|During the 50 Golden years of this province many notable figures have contributed to its growth and development. Alberta's Rutherford was one of these, and we are indebted to Eugenie L. Myles '27 for her vivid interpretation of the vital role played by this distinguished gentleman in the history of our University.
Mrs. Myles, the former Eugenie Louise Butler, graduated in honours English from the U. of A., and for a number of years was a member of the editorial staff of the Edmonton Journal. She has won acclaim for her novel She Shall Be Queen, and also as co-author in the popular story, North Pole Boarding House.
Acknowledgement is made to the Edmonton Journal for permission to reprint portions of an article published on September 10, 1955; to the Macmillan Company for the excerpt from Saturday and Sunday, and to Ryerson Press, publishers of Henry Marshall Tory.
By Eugenie L. Myles
During this jubilee year when the eyes of all Canada have been watching Alberta celebrate her fiftieth birthday, the solid Scottish name of Rutherford will have been heard on many tongues. Father of Alberta, it will have been said.
Scattered across the face of the globe, some five thousand graduates of her provincial university will recall the name as that of the chancellor before whom they knelt to receive their degrees. They will recollect, too, the benign features and heart-warming smile of the man known as their Alma Mater.
So in this year of paying tribute to founders, each and all of the sixteen thousand alumni of the University of Alberta would do well to pause a moment to turn their thoughts to this man whose foresight and accomplishment reached out into time and distance and helped shape their lives and careers.
"We were a cosy little group," Alexander Cameron Rutherford, Ontario-born first premier, described the twenty-five strangely-assorted legislators who gathered in an Edmonton skating rink for historic beginning ceremonies and then transferred to a cramped school assembly hall to set up the processes of governing the newly created province of nearly a quarter million square miles.
It was an enormous undertaking for these legislating pioneers. Among them, only leader Rutherford and one or two others had had any political experience. None of them had set eyes on any but a minute fraction of the far-flung area of prairie and parkland, foothill and forest, now arbitrarily designated as a province. With immense seriousness they buckled down to their job. This same seriousness, among other things, made them the butt of constant fun-poking in the lively columns of that unique Alberta institution, Bob Edwards' Calgary Eye-Opener.
Not content to remain cosily in Edmonton, the temporary capital, they seized every opportunity to get out, by horse and buggy or even less comfortable means of travel, to see something of this new land almost completely lacking in road or railway, and to meet a few of the swarms of hungry settlers hustling into its virgin acres.
These sorties, too, of the premier and his cohorts amused Edwards vastly. With comic exaggeration he reported them in his paper. Incidentally, while he criticized and shook with side-splitting laughter, indirectly he made the name and face of the leader known in every corner where the Eye Opener found its way.
Sometimes in large front-page cartoons Rutherford appeared a hooded, robed shepherd, bespectacled and moustached, with crook and cigar. Or, again, he startled the reader as a nattily tailored politician, tumbling in undignified somersault head over heel from a high plank platform.
Gleefully, for instance, the Eye Opener recounted that Premier Rutherford and W. H. Cushing of Calgary, his minister of public works, on a certain day in 1908 journeyed by rig some one hundred miles from Edmonton to Morningside near Red Deer, to open up a new much-needed steel bridge. This "dinky culvert," as Edwards dubbed the bridge, was so small that the party of legislators drove right over it without recognizing it and had to double back for the ceremonial.
Mirthfully, he went on to report that Cushing, with tears in his eyes, turned to Rutherford, saying: "Alexander, you may do down in posterity as the founder of a great University, but the name of Cushing will live in honored and imperishable memory as the father of the Morningside culvert."
Edwards' words, as far as the premier was concerned, were prophetic. Among the myriad and monumental tasks to which he applied himself as head of the first government, none was dearer to him than his self-appointed chore, in his capacity as minister of education, of establishing a university. Asked many years later what achievement of his long career gave him most satisfaction, this father of the province replied simply: "The founding of the University of Alberta."
At the very first session of the new legislature, convened in March, 1906, the group of youngish moustached men, still of an age to see visions and to conceive accomplishment of the impossible, were asked to nod their heads above their stiff white collars in assent to their leader's mad-cap proposal to set up a provincial university in a land that had just been taken over from the fur trader and the Indian.
"What, build a university here, beyond the last frontiers of civilization!" cried the dumbfounded objectors.
Quietly, persistently, the stubborn lawyer-leader carried on with his fantastic project.
Into the legislature he introduced what was to become Chapter Forty-two of the foundation statutes, "An Act to Establish and Incorporate a University for the Province of Alberta." This was assented to on May 9, 1906.
Then on March 10 of the following year he gave notice that "the government will ask for a grant of land from the dominion sufficient to equip and maintain the proposed university." The site he desired was a large tract of bush high above the North Saskatchewan river, not far from the spot where the last skirmish between warring Crees and Blackfeet had been fought not too many years before.
"What, build a university deep in the bush, right in the midst of a backwoods forest!" the horror-stricken protestors exclaimed.
