OTD: Politician John Bracken dies in Ottawa

On today’s date in 1969, Canadian agronomist and politician John Bracken died in Ottawa.

Born in Ellisville, Ont., Bracken was educated at the Ontario Agricultural College and the University of Illinois before becoming a professor of animal husbandry at the University of Saskatchewan in 1910. He served at the University of Saskatchewan until 1920, when he became president of the Manitoba Agricultural College.

In 1922, Bracken began two decades as premier of Manitoba.

“Bracken’s political career began dramatically with a midnight phone call in July of 1922,” reads Henry Vivian Nelles’ 1981 article “John Bracken: A Political Biography,” which was published in Manitoba History, the journal of the Manitoba Historical Society. “On the other end of the line a complete stranger asked the sleepy principal of the Agricultural College if he would be willing to accept the premiership of Manitoba. The caller, W. R. Clubb was inquiring on behalf of the leaderless United Farmers of Manitoba who had just won 24 of the 55 seats in the recent election and as a result were required to form a minority government. Bracken, who had barely settled himself in his new job after coming from Saskatchewan in 1920, had no previous political experience, had not taken the slightest interest in Manitoba politics, in fact, he had been too busy to vote in the general election. Nevertheless he spent the next day in a church basement with T. A. Crerar and Bob Hoey being interviewed by the UFM caucus, and got the job in part because the other two turned it down. Overnight Bracken vaulted from nowhere to become Premier of Manitoba.”

In 1942, Bracken became leader of the federal Conservative Party. He did not seek a seat until three years later, at which time the party was defeated. Bracken served as leader of the opposition until 1948 before retiring to his farm in Manotick, Ont., where he raised Jersey cows and palomino horses and grew alfalfa.

He later served Prime Minister John Diefenbaker as “box-car commissioner” to help in the movement of grain, and from 1959-62, he sat on the National Capital Commission.

During his life, Bracken was responsible for the agricultural revolution that turned the semi-arid Canadian prairies into viable farmland. He served as a prominent figure who helped establish Canada as a farming nation.

1998 BRACKEN STAMP

On Feb. 18, 1998, Canada Post featured Bracken on a 45-cent multi-coloured stamp (Scott #1709i) printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company as part of the Provincial Premiers series. The stamp features a photograph of Bracken overtop the flag of Manitoba and a watermarked Canadian flag in the background.

The series was designed by Raymond Bellemare based on illustrations by Pierre Sasseville. The Canadian flag that serves as the background of the pane of 10 stamps was photographed by Jean-Pierre Beaudin. The stamps were printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company using five-colour lithography.

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