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Peter Dawson (politician)

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The Honourable Reverend
Peter Dawson
Peter Dawson.jpg
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta
In office
February 25, 1937 – March 24, 1963
Preceded by Nathan Eldon Tanner
Succeeded by Arthur J. Dixon
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta
In office
August 22, 1935 – March 24, 1963
Preceded by Oran McPherson
Succeeded by Raymond Speaker
Constituency Little Bow
Personal details
Born (1892-04-11)April 11, 1892
Slateford, Ayrshire, Scotland
Died March 24, 1963(1963-03-24) (aged 70)
Edmonton, Alberta
Political party Social Credit
Spouse(s) Hildegarde "Hilde" Hallonquist
(1923–1963; his death)
Children Earland McMaurray
David Gilmour
Alma mater Robertson College
St. Stephen's College

Peter Dawson (April 11, 1892 – March 24, 1963) was a Canadian minister, politician and member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Dawson was born in 1892 in Scotland. After attending schools and briefly working as a labourer and an apprentice to a butcher in Maybole, Dawson immigrated to Canada at the age of 18 with his brother, James Dawson. Shortly after arriving, he took up residence in Ontario where he worked in the automobile profession for seven years until moving west to Alberta in 1918.

Following his decision to settle in Calgary, he found employment as a butcher and interest in missionary work. His residence in Calgary, however, didn't last long, as five years later, he moved to the nearby capital city of Edmonton, where he attended Prebysterian schooling. Ordained as a minister of the United Church in 1927, he soon was called in 1928 to Sedgewick, where he remained for two years, before getting called to Champion. Although not intending to have a career in politics, a group of citizens persuaded him to run in the 1935 election, in which he defeated United Farmers Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Oran McPherson by 66% of the vote.

In 1937, Dawson was appointed Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. During his 26-year tenure, from 1937 until his death in 1963, he witnessed and presided over many events, such as the first instance of crossing the floor in Alberta and naming a fellow MLA for remarks made at a provincial official. He also witnessed two royal visits to Alberta from two different monarchs, King George IV in 1939, and Queen Elizabeth II 20 years later, in which he presided over the installation of a fountain in the Legislature's rotunda. After dying in office in 1963, Dawson was honoured with a state funeral, attended by many prominent citizens of Alberta.

Early life and career[edit]

United Theological College Student Council, 1925–26

Dawson was born in Slateford, Ayrshire, Scotland, on April 11, 1892 to John and Jane Dawson (née McMurray).[1] Along with a twin sister who died at the age of five months, Peter Dawson had eight other siblings.[1] John Dawson died in 1900, when Peter was only eight years old. Prior to his death, he had worked as a police constable and blacksmith.[1]

Peter Dawson attended public schools and attended the Carrick Academy in Maybole. After finishing school, he worked as farm labourer and a butcher's apprentice back in Scotland, shortly before coming to Canada.[2] In 1911, Dawson and his brother James sailed on the SS Ionian, departing from Glasgow and arriving in Halifax nine days later.[2] After his arrival, Dawson settled in Ontario and worked at an automobile manufacturer, Tudhope-Anderson, in Simcoe County. Seven years later, in 1918, he moved to Calgary, Alberta, where he found work for "several years" as a butcher.[2]

After five years in Calgary, he relocated to Edmonton, where he enrolled in a Prebysterian seminary, Robertson College. He then studied arts and theology at the United Theological College, which would later become the St. Stephen's College, on the University of Alberta campus, where he was the first president of the student council, as well as, in 1927, one of the first graduates. He was ordained as a United Church Minister later in the year at Knox United Church in Calgary.[2]


Dawson, initially having no interest in politics,[3] ran in the 1935 election as a Social Credit candidate for the riding of Little Bow, at the request and pressure of a citizens' group.[3] He handily won the seat, defeating United Farmers of Alberta candidate and former speaker Oran McPherson by 66% of the vote. Dawson was re-elected seven consecutive times in that riding, which he held for over 30 years.[3]

Speaker of the Legislative Assembly[edit]