With Scottish determination, Rutherford went right ahead. He got his site. Next he proceeded to add another act enabling him to hire a president and teaching staff for the institution which did not yet exist. On October 23rd of 1907 he announced in the legislature that Henry Marshall Tory had been "delegated to conduct preliminary organization work in connection with the establishment of the University of Alberta."
Meanwhile, he had a thousand and one other matters to claim his attention. Watched and checked at every step by the Eye Opener, Rutherford and his colleagues, having set up a formidable volume of foundation statutes, now got on with the setting up of administrative departments to carry out the laws and advise and assist the thousands of newcomers pouring into the province.
Quite naturally, to fill a number of governmental posts, they turned their eyes to the east and especially to the University of Toronto. Edwards objected as strenuously as have many since his day to this import of eastern brains. Often the columns of the Eye Opener sounded not unlike many a Western Grey Cup fan who has come home from watching the annual tussle in the famed Varsity stadium.
"What Alberta suffers from," he growled bitterly, "is too much Toronto." Actually, Torontonians must have lapped up thirstily this kind of disgruntled comment. Sometimes during this period, Edwards published circulation figures showing a sale of four thousand copies of a single issue in the city of Toronto. As a matter of fact, Alexander Cameron Rutherford, though Ontarioan in origin like the majority of his cabinet, was a graduate of McGill.
Son of Scottish parents, James and Elizabeth Rutherford, who were natives of Aberfeldy in Perthshire, he was born on their farm in Osgoode township, Carleton County, Ontario. As a little lad, he began his lessons in the tiny red brick building in that township which is known as the Scotch school and which several years ago was widely acclaimed during 110th anniversary celebrations of the formation of the School Section.
"I was lucky," he said afterward of his apprentice-work in his chosen profession of law, which followed student-days at Metcalfe, Woodstock college and McGill, from which he received the degree of B.A. and B.C.L. Rutherford articled with a law firm in Ottawa headed by Sir Richard Scott, afterward secretary of state for Canada.
"Some of my best days," he recalled of his good fortune, "were spent there under Sir Richard's guidance."
It was not until 1895, after he had practised law in Ontario for ten years, that destiny brought him with many another restless easterner to the immense vaguely defined area known as the North-West Territories.
Indelibly stamped with influences of Highland Scottish and rural and urban Ontario surroundings, he set up law practice in the tiny town of Strathcona. Lying across the North Saskatchewan river from old Fort Edmonton, this Strathcona was invariably nicknamed "Strathcolic" by the irreverent Bob Edwards, who during this year also made it briefly his home.
Soon young lawyer Rutherford plunged into what was to become a lifelong pattern, service to the rapidly-growing community about him. He became solicitor and treasurer of Strathcona town, secretary of its school board, president of the South Edmonton Athletic Association, secretary-treasurer of the Edmonton Butter and Cheese Manufacturing Co., and one of the founders and charter members of the United Farmers of Alberta, the organization which finally drove his pioneering Liberal party from office.
"What platform should a young man adopt who wants to succeed?" years later he pondered for an enquiring reporter.
Promptly he found the answer, "Ambition, a goal, and the will to work hard." Rutherford's first taste of politics gave him ample scope, in more ways than one, to practice this philosophy. In 1903 he was elected to represent, in the territorial legislature at Regina, the riding of Strathcona, an amazing area extending from the Saskatchewan boundary some 360 miles clear across Alberta to British Columbia.
Chosen deputy-speaker of the Regina house, his experiences there directed him toward the next stage upward, new-chosen leader in August of 1905 of the reorganized Alberta Liberal party.
During inauguration ceremonies of September of that year, he became premier-designate of the newly-created province.
Step by step he led the way toward organizing a government in the infant Alberta. Step by step the Eye Opener followed every move and waged incessant war against him. Edwards' opposition to the printing of western school books in the east, for instance, was so prolonged and bitter that Rutherford must have thought his eyes deceived him, while his heart swelled with tremendous pride, when at last he read in the Eye Opener these startling words: "This little old rag has the friendliest of feelings toward the Rutherford administration, which has been clean and wholesome," and finally, "Dr. Rutherford has gained the confidence of his province and the affectionate regard of all who know him."
Meanwhile the embryo university was taking shape. In 1907 the legislature agreed to the purchase of River Lot number five, some two hundred and fifty-eight acres of bushland above the river-bank a mile west of the town of Strathcona. To secure a senate, a ballot was taken among the graduates of other universities who resided in the province and who had registered and paid the fee entitling them to be members of convocation.
Members of the new senate convened in Strathcona on March 30, 1908. There wasn't a dining room suitable for their entertainment on the south side of the river. So bitter was the rivalry between the two towns, Edmonton and Strathcona, that it would never have done to permit the visitors to cross to the north side. Accordingly, Mrs. Rutherford stepped into the breach. With the help of willing friends, her daughter, Hazel McCuaig, recalls, "Mother got busy herself and arranged a luncheon for them in our home."
There followed in the autumn the first convocation. During the ceremonies that took place, Premier Rutherford told in an address how the dream was beginning to become something solid and tangible, and on him was conferred the honorary degree of doctor of laws. Shortly afterward, the first session of the University of Alberta was begun in the cramped third-story rooms of Queen Alexandra public school.
