Backgrounder

Built circa 1912, the John and Olive Diefenbaker Museum in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, was John Diefenbaker’s home from 1947 to 1957. This decade was a period of great achievement and professional success in Diefenbaker’s life: he became the Member of Parliament for Prince Albert, the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, and in 1957, Prime Minister. Diefenbaker was widely known as “the man from Prince Albert”, and this home speaks to the close association between Diefenbaker and this city as well as to his persona as man of the people. Donated by Diefenbaker to the City of Prince Albert in 1975 to serve as a museum, this home now communicates Diefenbaker’s legacy to Canadians.

John Diefenbaker purchased the house at 246 19th Street West, a modest, two-storey example of Tudor Revival architecture, in October 1947. Already an MP in the riding of Lake Centre, Diefenbaker was well known in the community. A redistribution of ridings prompted Diefenbaker to run in Prince Albert in 1952. He adopted a successful non-partisan approach, talking to residents in town streets and creating “Diefenbaker Clubs” of prominent citizens from across the political spectrum. He was Prince Albert’s MP from this 1952 victory until his death in 1979.

Diefenbaker lived at the house with his first wife, Edna, and his second wife, Olive, until he was elected Prime Minister in 1957. After 1957, he retained ownership of the home but rented it out while he was in Ottawa, before donating it to the city in 1975. The museum opened in 1983. With the exception of the kitchen, the home retains the same layout as in Diefenbaker’s day and, with its period furniture and fixtures, gives visitors the impression of a 1950s era home. As a museum, it presents both Diefenbaker’s personal life and his political career, particularly in regards to his longstanding connection with the City of Prince Albert. The rooms feature Diefenbaker’s personal artifacts, including a desk once used in his local campaign offices, as well as furnishings that are not original to the home but were moved from his Ottawa residence. Photographs in the hallways and rooms present his long legal and political career in Saskatchewan.

Although serving as Progressive Conservative Party leader and then Prime Minister drew Diefenbaker away from Prince Albert, he maintained ties to the city. His public persona reflected both his association with this small Saskatchewan city as well as his image as someone who could relate to those outside traditional spheres of influence and power. The John and Olive Diefenbaker Museum, his former home, commemorates this aspect of Diefenbaker’s history.