the Progressives retained only 22 seats. The Conservatives now had 16, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and labour had 7, and the Social Credit Party 5; 1 Communist and 2 independents also won in their ridings. Deferred elections in two northern constituencies returned Bracken himself and an independent. His offer of a coalition with the Conservatives having been turned down, the premier was forced to enter into an agreement with Social Credit to remain in power.

Federal–provincial relations were strained as debt drove the western provinces towards bankruptcy. Ottawa’s unwillingness to assist in meeting relief obligations had caused one provincial Conservative government after another to be turned out. In the summer of 1935 the last of the Tory administrations fell. Bracken’s frustration with Bennett led him to join his colleagues in opposing the Conservatives in the federal contest of 14 Oct. 1935. He was convinced that Bennett’s economic policies were misguided and had hampered recovery in the west. Bennett’s defeat gave Bracken hope because King, who took office on 5 November, had come out in favour of low tariffs during the election. King moved quickly to increase Manitoba’s relief grant, enabling Bracken to lessen the municipal burden, but he still felt that the municipalities and provinces faced a larger structural problem. By 1936 Winnipeg had borrowed $3.5 million from the province in order to cope with relief payments. On 9 December Bracken delivered a speech to the National Finance Committee demanding that the dominion and the provinces create a new interest-rate adjustment for provincial- and municipal-bond issues. King responded by commissioning an assessment of Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s finances by the Bank of Canada. The report, signed by bank president Graham Ford Towers*, pleased Bracken because it praised his fiscal management and observed that the province could no longer raise sufficient tax revenues to meet escalating relief demands. It further claimed that both provinces lacked the resources to deliver basic government services, and that existing debt-refunding proposals were unrealistic. Ottawa responded by offering temporary aid to both provinces, and, faced with discontent in other provinces over similar issues, it set up the royal commission on dominion–provincial relations, also known as the Rowell–Sirois commission [see Newton Wesley Rowell*; Joseph Sirois*].

Bracken looked forward to a review of the dominion–provincial relationship and prepared Manitoba’s testimony, delivered at the opening hearings in Winnipeg on 29 Nov. 1937. According to his biographer, Bracken’s brief was “the most comprehensive and best argued of all those submitted.” In 1938 he travelled throughout the west, building support for the commission and arguing that Canada needed a “new deal” that included a compensation package for the western provinces. Still, the Rowell–Sirois commission encountered resistance from several premiers. Alberta’s William Aberhart* opposed it, Ontario’s Mitchell Frederick Hepburn* argued that the west’s financial problems were not a national issue, and Quebec’s Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis*, while contesting the legitimacy of the commission, backed Hepburn’s position on provincial autonomy. Bracken responded to Hepburn at the final hearing in autumn 1938 by presenting an economic deposition put together with the assistance of provincial treasurer Stuart Sinclair Garson* and consultants such as University of Chicago economist Jacob Viner. The brief directly refuted Hepburn and was another forceful statement of western grievances.

The Rowell–Sirois report, tabled in the House of Commons on 15 May 1940, was sympathetic to Manitoba’s case. Although the hearings had made Bracken a national figure, his hope for constitutional change was unfulfilled. A dominion–provincial conference was called for 14–15 Jan. 1941 to discuss the commission’s findings. In a speech to the delegates, Bracken summed up his position: “National unity must be based on provincial autonomy, and provincial autonomy cannot be assured unless a strong feeling of national unity exists throughout Canada.” His appeal did not persuade all of his fellow premiers and the conference was scuttled when Hepburn, Aberhart, and Thomas Dufferin Pattullo* of British Columbia refused to participate in their assigned committees. The conference ended after only one day; many of the commission’s recommendations would never be implemented while others were introduced on a piecemeal basis.

The Second World War had renewed Bracken’s push for non-partisan government, and during the summer of 1940 he approached provincial party leaders Errick French Willis of the Conservatives, Seymour James Farmer of the CCF, and Sydney Ernest Rogers of the Social Crediters, about forming a coalition for the war’s duration. They accepted and the cabinet was enlarged on 4 November to 12 members. His proposition was a shrewd tactic, ensuring that the administration would not face partisan opposition during wartime. Obliged to go to the polls, he was re-elected on 22 April 1941 and had the support of 50 of the 55 returned; the handful that would oppose him consisted of 3 anti-coalition Conservatives, a Communist, and an anti-coalition independent. Bracken was more than halfway through his 19th year in office, making him the country’s longest-serving premier. After his disheartening experience with the Rowell–Sirois commission, he began contemplating a move into federal politics. In November 1941 former prime minister Arthur Meighen* approached him about contesting the leadership of the federal Conservative Party. Meighen explained that with support for the CCF surging in the cities, the Tories needed Bracken in order to guarantee the rural vote. Although Bracken did not refuse outright, he was not enthusiastic and warned that he would prove a disappointment.

