CLARK, MICHAEL, physician, rancher, and politician; b. 12 May 1861 in Belford, England, son of Michael Clark, a grocer, and Jane Hall; m. 3 Aug. 1882 Elizabeth Smith in Hamilton, Ont., and they had four sons; d. 29 July 1926 near Olds, Alta.
Michael Clark was educated at Elmfield College in York, England, where he earned a gold medal in languages, and the University of Edinburgh (mb, cm). In 1882, while a medical student, he visited Canada to marry the eldest daughter of George Smith of Cherrybank Farm near Hamilton, whom he had known before the family emigrated. After graduation he practised in northern England; at Newcastle upon Tyne he also sat on the local school board. In 1902, for reasons of health and apparently also to establish careers for his sons, he moved to Alberta and began farming northwest of Olds. He soon got into politics. A Liberal, he ran unsuccessfully for the seat of Rosebud in 1905 in the province’s first election. Three years later he was returned to the House of Commons for Red Deer, which he would represent until 1921. Little is known of his medical practice. A Methodist in his youth, he enjoyed walking and swimming, supported women’s suffrage, and in 1911-12 served on the board of the University of Alberta.
Politically Clark established a reputation for his idealism, the strength of his convictions, and his representation of western and agrarian interests. Considered in the commons “a party of one” for his “old-time” doctrines of free trade, he took some swings at protection and was prepared to exceed the measures proposed by the government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier* in January 1911 for reciprocity with the United States. In a verbose supportive speech on 23 February, he proudly linked his beliefs to the early free-trade principles of Sir Robert Peel and Richard Cobden in Britain. The Conservative response came from Ontario mp Richard Blain, who dismissed Clark as a foreign anachronism and asked why he had never voted against any of the tariffs sustained by the Liberals. Following their defeat that year, Clark became a vigorous critic of Robert Laird Borden*’s government. In 1913 he saw its Naval Aid Bill as a stimulus to the “mad war of armament.” According to one summary, with “canny humour and clear directness” he attacked the “German ‘scare’ as being an attenuated thing resting in disordered minds, assumed the extreme and well-known English Radical view as to . . . preparations for war, [and] deprecated any form of Imperial Federation.” After the outbreak of conflict in August 1914, however, his politics shifted dramatically as he placed his loyalty to Britain first, a sentiment reinforced by the enlistment of his son Michael. At a Liberal convention in Calgary that month, he sponsored a resolution to terminate partisanship while the crisis threatened the British empire.
In 1917 Clark parted with Laurier to support conscription, one of the earliest western Liberals to do so. He backed the Union government formed by Borden in October 1917 but, perhaps because of illness, refused a place in cabinet. During the campaign for the general election in December, he angered many Liberals, including his own riding organization, which rejected his candidacy, by insisting on the need for a coalition to coordinate the war effort. A party led by Quebec, he claimed in a shot at Laurier, was not up to the task. He won Red Deer as a Liberal-Unionist, but did not always embrace the government’s reformist initiatives after the war. In 1919 in the committee on hereditary titles for Canadians, headed by William Folger Nickle*, who wanted them abolished, Clark defended tradition and the “splendid place” of the British nobility in the war.
During the parliamentary session of 1920 Clark joined the rural-oriented Progressive party under Thomas Alexander Crerar*. The association did not last long: in September 1921, in a widely publicized break, Clark told Crerar he would not be running as a Progressive in Alberta because of his distaste for the “class” politics of the United Farmers there. In December he stood as a Liberal in the Saskatchewan riding of Mackenzie, but was defeated by a Progressive. He subsequently retired from politics. Predeceased by his wife and two sons, he died at his Belford Glen Ranch in 1926 and was buried in Olds.
Throughout his public career, Clark had been acclaimed as the “finest speaker in western Canada.” Though rarely on his feet in parliament “for any length of time,” he commanded the attention of every mp, one reporter said, expressing an estimate found repeatedly in the press.
AO, RG 80-5-0-112, no.12562. GRO, Reg. of births, Belford, 12 May 1861. Calgary News Telegram, 30 April 1912. Farmer’s Telegram and Family Magazine (Winnipeg), 3 Oct. 1917. Morning Albertan (Calgary), 29 April 1912, 6 Dec. 1917. Olds Gazette (Olds, Alta), 6 Aug. 1926. Strathmore and Bow Valley Standard (Strathmore, Alta), 4 Aug. 1926. John Blue, Alberta, past and present, historical and biographical (3v., Chicago, 1924), 1: 136. Can., House of Commons, Debates, 23 Feb. 1911: 4143-69. Canadian annual rev., 1910, 1913, 1916, 1919, 1921. CPG, 1918. Olds: a history of Olds and area (Olds, 1980). See Olds first: a history of Olds and surrounding district ([Olds], 1968). L. G. Thomas, The Liberal party in Alberta: a history of politics in the province of Alberta, 1905-1921 (Toronto, 1959). Univ. of Alta Arch., Who’s who at the University of Alberta, 1908-1919 ([Edmonton], 1991). Who’s who (London), 1910. Who’s who in Canada, 1925/26.