Alberta, Alexander Rutherford, Assiniboia, Athabasca, Buffalo, Calgary, Canada, Edmonton, Frederick Haultain, John Campbell, Louise Alberta, North-West Territories, Queen Victoria, Regina, Saskatchewan, Wilfrid Laurier
Alberta has been a province of Canada since 1905. The smaller district of Alberta, along with the districts of Athabasca, Assiniboia, and Saskatchewan, had been established in 1882 as part of the vast North-West Territories for administrative purposes, as the area was becoming more populated with various traders and settlers. The districts were officially known as provisional districts.
All four districts contained part of the area that would become the province of Alberta. The district of Alberta covered the southwestern part of today’s province. Athabasca was in the northern half. Assiniboai was mainly in Saskatchewan but it stretched west into current Alberta province. Part of Saskatchewan district also extended west into today’s province of Alberta. The more remote areas of the North-West Territories were divided into further districts in 1895.
Local leaders, especially territories premier Sir Frederick Haultain, lobbied for provincial status for Canada’s western areas for some years. Born in England in 1857 and migrating to Ontario with his family in 1860, he studied law in Toronto before being elected to the territories Legislative Assembly in 1887. He soon led a group of members who wanted responsible government. The Canadian government finally agreed to their wishes and Haultain became the territories first premier in 1897. He was opposed to party politics and although he led the territories Liberal-Conservative Party, there were also a number of liberals and conservatives in his cabinet.
He led provincial status negotiations with the Canadian government, arguing in 1904 that the North-West Territories should become one large province called Buffalo to be run by a non-partisan government. He wanted the town of Regina to be its capital city rather than the larger centers of Calgary or Edmonton to the west. However, residents of each of those cities pushed for their own city to become the capital of any new province. Other proposals included three provinces, and two provinces with a west-east border.
Another problem for Haultain was his poor relationship with Canadian prime minister and federal liberal leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier. He had led his party since 1887 and built a strong enough following to become prime minister in 1896 after a string of conservative and liberal-conservative prime ministers. Laurier was the country’s first francophone prime minister and built a power base in Quebec, a previous conservative stronghold. He believed in the separation of church and state, which was strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church. The last thing he wanted was a large province in the west run by a liberal-conservative party with a liberal-conservative premier.
Haultain was becoming increasingly identified as a conservative and campaigned for the Conservative Party in the federal election in 1904, arguably in a bid to have Laurier ousted as prime minister and boost the chances of his dream of the territories becoming the province of Buffalo. But Laurier was returned with an increased majority. The liberal vote was highest in the territories, perhaps as a backlash against Haultain by Edmonton and Calgary residents.
Basking in his re-election success, Laurier decided he didn’t want one large province of any political persuasion which might eventually rival Quebec or Ontario. Nor did he support three provinces in the less populated western areas. He chose a two province plan and introduced bills in the House of Commons on 21 February 1905 to create Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces. The Alberta Act and the Saskatchewan Act were passed into law on 20 July 1905. Edmonton and Regina would be the respective capital cities of the new provinces.
Alberta was promoted to province status at noon on 1 September 1905 in an official inauguration ceremony attended by Laurier at Rossdale Flats, Edmonton. (Saskatchewan’s turn came three days later at Regina.) About 12,000 Edmonton residents attended the ceremony. As part of the celebrations, a concert featuring a 15 piece orchestra and 41 member choir was held at the Thistle Rink the previous evening. A parade was held on Jasper Avenue on the morning of Inauguration Day. Alberta was named after the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, who was married to John Campbell, Canada’s governor-general from 1878 to 1883.
Alexander Cameron Rutherford was appointed as Alberta’s premier on 2 September, the day after the inauguration. Elections were held on 9 November 1905 with Rutherford’s Alberta Liberal Party winning 23 of 25 seats. It was a bitter election with the liberals accused of vote tampering and harassing conservative voters. The conservatives had little clout as Haultain had moved to Saskatchewan where its first election, on 13 December 1905, was also won by the liberals, and Haultain became that province’s Opposition leader.
Thus the four districts of Alberta, Athabasca, Assiniboia, and Saskatchewan were reorganized into the two new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Both provinces were considerably smaller than Ontario or Quebec. The Acts allowed the Canadian government to retain control of all natural resources and public lands of both provinces until the Natural Resources Transfer Acts were passed in 1930.