Bracken’s turn at the leadership would not come for another year. Meighen was unable to resist party pressure to accept the helm himself. He endured an ill-fated comeback, and was defeated in a federal by-election in February 1942. In August Meighen again lobbied Bracken, who remained reluctant. After the Conservative Party held a semi-official policy conference in Port Hope, Ont., in September, Meighen thought that the progressive resolutions adopted there, advocating among other things an enlightened agricultural policy, collective bargaining, better unemployment insurance, and old-age pensions, might prove attractive to Bracken, and he maintained the pressure throughout the autumn of 1942. The tide turned in November when Meighen wrote Bracken a powerful letter playing on the premier’s sense of duty. The following month Bracken indicated that he would accept if the party adopted the proposals that had been discussed at Port Hope and changed its name to the Progressive Conservative Party. He wanted it known that he was not a convert to conservatism but that it was the party which had modified its program. On 10 Dec. 1942 at the party’s leadership conference in Winnipeg Bracken was elected on the second ballot, defeating lawyer Murdoch Alexander MacPherson and mp John George Diefenbaker*. As it turned out, the party’s name was changed after his selection and not before, as he had wished. On 8 Jan. 1943, after nearly 22 years of service, he stepped down as premier of Manitoba.

The Tories had high expectations, but they quickly came to the conclusion that they had chosen the wrong man. They were dismayed that Bracken initially refused to take a seat in the House of Commons. He was reluctant for several reasons. A number of people (himself included) felt that he should tour the country to meet party members, become familiar with regional concerns, and address supportive audiences, where his reputation for being an effective speaker in front of small groups would ensure success. In addition, Bracken was uncertain that he would obtain a victory if he contested either of the seats available in Manitoba and he felt that he would not be a strong performer in parliament. So he travelled extensively, but his absence from the house until the federal election of 11 June 1945 (when he was successful in Neepawa) enabled the opposition to portray him as ineffective. It also cost him support within his party. Those who wanted to see the social reforms of the Port Hope program implemented lacked an effective leader and the vacuum allowed the Toronto-based old guard to reassert control over the party. After George Alexander Drew* was elected premier of Ontario in 1943, that group rallied around him, undermining Bracken’s authority.

In 1945 the party’s fortunes improved; it made modest gains in most provinces, and a solid one of 23 ridings in Ontario, increasing its total number of seats from 40 to 67. But Prime Minister King held on with a reduced majority since Bracken did not deliver the expected breakthrough with his constituency of western farmers and his party had alienated voters in Quebec. He had been reluctant to engage in partisan attacks during wartime and angered many Conservatives by refusing to take a prominent role in the proceedings after he entered the house. Tories who had expected him to lead an attack against the government were disappointed. Although he could be effective in his offensives against the Liberals, he seldom engaged in polemics. This was a difficult period for Bracken, whose health was strained. Although hard-working and conscientious, he lacked the necessary temperament and partisanship for the job.

A group of senior Conservatives approached Bracken and suggested he resign. In a letter dated 17 July 1948 he announced his intention to step down as leader at the next party convention. In response to a promise he had made to supporters in Brandon, he reluctantly contested that constituency in the federal election of 27 June 1949 and was not surprised, and somewhat relieved, when he lost by over 4,000 votes. He and his wife settled permanently in Ontario, living on a farm they had purchased on the Rideau River near Ottawa in 1943. His last 20 years were happy ones during which he raised palomino horses and Jersey cows, and grew award-winning alfalfa. The Brackens held annual picnics for alumni of the OAC and the University of Saskatchewan, but he preferred to stay out of public life as much as possible. He accepted two brief mandates to serve the people of western Canada. At the request of Manitoba premier Douglas Lloyd Campbell* he chaired the Manitoba liquor enquiry commission from April 1954 to November 1955, and in 1958 he was appointed to the one-man federal royal commission of inquiry into the distribution of railway boxcars established by the Diefenbaker government. On 18 March 1969 he died at his home in Manotick, at age 85. His wife, Alice, survived him by two years.

John Bracken was most successful when he was able to act as an administrator and could avoid the political theatre. He was, by his own admission, “not a colourful figure” and was happiest when attending to the task of governing. He will be remembered more for his career as Manitoba’s premier than as leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party and should be considered not only a competent administrator, but someone who offered stable government and continuity during the extremely difficult years of the Great Depression. His most enduring legacy, however, may be the issue he raised by his insistence on non-partisanship, prompting reflection as to whether Canadian democracy is better served by a non-partisan technocratic government with little public involvement or by a partisan government reflecting the attitudes and opinions of one or a few of the groups in a country whose citizens are engaged by and divided over the great socio-economic issues of the day.

Robert Wardhaugh and Jeremy Nathan Marks

Arch. of Man. (Winnipeg), John Bracken fonds. Arch. of Ont. (Toronto), RG 80-2-0-198, no.17379; RG 80-5-0-404, no.21850. Library and Arch. Can. (Ottawa), R4417-0-6. Gerald Friesen, The Canadian prairies: a history (Toronto, 1984). J. [E.] Kendle, John Bracken: a political biography (Toronto, 1979). W. L. Morton, Manitoba: a history (Toronto, 1957). Robert Wardhaugh and Jason Thistlewaite, “John Bracken, 1922–1943,” in Manitoba premiers of the 19th and 20th centuries, ed. Robert Wardhaugh and B. [G.] Ferguson (Regina, 2010), 105–92.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robert Wardhaugh and Jeremy Nathan Marks, “BRACKEN, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 19, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 14, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bracken_john_19E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bracken_john_19E.html
Author of Article:   Robert Wardhaugh and Jeremy Nathan Marks
Title of Article:   BRACKEN, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 19
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2016
Year of revision:   2016
Access Date:   April 14, 2024