Dawson was elected as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1937.[4] In February of the same year, as Speaker-Designate, he arranged the Opening Session of the Legislature to be broadcast over CJCA radio, given the large number of public wanting to attend the session.[4] Dawson and his family frequently took up residence at the Speaker's suite while the Legislature was in session, therefore creating him readily accessible as speaker. He was also responsible for many other things, including, though not a part of his official duties, writing the Speech from the Throne, which he compiled from various information from the government departments, which was later read by the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta to open each session.[5]

Dawson's time as speaker saw many firsts in Alberta legislative history, such as, in 1937, when Social Credit MLAs and former cabinet ministers William N. Chant and John Hugill left their respective party caucuses to sit as independents. This was first instance of crossing the floor in the province's legislative history.[5] In June 1939, Dawson played a major role in ceremonies at the Legislature during royal visits of King George VI and Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth. He, along with his wife, acted as their hosts during their visits.[6]

He was re-nominated as speaker by Premier William Aberhart in 1941 and subsequently in 1945, 1949, 1953, 1955, and 1960, these times at the nomination of premier Ernest Manning. The 1945 nomination was seconded by Leader of the Opposition J. Percy Page, making this the first instance that a nomination had been supported by the Official Opposition.[4] In a 1949 session, Dawson ruled comments of Alberta Liberal Leader James Harper Prowse, made during a debate on child welfare, unparliamentary. Prowse had remarked: "Members of the Government, not content with hiding behind the skirts of unfortunate women, now cloak themselves behind the diapers of more unfortunate babies." Dawson had also deemed other terms, such as "trickery" and "deaf", unparliamentary during his time as speaker.[7]

He was chosen to chair a committee set up in 1951 to revise the rules of the Assembly.[7] During a session on March 21, 1952, Dawson was pushed to name MLA for Banff-Cochrane Arthur Wray after Wray made remarks towards a provincial official at a committee meeting. When asked by Dawson to take back the remarks, Wray refused, prompting Dawson to name him and order his removal from the chamber.[8] A unanimous motion was later passed to have Wray suspended for two sitting days, or until he was ready to withdraw his remarks and issue an apology to the chamber. Wray returned four days later, issuing an apology and revoking his remarks.[8]

On February 9, 1956, at the opening of the Second Session of the 13th Legislature, Dawson accepted a new Mace from the Civil Service Association of Alberta on the occasion of the province's 50th anniversary.[6][9] On the occasion of another royal visit in 1959, this time of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth, Dawson had a permanent fountain in the rotunda of the Legislature installed.[6] Upon Dawson's 25th anniversary as Speaker, John Wingblade, MLA from Wetaskiwin, presented him with a silver-banded gavel on behalf of all members.[10] He continued to serve in the position of Speaker until his unexpected death in 1963, right before the 1963 election. He served for 26 years in total as Speaker, the longest one has ever served in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.[10]

Church career[edit]

During his time in Calgary, Dawson became interested in missionary work.[2] After being ordained as a minister in 1927, his first call, in 1928, was to Sedgewick, Alberta, where he remained for two years before being called to the United Church in Champion on October 10, 1930, mostly conducting services in schoolhouses.[3][11][12] Later, in 1954, he came to Carmangay, Alberta in 1954 to serve as a resident minister.[13] He conducted services in various places in Alberta during his 30 years as a minister, ranging from schoolhouses to churches.[3] In some services, he also participated in duets and sometimes made solo performances, with a strong baritone voice.[3] On top of his duties as Speaker and MLA, Dawson continued his service as a minister. He retired as an active minister in 1960, after 33 years of service.[6]

Personal life[edit]

In Calgary, on December 26, 1923, Dawson married Hildegarde "Hilde" Christina Hallonquist, whom he had met while serving as a missionary during the summer of that same year.[2] Hilde was the daughter of Swedish immigrants Johannes and Hanna Hallonquist. Her father, Johannes, or John, as he was more commonly known, worked helping Swedish families who had just immigrated to Canada settle in the Manitoba area,[2] and later became a foreman for the Canadian Pacific Railway.[2] Peter and Hilde had two sons, Earland "Earl" McMurray (1928–2008) and David Gilmour (born 1933).[3] Both went on to be successful professional engineers in Ontario.[14]

