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Frank Oliver (politician)

Frank Oliver
Minister of the Interior
In office
April 8, 1905 (1905-04-08) – October 6, 1911 (1911-10-06)
Preceded byClifford Sifton
Succeeded byRobert Rogers
Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs
In office
April 8, 1905 (1905-04-08) – October 6, 1911 (1911-10-06)
Preceded byWilfrid Laurier
Succeeded byRobert Rogers
Member of Parliament for Alberta (provisional district)
In office
June 23, 1896 (1896-06-23) – November 2, 1904 (1904-11-02)
Preceded byDonald Watson Davis
Succeeded byJohn Herron
Member of Parliament for Edmonton
In office
November 3, 1904 (1904-11-03) – December 16, 1917 (1917-12-16)
Preceded byCreated
Succeeded byAbolished
Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Northwest Territories for Edmonton
In office
May 29, 1883 (1883-05-29) – January 1, 1885 (1885-01-01)
In office
1888 (1888) – May 1896 (1896-05)
Personal details
Francis Robert Oliver Bowsfield

(1853-09-01)September 1, 1853
Peel County, Canada West
DiedMarch 31, 1933(1933-03-31) (aged 79)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
RelativesParents Allan Bowsfield and Hannah (Anna) Lundy

Francis Oliver PC (born Francis Robert Oliver Bowsfield;[1] September 1, 1853 – March 31, 1933) was a Canadian federal minister, politician, and journalist/publisher from the Northwest Territories and later Alberta. As Minister of the Interior, he was responsible for discriminatory Canadian government policies that targeted First Nations' land rights and Black immigration.

Early life

Oliver was born Francis Bowsfield in Peel County, Canada West, just west of Toronto. He was the son of Allan Bowsfield and Hannah (Anna) Lundy. Some disagreement in the family made him drop the name Bowsfield and adopt the name of his grandmother, Nancy Oliver Lundy.

Frank Oliver in 1898

Oliver studied journalism in Toronto, Ontario. In 1880, he moved west and founded the Edmonton Bulletin with his wife, Harriet Dunlop (1863–1943).[2] When the first issue was printed on December 6, 1880, it became the first newspaper in what is now Alberta,[3] and he owned it until 1923. Oliver was active in what one historian called the "Edmonton Settlers' Rights Movement" of 1880s.[4] Prior to the official Dominion Land Survey, Oliver and others engaged in direct action to preserve land ownership rights of Edmonton old-timers, against encroachment by later-arriving settlers, who they termed "squatters." Oliver, later-mayor Matt McCauley, Metis Laurent Garneau and several others faced criminal charges, and then a civil suit after a "squatter"'s shack was pushed into the river valley.[5]

He also used the Edmonton Bulletin as a platform to voice his opposition to the establishment and continued existence of Papaschase Indian Reserve Number 136.[6][7] He continued this practice for eight years (even while he was an elected politician), until the federal government forced the Papaschase band members from their reserve. The land was divided between railway companies, settlers, and the federal government, who later auctioned their share off to settlers.[8]It is important to note that Indigenous communities in Canada have faced a long history of displacement, loss of land, and systemic marginalization. The struggles and negotiations surrounding Indian reserves like Papaschase Reserve reflect the complex and often contentious relationships between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government during that time.

Political career

Oliver was elected to the North-West Council in 1883. He was the second elected member to the 1st Council of the Northwest Territories, winning the May 29, 1883 election for the newly formed Edmonton district. In 1885 his newspaper pointed out that the NWT council did not have as many elected members as its population - 100,000 - should allow it. Under the headline "Responsible Government" he called for a change in the way that the elected members were elected.[9] The following month he pointed out that out-migration to the U.S. was stunting Canada's own population growth, and the NWT was in large measure to account for that, due to conditions created by the Conservative government in Ottawa. He blamed the out-migration on "the unwise and ever changing land regulations, the enormous reserves [(land held by the HBC and the Crown and not open to local settlement)], the ill treatment of squatters [(pioneers who had settled in the NW prior to government survey)], the discriminating tariff, the railway monopoly, and the lack of political rights (the one statement that has been made and repeated on platform after platform), and on how North-West lands and NW settlers must ultimately pay the whole cost of the CPR."

