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The Honourable Alexander Rutherford, 1905 - 1910

The Hon. Alexander C. RutherfordAlexander C. Rutherford had the distinction of being Alberta's first Premier.  He was known for his strong support of public education, particularly the University of Alberta, and his active involvement in community affairs.

Alexander Cameron Rutherford was born on February 2, 1857, on a farm near Osgoode, Carleton County, Ontario.  He was the son of James Rutherford and Elizabeth Cameron and was a Baptist.

He was educated at a local public school; Metcalfe High School; and the Canadian Literary Institute, a Baptist College located at Woodstock, Ontario.  And in 1881, he graduated from McGill University in Montreal, receiving Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Civil Law degrees.

Alexander C. Rutherford was called to the Ontario Bar in 1885 and practiced law for ten years in Kemptville, Ontario, as a junior partner in the law firm of Hodgkins, Kidd, and Rutherford.  On December 19, 1888, he married Mattie Birkett, daughter of William and Elizabeth Birkett of Ottawa, Ontario.  His father-in-law was a former Canadian Member of Parliament.  Alexander C. Rutherford and his wife Mattie had three children: Cecil Alexander, Hazel Elizabeth, and Marjorie Cameron.

The Hon. Alexander C. RutherfordIn 1895, Alexander C. Rutherford and his family moved to Western Canada, and he established a law practice in the community of South Edmonton, District of Alberta, North-West Territories.  After practicing law on his own for nearly five years, he established the firm of Rutherford and Jamieson in 1899.  From 1896 to 1905, he was Secretary-Treasurer of the South Edmonton School Board and from 1899 to 1906, he was Secretary-Treasurer of, and Solicitor for, the Town of Strathcona.

In 1896 and 1898, Alexander C. Rutherford unsuccessfully contested the electoral division of Edmonton for the Legislative Assembly of the North-West Territories.  In 1900, he was elected President of the Strathcona Liberal Association and supported Frank Oliver, Editor of the Edmonton Bulletin , at the federal general election of that year.  Alexander C. Rutherford was then elected to the Legislative Assembly of the North-West Territories for Strathcona in 1902, and subsequently served as Deputy Speaker of the Territorial Assembly from 1903 to 1905.  In 1903, he was elected to the Council of the Strathcona Board of Trade.  Following his election as the first President of the Liberal Party of Alberta in August, 1905, he was appointed Premier of Alberta by Lieutenant-Governor George H.V. Bulyea on September 2, 1905, the day after the Province of Alberta was established.  His government was sustained by a large majority at the general election of November 9, 1905.

As well as serving as Premier, or President of Executive Council , during Alberta's First Legislature, Alexander C. Rutherford was also Provincial Treasurer and Minister of Education.  His Liberal Government established the law necessary to make the transition from territorial to provincial status, started a public telephone system, expanded roads and railways within the Province, constructed a number of public buildings, and established a teacher-training facility and the University of Alberta.  As well, he attended the Provincial Premiers' Conference at Ottawa in 1906, was a delegate to the Imperial Education Conference in London in 1907, and was a member of the federal government's Commission of Conservation in 1909.

At the general election of 1909, the Rutherford Government was reelected with another strong majority and Alexander C. Rutherford continued to serve as Premier, Provincial Treasurer, and Minister of Education.  However, on May 26, 1910, he resigned from the Cabinet.  His government had become badly divided, primarily as a result of its decision to guarantee the bonds of railway companies, in particular those of the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway.  He continued to serve in the Alberta Legislature as a Private Member.

In 1911, he initially let his name stand for the federal Liberal nomination for Edmonton, but later withdrew it and, in 1913, he ran as the Liberal candidate at the provincial general election for the electoral district of South Edmonton, but was defeated.  In 1921, he campaigned for the Conservative Party during the Alberta provincial election.

Following his electoral defeat in 1913, Alexander C. The Hon. Alexander C. Rutherford Rutherford returned to the practice of law with the firm Rutherford, Jamieson, and Grant.  From 1916 to 1918, he was Alberta Director of the National Service Commission and immediately after World War I, he served as a member of the Loan Advisory Committee of the Soldier Settlement Board.  And finally, from 1927 until his death in 1941, he was Chancellor of the University of Alberta.

He had many business associations.  At various times, he was President of the Edmonton Mortgage Corporation, Vice-President of the Great Western Garment Factory, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian National Fire Insurance Company, the Imperial Canadian Trust Company, the Monarch Life Assurance Company, and the Great West Permanent Loan Company.   Alexander C. Rutherford was also actively involved in religious, fraternal and community organizations.

Alexander C. Rutherford's service to his community and the Province of Alberta has been recognized in many ways.  In 1911, a new elementary school in Edmonton was named after him; in 1951, a University of Alberta library was named after him; and in 1954, a mountain which is located in Jasper National Park was named after him.  A list of some of his other honours follows: Honorary President, Edmonton Football Club (1895); Patron, Strathcona Curling Club (1902); Honorary President of the Strathcona Baseball Club, Curling Club, and Football Club (1903); Honorary Doctor of Laws, McMaster University (1907); Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Toronto (1907); Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Alberta (1908);  King's Counsel (1913); Honorary Colonel of the 194th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (1916); Honorary Life Member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1916); Honorary Doctor of Laws, McGill University (1931); King's Jubilee Medal (1935); King's Coronation Medal (1937); and Honorary President of the Canadian Authors' Association.  He was also a Fellow of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Colonial Institute of London, England.

During his lifetime, Alexander C. Rutherford collected books about Canada.  His fine collection of Canadiana now constitutes part of the collection of the Rutherford Library at the University of Alberta.

Alexander C. Rutherford died on January 11, 1941, at Edmonton, Alberta, and was buried in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in that city.  In 1974, his restored home at 11153 Rutherford Drive, Edmonton, was officially opened.  From 1912 to 1938, this was the site of the annual Founder's Day Tea which was originated and hosted by Alexander C. Rutherford and was attended by the students and staff of the University of Alberta.

Click here to learn about Rutherford House, the home of Alberta's first premier!



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Alberta Elections: 1905 to 1909
Alexander Rutherford sets up Alberta's bureaucracy. Economic prosperity and the establishment of Alberta Government Telephones helps Rutherford's Liberal government win the provincial election in 1909..
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Reprinted from Premiers of the North-West Territories and Alberta, 1897-1991 with permission from the Legislative Assembly Office.

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