In his spare time, Dawson enjoyed a wide range of recreational activities, including golf, curling, badminton and tending the gardens at his home in Vulcan.[10] He was a vital part in the planning and establishment of Little Bow Provincial Park near Champion.[10] Also an active member of the Grand Lodge of Alberta, a fraternal association, he served in the office of "Worshipful Master" of Champion Lodge in 1947, grand chaplain of the Grand Lodge in 1949 and 1950, and Grand Master in 1954 and 1955. He also was active in Shrine and Scottish Rite Lodges.[10] Dawson and his wife moved to Vulcan, Alberta in 1960, purchasing their first house ever during their marriage.[6]

Dawson received many honours during his time as speaker, including a life membership in the Alberta Legislative Press Gallery Association, in which he had served as an honorary president.[10] One year after his death, in 1964, the Vulcan Senior Citizens Centre was named "Peter Dawson Lodge" in his memory, after receiving many entries in a contest to name the facility.[10]

Death and funeral[edit]

On March 24, 1963, after a speaking engagement in Red Deer, to the Masons at Lodge Perfection, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, titled "We know not the hour!", Dawson suffered a heart attack in the Speaker's Suite in the Legislature Building.[10] Attended by health minister Joseph Donovan Ross, he was rushed to the University of Alberta Hospital, when he died on the way, becoming the only speaker in the history of the Alberta Legislative Assembly who had died while still in session.[10] His death was announced the next day by Clerk Raymond A. A. Crevolin.[10] After paying tribute to Dawson, the session was quickly adjourned.[10]

In the morning of March 28, his body lay in state in the chamber, the first lying-in-state of a Speaker ever held. Several hundred people gathered in the chamber to pay their last respects.[15] His body was then taken to Robertson United Church for the state funeral, with several church, judiciary, and government officials from across the province in the general attendance of about 300, with Premier Manning as an officiating clergy, delivering the eulogy.[16] Notably in attendance, along with Premier Manning, were Lieutenant Governor J. Percy Page and Edmonton mayor Elmer Roper.[15][16] His body was later transported by train to Vulcan, where, after a second service, he was interred in the Vulcan Cemetery. Soon after his death, Hilde Dawson moved to Lethbridge.[14] Upon her death on June 15, 1987, she was interred beside her husband.[15]


Upon Dawson's death, Premier Manning said, "In his passing not only Alberta, but all of Canada has lost one of its outstanding figures. The reputation he built with his fair judgments and honest ability won him the confidence and respect of all members of the Assembly and extended beyond the borders of Alberta."[15] Former Mayor of Edmonton and MLA Elmer E. Roper said, "I doubt if there has ever been anyone who occupied the Speaker's chair in Canada who was more fair and efficient in chairmanship over an assembly then the late speaker"[15] Dawson's son, David recalled his father's personableness in that he "talked easily with complete strangers" and could start up a conversation with anyone he met.[15] Future Lieutenant Governor and MLA for Calgary Grant MacEwan compared sitting in the Assembly under Dawson "like attending the school of a strict but well-qualified and kindly teacher."[15]


  1. ^ a b c Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 345
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 346
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 347
  4. ^ a b c Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 348
  5. ^ a b Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 349
  6. ^ a b c d e Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 353
  7. ^ a b Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 350
  8. ^ a b Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 351
  9. ^ Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 352
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 354
  11. ^ Champion History Committee (1972), pg. 24
  12. ^ Adler, Phil (September 7, 1955). "Speaker In Alberta Holds Canadian Record". The Windsor Daily Star. pg. 12. Retrieved May 31, 2011. 
  13. ^ Carmangay and District History Book Committee (1968), pg. 57
  14. ^ a b Champion History Committee (1972), pg. 25
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Perry, Footz (2006), pg. 355
  16. ^ a b Herald Legislature Bureau (March 28, 1963). "300 Attend Funeral Of Speaker". The Calgary Daily Herald. pg. 18. Retrieved May 31, 2011.