Some of the stands he took in the NWT Council at Regina were not popular with all Edmontonians, least of all with local Conservatives. He organized a meeting in early January to refute charges that he was "an irreconcilable oppositionist with socialist tendencies," saying what he done had been in accordance "with the interests and wishes of the majority of his constituents."[10]

In 1885 following the suppression of the Metis Rebellion, his newspaper said that the blame for the outbreak was shared "between Riel and the Ottawa government," signalling out the late minister of the Interior.[11] His newspaper blamed the Ottawa government's "deception, mismanagement and injustice" for having caused the rebellion.[12]

Oliver lost his seat in the 1885 Northwest Territories election to a local physician, 25-year-old Herbert Charles Wilson, who was named Speaker of the Council.

Oliver contested and won one of the two seats in the Edmonton district in 1888. He retained his seat by acclamation in the 1891 and 1894 elections. During Oliver's time as a territorial representative, he contributed to the creation of the North-West Territories' first public school system.[3]

He resigned from the council in 1896 to run for a seat in the House of Commons of Canada for the Liberal Party of Canada. Running as a Liberal Party candidate, Oliver was a champion of the small farmer and business people pioneering in Alberta at the time.[13] He was elected in the 1896 Canadian federal election to represent the entire Alberta (Provisional District). He was re-elected to the Alberta provisional district again in 1900.

The large Alberta riding was broken up, and Edmonton acquired an MP for itself in 1904. Oliver was elected to the newly-formed Edmonton district in 1904 Canadian federal election.[14]

Following his appointment to the federal cabinet, he retained the seat in a 1905 Ministerial by-election. He also was re-elected in the 1908 Canadian federal election and the 1911 Canadian federal election. [15]

As leading federal politician of western Prairies, Oliver was assigned by Wilfrid Laurier to draw up the electoral boundaries used in the 1905 Alberta general election. The boundaries were said to favour Edmonton, where the Alberta Liberal Party enjoyed the most support although overall, the Liberal Party got the majority of the votes cast and more votes than any other party in the election. Edmonton's political weight is said to have assured the city's designation as the provincial capital, if its central location and long dominance in north-central Alberta had not been enough.[3]

Federal Minister

From 1905 to 1911, he was appointed and served as the Minister of the Interior in the federal cabinet and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs.

As minister responsible for national parks, he drastically reduced the size of Rocky Mountains Park from 11,400 km2 (4,400 sq mi) in 1902, to 4,663 km2 (1,800 sq mi);[16] Kootenay Lakes Forest Reserve (later Waterton Lakes National Park) from 140 km2 (54 sq mi) in 1895[17] to 35 km2 (14 sq mi),[18] and Jasper National Park from 12,950 km2 (5,000 sq mi) in 1907 to 2,590 km2 (1,000 sq mi),[18] under the Dominion Forest Reserves and Parks Act of 1911, which replaced the earlier legislation. Much of the land thus freed was declared to be forest reserves to capitalize on its timber and mineral resources.[19] Oliver's successor for Minister of the Interior, William James Roche, later expanded the three Alberta National Parks closer to their earlier sizes, in 1914 Waterton Lakes National Park to 1,096 km2 (423 sq mi), later in 1917 expand Banff National Park to 7,125 km2 (2,751 sq mi) and Jasper National Park to 11,396 km2 (4,400 sq mi).[18]

Oliver, unhappy with centralized approach to the National Parks System, reorganized the system by creating the position of Commissioner of Dominion Parks with its headquarters in Banff, Alberta, and Howard Douglas, the superintendent of Rocky Mountains Park (Banff National Park) since 1897, was appointed the first Commissioner.[20]

In 1907 he established a commission to investigate Doukhobor settlement in Saskatchewan. They had settled there on Clifford Sifton's promise that they could hold and work the land communally. The commission led to the reversal of Sifton's policy and the Doukhobors being disposessed of the land they had immigrated from Russia to settle.[21]

