Grant MacEwan's father, Alexander Hedley MacEwan, embodied the true spirit of a Canadian sodbuster. He was a clever, hard working man who wholeheartedly accepted the challenge of converting rough, barren land into fertile soil. In 1893 he purchased a homestead south of Chater, Manitoba.
Grant MacEwan's mother, Bertha Grey Grant, joined the staff at Brandon General Hospital in 1897 as a nurse. She was a warm, kind-hearted individual who gave much of her time to her family and her community. Thus, nursing was a perfect fit for her. She married Alex MacEwan at her brother John's farm on January 18, 1900. The MacEwan farm was walking distance from Chater, approximately 15 kilometres northeast of Brandon.
John Walter Grant MacEwan was born August 12, 1902 and was named after his maternal grandfather. Growing up Grant's mother imposed strict Presbyterian values upon him. Every night they would pray together and she expected Grant to develop habits of worship similar to her own. Grant, with his cool blue eyes and jet-black hair, was taught that a firm Presbyterian faith would instill a good work ethic. Four years later, Grant was blessed with a younger brother named George.
Like other young children of his age Grant developed a keen sense of curiosity. Living in the open prairies of the Canadian West Grant enjoyed spending as much time as possible outdoors, wandering through fields, resting under trees, splashing in nearby waters. Grant loved to observe the natural world around him, in turn, learning about nature through exploration and discovery.
Alex MacEwan, eager to create new opportunities, sold the family farm and moved to Brandon in the summer of 1908. Here, Alex would begin his next challenge: manufacturing fire extinguishers and investing in real estate. The MacEwan home at 1316 McTavish Avenue was a modest house with an average number of conveniences. The city of Brandon offered young Grant a solid education from a number of capable and dedicated teachers. In addition, Grant attended Knox Sunday School with near perfect attendance. He soon joined the Mission Band and Boy Scouts. In his last three years of school he enrolled in a manual training course at the Normal School expanding his knowledge to include carpentry and rudimentary mechanics. As a young student Grant was frequently frustrated by the lack of Canadian content in the school curriculum. Instead of learning about foreign leaders and monarchs Grant yearned to study about pioneer settlement and Western Canadian history. Many years later he would explore these topics by researching and writing a number of books on Western Canadian history.
From a young age Grant had always been fascinated by the prospects of making money. 'A dollar earned is a dollar saved,' he wrote in his daily journal. He maintained a number of small jobs including selling extra milk from the family cow to neighbours. The hot summer months opened up a number of opportunities for the young entrepreneur. At the Brandon Summer Fair he sold vegetables to visitors and reduced his overhead by frequently hopping the fence to avoid paying admission. Instead of playing a game of afternoon baseball in a vacant lot Grant would work at the local grocery store.
Grant MacEwan often pondered about his future. At one point he considered becoming a doctor. His father was content with whatever career path he chose so long as 'he doesn't become a lawyer, preacher, or bartender.' Bertha, on the other hand, secretly wished for her son to become a minister. It was Grant's grandfather that inspired him to dedicate his future to agriculture. From the age of twelve Grant aspired to become a farmer and raise good livestock.