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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Grant MacEwan 1902 - 2000

by Hugh A. Dempsey, Editor

Back cover of Alberta History : Grant MacEwan  A Tribute  cartoon by Rodewalt for MacEwan\'s 90th birthday celebration

This volume is a special memorial edition honouring Grant MacEwan - author, agriculturist, public speaker, lieutenant governor, mayor, and truly a legend in his time. And his time was the Twentieth Century which was two years old when he was born and had already passed into history when he died. He was five years old when the Ford gasoline tractor was invented, twenty-seven at the onset of the Great Depression; forty-six when his first history book was published; and sixty-three when he became lieutenant governor of Alberta. And the old century had already passed when his forty-ninth and final book, Watershed: Reflections on Water, was published.

Grant MacEwan was a man of the 20th century and a man for the 20th century, yet he embodied all the traditional 19th century values of tbe work ethic, honesty, and thrift.

He wasted neither time nor energy as he pursued his numerous goals in the fields of agriculture, history, and politics.

I first met Grant in 1957, shortly after the Glenbow Archives were opened. This tall, gangly man (He once said 'I'm five feet, 15 inches tall') had an impressive presence and I soon came to respect him for his friendliness, his wit, and his razor sharp mind. In fact, I considered him to be one of the finest men I ever met and one whom I truly admired. At that time he was writing columns for the Calgary Herald, The Western Producer, and the Canadian Cattleman magazine. After a few discussions, 1 realized that his knowledge went far beyond agriculture and that he had a lively interest in the history of western Canada. This was evident in 1958 when he published Fifty Mighty Men, biographies and stories about early western Canadians such as Anthony Henday, Sam Livingstone, and Sir Frederick Haultain. These stories had previously appeared as columns in The Westel'l1 Producer. He followed in the next year with the excellent volume, Calgary Cavalcade, and in the following decade his books rolled off the press with great regularity. He also had a strong interest in the environment long before the subject become popular; his first book on the topic was Entrusted to My Care, produced in 1966.

A smiling Grant MacEwan is seen here at a tribute dinner in Calgary in 1994. At right is Mayor Al Duerr.

Over the years, Grant's books, public speaking, and political career meant that he was usually in the news and was the subject of praise and admiration for his dedication to the people and the environment of western Canada. A gifted speaker with a prodigious memory, he entertained thousands over the years, young and old, while at the same time giving them some insights into and appreciation of, western history.

I recall one occasion when he was the after dinner speaker at an international conference in Calgary. At my table were a couple of Americans who complained that they would have to listen to some 'old fogey' talking about cowboys and fur traders. However, once Grant was into his speech, both of these cynics were hanging onto every word, laughing uproariously at his stories, and joining in the great ovation upon the conclusion of Grant's talk, Such a reaction was a typical one to Grant's engaging stories.

Grant MacEwan College, schools, a university student centre, and other facilities have been named in his honour. He was awarded the Order of Canada, the Alberta government's Haultain Prize for Excellence, and numerous honorary doctorates. He also graciously agreed to serve as honorary president of the Historical Society of Alberta and we were proud to have his name associated with our organization.

The three contributors to this special volume all knew and respected Grant MacEwan. Max Foran, Grant's son-in-law, is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary, and moved into the field of western Canadian history largely because of Grant's influence. He is the author of books and numerous articles on Calgary, agriculture, and related topics. Donald B. Smith is a professor in the History Department of the University of Calgary, and long an admirer of Grant's work. He has written a number of Native biographies and many articles on Canadian history. Lee Shedden is married to Grant's granddaughter, Fiona - does that make him a grandson-in-law? - And is deeply involved in book publication. These three people look at three different aspects of Grant MacEwan's life. Foran presents a personal view of the man himself. Smith examines his career as a storyteller. And Shedden looks at Grant as an author. Together, they provide a fascinating picture of a truly amazing man.

Hugh A. Dempsey, Editor

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