By 1911, Oliver's immigration policy imposed tighter controls on immigration. Oliver was staunchly British, and his policies favoured nationality over occupation. He asserted that his immigration policy was more "restrictive, exclusive and selective" than those of his predecessors.[22] Like his predecessor, Clifford Sifton, Oliver encouraged immigration from Europe, and encouraged immigration of experienced farmers from Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe.[23]

Oliver wrote Order-in-Council P.C. 1911-1324, which was approved by the Laurier Cabinet on August 12, 1911 under the authority of the Immigration Act, 1906. It was intended to keep out black Americans escaping segregation in the American South by stating that "the Negro deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada." The order was never called upon, as efforts by immigration officials had already reduced the number of blacks immigrating to Canada. Cabinet cancelled the order on 5 October 1911, the day before Laurier's government was replaced by the new Conservative government, The cancellation claimed that the Minister of the Interior was not present at the time of approval.[24]

Oliver also used his newspaper to lobby for having the Papaschase Cree removed from their Treaty 6 Reserve territory, south of Edmonton, in 1880s.[25]

Frank Oliver's public positions apparently suited local sentiment as he was elected to the Territorial Assembly and as MP multiple times, often with majority of votes in the district.[26]

Later career and life

After the Liberal government was denied power in 1911, Oliver served in the House of Commons until 1917.

He ran for re-election in the new riding of West Edmonton in 1917 and received the most votes cast in the riding. His lead though was eliminated when officials of Borden's party distributed its army vote and he did not retain the seat. [27][28]

Oliver ran in 1921 to regain his Edmonton West seat but this time he was defeated by a candidate of the United Farmers of Alberta. He served on the Board of Railway Commissioners until his death.

Frank Oliver died in 1933 in Ottawa, Ontario.[29] His body was brought to Edmonton, and it was interred in the Edmonton Cemetery.[30]


Frank Oliver married Harriet Dunlop (1863–1943), daughter of Thomas Dunlop of Prairie Grove, Manitoba in 1881. They had two children: Allen Oliver, MC and John Oliver. Allen Oliver was killed in action in 1916.


The area of western downtown Edmonton west of 109 Street was named Oliver after the man; later a major commercial strip in the neighbourhood was named Oliver Square.

On August 2, 2021 the Toronto Daily Tribune story, "Edmonton’s Oliver Square changes name after community consultation." It reported, "A member of Parliament and federal minister first elected to office in 1883, Oliver is known for drafting discriminatory legislation, including policies that pushed Indigenous people off their traditional lands."[31] From mid-2020 to January 2024, the Oliver Community League, neighbourhood residents, Indigenous community members and community members from other marginalized groups consulted on a new name for the neighbourhood.[32] In January 2024, the city's committee on names selected wîhkwêntôwin (Cree for 'circle of friends') to replace Oliver and sent this recommendation to city council.[33] On February 21, city council approved the name change,[34][35] which will be in effect on January 1, 2025.[36]

Mount Oliver in the Victoria Cross Ranges is named after him.

The Oliver Canadian Northern (now CNR) railway station in today's northeast Edmonton, and the surrounding area of same name, honours this man. Alberta Hospital Edmonton used to be in Oliver.[37]

The Oliver School District (1899-1957) was named after him. This was done in recognition of Oliver, as NWT Assemblyman, having a great deal to do with the act that established the school district system in the North-West Territories.



  • Brennan, Brian (2001). Alberta Originals: Stories of Albertans Who Made a Difference. Fifth House. ISBN 1-894004-76-0.