In 1910 the first annual undergraduate conversazione was held in the assembly hall of Strathcona Collegiate Institute, on the third floor of which the university was now established. How different this social function was from, say, the Wauneita Reception of 1955, can be imagined from Mrs. McCuaig's recollection of this formal affair.
"Two or three couples danced," she recalls. "Mostly the students promenaded about, changed partners from time to time, and talked."
That first luncheon in the Rutherford home for the members of the first senate was the beginning of a warm perennial hospitality that was to enrich university life for almost three decades. In the spring of 1912 Dr. and Mrs. Rutherford entertained the graduating class of twenty at tea in their home. For some twenty-eight years thereafter this Founder's Day tea was a much-anticipated highlight of graduation week.
In recognition of his pioneering accomplishments in the west, three eastern universities, his alma mater McGill, Toronto and McMaster, bestowed honorary degrees upon Alberta's Rutherford. In 1907, and again in 1911, he journeyed overseas as a representative to the Imperial Education Conference held in London, England.
Showered with other honors in his later years, his best-loved chore, after he had traded the political arena for the private field of law practice, was officiating as chancellor of the university he had built so brashly in the backwoods. He was named to this post in April, 1927.
For fourteen years he proudly took his place at the head of the solemn convocation parade, to beam comfortingly on some five thousand nervous graduands who kneeled to lay sweating hands in his during the degree-granting ceremony, or to chat companionably with them as they filed to his imposing mansion across from the arts building to drink tea with him before quitting forever its halls of learning.
From toiling to further the cause of education, Rutherford's entry into the magic world of book collecting was a natural. Despite often fondly disapproving objections of his wife, his library of "good friends" grew to gigantic proportions.
Among the large number of historical Canadiana which were his especial joy, were such rare volumes as Pallister's Journal, Paul Kane's Wanderings of an Artist, and some one hundred books on exploration and history of the Arctic, the Northwest, and the Red River settlement.
"Father may not have read every one of his books," Mrs. McCuaig recalls. "But he had a very good idea of the contents of all, and he knew exactly where each one was to be found on the shelves. Some he tucked away out of sight of mother's eyes."
When he passed on, on June 12, 1941, at the age of eighty-four, the university where he had three weeks before officiated as chancellor became permanent custodian of this valuable collection, Queen's university acquiring a small share.
Named in his honor, the university's four-story Rutherford library, first in Canada to be equipped with such new-fangled trappings as conveyor belts and pneumatic tubes, has a room especially dedicated to housing its founder's treasured volumes.
Solid links in a solid chain extending across the dominion, more than a century in educational history is spanned from the tiny brick school in Osgoode township in Ontario to the imposing fourteen-roomed Rutherford school for which he donated its South Edmonton site, to the magnificent two-million dollar structure of brick and Manitoba Tyndall stone that is the Rutherford library.
Equally enduring as these substantial memorials is his endearing memory. Ask at random among the many who encountered him. "He was a fine man, a grand person. He had a great capacity for friendship," they will answer, their faces lighting at some particularly happy recollection of him. Those alumni who were present at Convocation when the celebrated Canadian, Leonard W. Brockington, received an honorary degree will remember his tribute to the beaming chancellor:
"Time has dealt so gently and graciously with Dr. Rutherford because he has dealt so graciously and gently with his fellow men."
Pondering on those rousing beginning days, on this man whose work touched so many futures, and on those other men of destiny, Dr. Tory and the members of the first staff of the University of Alberta, each and every alumnus will want to read again those words of Dr. Broadus from his account in the book Saturday and Sunday.
"On a day in June, 1908, the president of a university not yet in being, in a province which I had never heard of, in a country which I had never visited, came to Harvard and offered me the professorship of English. The offer sounded like midsummer madness. I think that what I accepted was, not the position or the salary, but the man. There was something about him that made me feel that to whatever no-man's land he went, there — somehow — the kind of university I should like to have a hand in, would get to be. When I came to Edmonton in September of that year, I found him ensconced in the attic of a small brick public-school building. There assembled the four of us who were to constitute the faculty veritable philosophes sous les toits — and he, and we, and it, were for the nonce the University of Alberta....
"Outside of the little faculty, there were virtually only two men in the whole province who did not think the establishment of a university in a province only three years old utterly premature; those were the Scotch-Canadian Premier of the Province, who had the faith and foresight to make the immediate establishment of a provincial university the cardinal principle of his creed; and the president of the university who had come here to do just that thing, and he had the bit in his teeth."
In A Book of Canadian Prose and Verse, which was compiled and edited by Dr. Broadus, his inscription reads, "To Alexander Cameron Rutherford, who played an honorable part in the upbuilding of the west, this book is affectionately dedicated."
Again, in Dr. E. A. Corbett's biography Henry Marshall Tory, there are Dr. Corbett's considered words:
"It is doubtful if there would have been a University of Alberta until many years later if it had not been for the vision and persistence of Dr. A. C. Rutherford, the first Premier."
Published Fall 1955.