Elmer Roper

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Elmer Roper
Elmer E Roper.jpg
26th Mayor of Edmonton
In office
October 14, 1959 – October 16, 1963
Preceded byFrederick John Mitchell
Succeeded byWilliam Hawrelak
Leader of the Alberta Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
In office
Preceded byChester Ronning
Succeeded byFloyd Albin Johnson
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta for Edmonton
In office
September 22, 1942 – June 29, 1955
Personal details
Elmer Ernest Roper

June 4, 1893
Ingonish, Nova Scotia
DiedNovember 12, 1994(1994-11-12) (aged 101)
Victoria, British Columbia
Political partyAlberta Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, Labour, Citizens Committee, Civic Reform Association
Other political
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
SpouseGoldie C. Bell
ChildrenThree daughters and one son (G. Lyall Roper)

Elmer Ernest Roper (June 4, 1893 – November 12, 1994) was a Canadian businessman, trade unionist and politician. He was a Alberta Co-operative Commonwealth Federation member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, 1942-1955, and mayor of Edmonton 1959-1963.

Early life[edit]

Roper was born in Ingonish, Nova Scotia, the son of a sea captain. He was educated in Sydney, and moved west to Calgary, Alberta in 1907. There he apprenticed as a printer and found work in the Calgary Herald's press room. On June 15, 1914, he married Goldie C. Bell, with whom he had three daughters and one son and who predeceased him by weeks.

He became involved in the labour movement as a young man. He joined the Pressman's Union. He was president of the Calgary Trades & Labour Council by 1916. His tenure in this position was short-lived, as he moved to Edmonton the following year to become the head of the Edmonton Bulletin's press room. There he took a position of leadership in running the Edmonton District Labour Council (later the Edmonton Trades & Labour Council). Although not a backer of the One Big Union, he was involved in Edmonton's 1919 general strike (a sympathy strike with the Winnipeg General Strike).

In 1921 he left the Bulletin to found his own printing business, which he operated until his retirement. The same year, he made his first bid for elected office.

Early political career[edit]

In the 1921 provincial election, Roper ran as a Labour candidate in Edmonton. He finished thirteenth of twenty-six candidates.[1]

In 1922, Roper became secretary-treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour. He held the position for a decade. Roper edited the AF of L's official organ Alberta Labour News from 1921 to 1935when he changed the newspaper's name to People's Weekly and made it the de facto house organ of the new Alberta Co-operative Commonwealth Federation with William Irvine as co-editor.[2]

Roper ran for school trustee in Edmonton's 1924 municipal election. He finished fourth of seven candidates, in an election in which the top three candidates were elected. He tried again the next year's election, and again finished fourth of seven candidates; however, the board's staggered electoral system meant that, though only three of the board's seven trustees had been elected in 1924, four were up for election in 1924 and Roper was elected. He was re-elected in 1927 but did not seek re-election at the expiration of his second term.

He continued to seek office at other levels. In the 1926 provincial election, he was again a Labour candidate in Edmonton. He was less successful on this occasion, finishing sixteenth of eighteen candidates on the first ballot. He tried again in a 1931 by-election resulting from the death of Charles Weaver; he finished second of four candidates as Conservative Frederick C. Jamieson reclaimed the seat for Weaver's party.

Roper's lone attempt at federal office took place in the 1935 election, when he ran for the newly formed Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in Edmonton East; he finished fourth of six candidates as William Samuel Hall took the riding for the Social Credit Party of Canada.

Roper had joined the CCF at the provincial level as well and ran under its banner in the 1940 election, finishing seventh of nineteen candidates on the first ballot and being defeated once again. No CCF members were elected during that election but that was about to change.

CCF leader and MLA[edit]

On May 4, 1942 Conservative leader David Duggan died, and his Edmonton seat became vacant. Roper was nominated as the CCF's candidate in the ensuing by-election. The by-election was conducted using Alternative Voting and Roper came out on top of a five-person field. CCF leader Chester Ronning, who had been elected in 1932, quickly stepped aside to hand the leadership to the party's sole MLA.

Roper was leader of the CCF for thirteen years, but he did not have to sit as its lone MLA that long: after the 1944 election, he was joined in the legislature by Aylmer Liesemer of Calgary. Two seats were as large a caucus as the CCF had during Roper's tenure as its leader.

Both Liesemer and Roper were re-elected in the 1948 election. The party's share of the vote fell from 25% to 19%, but it was still due more than 10 MLAs. Roper did not add any new MLAs to his tiny caucus as Social Credit's stranglehold over the province remained intact. The CCF did elect a new MLA in the 1952 election - Willingdon's Nick Dushenski - but this gain was cancelled by Liesemer's defeat in the same election. Worse, the CCF's vote fell further, to 14%, and the Alberta Liberal Party doubled its seat count to four, making it the Official Opposition and leaving the CCF as the third party.

Things then got worse for the CCF. In the 1955 election, the CCF's share of the vote was only 8% and the previously dormant Conservatives passed it in the seat count. Moreover, Roper himself lost his seat in Edmonton (although two other CCF MLAs were elected - Dushenki in Whitford) and Stanley Ruzycki in Vegreville). Roper placed third of thirty candidates on the first ballot in he election held using Single transferable voting, but as Premier Ernest Manning's large number of surplus votes was redistributed to the city's other Social Credit candidates (and James Harper Prowse's only slightly smaller surplus was redistributed mostly to other Liberal candidates, Roper fell out of the top seven, where he needed to remain in order to be re-elected.

Following the election, Roper relinquished the CCF leadership. He never again sought provincial office. In part this was due to the Manning government switching to First Past the post from the combined STV/Alternative Voting system it had been using. Roper later said he thought that Manning had abolished the STV system in Edmonton to keep Roper from ever getting a seat again. Certainly it worked to the degree that no CCF or NDP again took an Edmonton seat until 1982 - and the change to First Past The Post was likely the main cause of that pattern.

Municipal politics[edit]

Roper served as mayor of Edmonton, 1959-1963.

In advance of the 1959 municipal election, the city's mayoralty was up for grabs. William Hawrelak had resigned in scandal, and the man that the Edmonton City Council had chosen to replace him, Frederick John Mitchell, had decided to return to his aldermanic post rather than contest the mayoral election. Roper chose to contest it, and defeated three candidates (most notably his former legislature colleague James Prowse).

He was re-elected in the 1961 election, handily defeating alderman Ed Leger. He did not seek re-election at the conclusion of his second term. At the age of seventy, he was finished with politics.

Later life, death, and legacy[edit]

Elmer Roper retired to Victoria, British Columbia in 1975, and died there November 12, 1994. His wife had died in August, just after the couple's eightieth anniversary, and he was survived by two daughters and a son, former Edmonton alderman G Lyall Roper.

He had been made an honorary life member of the Rotary Club in 1928, and had received an honorary doctorate in laws from the University of Alberta in 1959. Additionally, Roper Road and Roper Industrial, an Edmonton road and neighbourhood respectively, are named in his honour.


  1. ^ Monto, Tom. Protest and Progress. Three Labour Radicals in Early Edmonton, Crang Publishing, Alhambra Books (Edmonton), p. 86
  2. ^ Finkel, Alvin, "Alberta" in Heaps, Leo, Our Canada, 1991 ISBN 1-55028-353-7

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