  1. ^ Berton, Pierre (10 August 2011). The Promised Land: Settling the West 1896-1914. Doubleday Canada. ISBN 9780385673662 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Sanderson, Kay (1999). 200 Remarkable Alberta Women. Calgary: Famous Five Foundation. p. 16. ISBN 0-9685832-0-2.
  3. ^ a b c Brennan 2001, p. 18.
  4. ^ Gilpin, John F. “The Edmonton and District Settlers’ Rights Movement, 1880 to 1885” in Swords and Ploughshares: War and Agriculture in Western Canada ed. R. C. Macleod (1993)
  5. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, June 24, 1882
  6. ^ Donald, Dwayne Trevor (1 May 2004). "Edmonton Pentimento Re-Reading History in the Case of the Papaschase Cree". Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies. doi:10.25071/1916-4467.16868. ISSN 1916-4467.
  7. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, January 17, 1881
  8. ^ Jan Olson (4 November 2013). "Papaschase". Strathcona Community League. Retrieved 8 December 2021.
  9. ^ Edmonton Bulletin Jan. 10, 1885
  10. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, January 31, 1885
  11. ^ |Edmonton Bulletin, September 5, 1885
  12. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, July 18, 1885
  13. ^ Oliver's election campaign speech, Edmonton Bulletin, June 1, 1896
  14. ^ Mardon and Mardon, Alberta Election Results, p. 201
  15. ^ "The Hon. Frank Oliver, P.C., M.P." Parlinfo. Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  16. ^ Hildebrandt, Walter. Historical Analysis of Parks Canada and Banff National Park, 1968–1995 (Report). Banff-Bow Valley Study. OCLC 639616565.
  17. ^ "Chapter 1 The Early Years (Up to 1900)". A History of Canada's National Parks Volume II. Parks Canada. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  18. ^ a b c "Chapter 2 Expansion in the West (1900 to 1972)". A History of Canada's National Parks Volume II. Parks Canada. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  19. ^ "Biography – OLIVER, FRANK (Francis Robert Bowsfield, Bossfield, or Bousfield) – Volume XVI (1931-1940) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography".
  20. ^ "Chapter 4 National Parks Administration (1885 to 1973)". A History of Canada's National Parks Volume II. Parks Canada. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  21. ^ "Doukhobor Prayer Home". Alberta Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  22. ^ "Black History Canada - Timeline 1900-Present". Archived from the original on 28 January 2016. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  23. ^ "Persuasion: Print Advertising on the Praries".
  24. ^ Yarhi, Eli (30 September 2016). "Order-in-Council P.C. 1911-1324 — the Proposed Ban on Black Immigration to Canada". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  25. ^ "History of Papaschase". Archived from the original on 21 April 2018. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
  26. ^ Mardon and Mardon, Alberta Election Results
  27. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, Jan. 11, 1918
  28. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, March 2, 1918
  29. ^ "The man who built the Edmonton Bulletin". Archived from the original on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  30. ^ "Cemeteries :: City of Edmonton".
  31. ^ "Edmonton's Oliver Square Changes Name After Community Consultation -". 2 August 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  32. ^ Dyer, Steven (28 August 2022). "Oliver community celebrates 100 years while searching for a new name". CTV News Edmonton. Retrieved 18 October 2023.
  33. ^ Snowdon, Wallis (23 January 2024). "Oliver no more: Edmonton neighbourhood adopts new Cree name". CBC News. Retrieved 24 January 2024.
  34. ^ Fortner, Cole (21 February 2024). "Edmonton's Oliver community to be renamed". CityNews Edmonton. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  35. ^ "New name for Edmonton's Oliver neighbourhood approved by city council - Edmonton |". Global News. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  36. ^ "Council approves Wîhkwêntôwin name for Oliver; change to take effect 2025". Edmonton. 21 February 2024. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  37. ^ Place Names of Alberta
Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories Preceded byNew District MLA Edmonton 1883–1885 Succeeded byHerbert Charles Wilson Preceded byHerbert Charles Wilson MLA Edmonton 1888–1896 Succeeded byMatthew McCauley Parliament of Canada Preceded byDonald Watson Davis Member of Parliament for Alberta (Provisional District) 1896–1904 Succeeded byJohn Herron Preceded byNew district Member of Parliament for Edmonton 1904–1917 Succeeded byDistrict abolished
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Frank Oliver (politician)
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