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James Garfield Gardiner: Prairie Farmer
and Politician

For the week of Monday January 9, 2012

On January 12, 1962, James Garfield Gardiner lost his battle with cancer. Farmer, teacher and politician, he defended the political interests of the Prairies for 44 years.

James Garfield Gardiner
© The City of Regina Archives/ CORA-RPL-A-297 /circa 1935

Born in Ontario on November 30, 1883, into a family of farmers, James Garfield Gardiner had a difficult childhood because of his family’s financial troubles and frequent moves. After living in Ontario and the United States, Gardiner finally settled in the Prairies, where he worked on a farm. Although he did not attend school on a regular basis, he obtained a teaching certificate and taught in Saskatchewan for a brief period.

In 1911-12, Gardiner worked on federal and provincial election campaigns for the Liberal Party and, in 1914, was elected for the first time. For eight years he served in office and operated the farm he purchased in 1916. In 1922, he became minister of a provincial department and held this position for a short time before being appointed Saskatchewan’s fourth premier four years later.

During his first three-year term in office, Gardiner, who sometimes resorted to partisan politics, implemented a strong and organized liberal “machine.” However, his run in office ended in 1929 with the election of a Conservative-led coalition government. From then on, he became western Canada’s lieutenant and advisor to the Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The Great Depression worked to Gardiner’s political advantage – he was Leader of the Opposition at the time – because he was re-elected Prime Minister of Saskatchewan in 1934. His true aspiration, however, was to hold office in the federal government; he achieved this one year later.

Louis Saint-Laurent (left) with William Lyon Mackenzie King (centre) and James Garfield Gardiner (right)
© National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / C-023278/ 1948

As soon as he joined the federal government, he became Minister of Agriculture and held this title until the end of his political career. This department suited him perfectly because of his wealth of experience in farming. Following the Great Depression and three years of drought, he travelled across the Prairies to see how farmers were coping and implemented legislative measures to help them, as they were facing serious financial hardship. He also promoted Canadian agricultural produce in Europe.

In 1948, he ran for the Liberal Party leadership, but his bid was unsuccessful, as Louis Saint-Laurent succeeded William Lyon Mackenzie King. Finally, Gardiner’s political career came to an end in 1958, when he was defeated in the elections for the first and last time. Following his loss, he retired to his farm, where he died five years later.

Minister of Agriculture for more than 22 years, James Garfield Gardiner was recognized as a person of historical significance in 1975 for being the political voice of Prairie farmers.

To find out more about Canadian politicians please read past This Week in History stories such as: Charles Fox Bennett: A Figure of Controversy, Charles Avery Dunning: The Farmer’s Politician, Father of Canadian Healthcare, Ernest Lapointe, French-Canadian Rights Advocate and Canada’s First Female MP.

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