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John Robert Boyle

John Robert Boyle
Leader of the Official Opposition in Alberta
In office
February 2, 1922 – April 12, 1924
Preceded byAlbert Ewing
Succeeded byCharles R. Mitchell
Leader of the Alberta Liberal Party
In office
Preceded byCharles Stewart
Succeeded byCharles R. Mitchell
Alberta Attorney General
In office
August 23, 1918 – July 18, 1921
Preceded byCharles Wilson Cross
Succeeded byJohn Edward Brownlee
Alberta Minister of Education
In office
May 4, 1912 – August 26, 1918
Preceded byCharles R. Mitchell
Succeeded byGeorge P. Smith
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta
In office
July 18, 1921 – August 27, 1924
In office
November 9, 1905 – July 18, 1921
Preceded byNew District
Succeeded bySamuel Carson
Alderman on the Edmonton City Council
In office
December 12, 1904 – May 7, 1906
Personal details
BornFebruary 1 or 3, 1870 or 1871
Sykeston, Ontario
DiedFebruary 15, 1936
(aged 65–66)
Ottawa, Ontario
Political partyAlberta Liberal Party
SpouseDora Shaw (2 children)

John Robert Boyle KC (February 3, 1871 – February 15, 1936) was a Canadian politician and jurist who served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, a cabinet minister in the Government of Alberta, and a judge on the Supreme Court of Alberta. Born in Ontario, he came west and eventually settled in Edmonton, where he practiced law. After a brief stint on Edmonton's first city council, he was elected in Alberta's inaugural provincial election as a Liberal. During the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway scandal, he was a leader of the Liberal insurgency that forced Premier Alexander Cameron Rutherford from office.

Though initially left out of cabinet by Arthur Sifton, Rutherford's successor, Boyle was named Minister of Education in 1912. He served in this capacity until 1918, during which time he alienated many non-English speakers by insisting on a unilingual English school system. In 1918 he was made Attorney-General. He retained his seat in the legislature after the Liberal defeat in the 1921 election and briefly served as leader of the Liberal opposition, but was appointed to the bench in 1924. He was still a judge when he died in 1936.

Early life

Boyle was born in Sykeston, Ontario on February 3, 1871,[1] of Scottish and Irish descent.[2] His father died in 1884, and Boyle had to leave school to support his family; he eventually completed high school at Sarnia Collegiate Institute in 1888 and 1889.[2] Following graduation, he taught school for three years in Lambton County.[1] In 1894, he came west, though accounts vary as to exactly where he settled and for what purpose: he either studied law in Regina,[2] taught school in Pilot Butte,[3] or settled in Edmonton.[1] He was reported to be teaching at Partridge Hill School near Horse Hills in 1896.[4]

Boyle and his family

Sources agree that he was in the Edmonton area by 1896, and that he taught school there before being called to the bar in 1899.[1][2][3] In 1902[2] he married Dora Christina Shaw at High River, Alberta, with whom he had three[2] children (Helen, Frederick and Jean).[5] He partnered with Hedley C. Taylor to form Taylor & Boyle, which was later known as Boyle, Parlee, Freeman, Abbott & Mustard;[1][2] the firm was a forerunner of the present day Parlee McLaws.[6] Boyle was made King's Counsel in 1913.[1]

He ran in the 1904 Edmonton municipal election to elect the first Edmonton City Council (Edmonton had hitherto been a town). He finished second of seventeen candidates in the aldermanic race, and was elected to a two-year term.[Note 1] He resigned in 1906, before the completion of his term.[7]

Provincial politics

Early provincial career

In 1905, Boyle ran in Alberta's inaugural provincial election as the Liberal candidate in Sturgeon, where he defeated Conservative Frank Knight by a wide margin.[8] Boyle served as Deputy Speaker in the 1st Alberta Legislative Assembly.[1] (To focus on government affairs, Boyle resigned as Edmonton alderman on May 7, 1906, and a by-election was held to fill his empty seat.[9])

During his first term, Boyle supported the selection of Edmonton (over rival Calgary) as the new province's capital,[10] and supported the Liberal government of Alexander Cameron Rutherford in its decision to borrow money to finance the creation of Alberta Government Telephones (abandoning its usual "pay as you go" approach). Boyle predicted that "Alberta, the first to undertake [a provincial government telephone system] will become a model for every province in the Dominion."[11] He also sided with the government in its rejection of Conservative demands that it build and operate railways, as he felt that doing so would not be viable as long as the trunk lines were in private hands.[12] He enthusiastically backed private construction of railways, however, and greeted the announcement of the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway—which was to run northward from Edmonton to Lac la Biche and later Fort McMurray—with what historian L. G. Thomas describes as "an extravagant eulogy...[speaking] of Lac la Biche as another Lake Louise, of Pullmans running from New Orleans to the Arctic circle, and of northern Alberta as a second Cobalt region."[13]

Alberta and Great Waterways Railway scandal

The Rutherford government was comfortably re-elected in the 1909 election;[14] Boyle himself was acclaimed in Sturgeon.[15] Shortly after the elections, rumours began to spread that all was not well with the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway (A&GWR), to which the government had given loan guarantees and on whose behalf it had sold bonds in the London bond market. When the new legislature convened in February 1910, Boyle tabled a list of eleven questions for the government about the A&GWR. Rutherford, Minister of Railways as well as Premier, duly answered them in writing.[16] Boyle found these answers unsatisfactory, and on February 21 gave notice of a motion to expropriate the A&GWR's bond money; he held that the government had raised more money for the A&GWR than was needed for construction. He also alleged that S. B. Woods, deputy to Attorney-General Charles Wilson Cross, had removed key components from the government's files on the A&GWR, in advance of their having been inspected by Boyle and Conservative leader R. B. Bennett.[17]

Boyle's resolution rapidly divided the Liberal members between insurgents, led by Boyle and William Henry Cushing (who resigned his position as Minister of Public Works over the A&GWR issue), and loyalists, led by Rutherford and his remaining cabinet ministers, especially Cross.[17] In the ensuing debate, several charges were levelled against Boyle himself: Agriculture Minister Duncan Marshall accused him of being motivated by his rejection for the position of A&GWR solicitor. Boyle admitted applying for the position, but denied that it had anything to do with his attacks on the government.[18] The Edmonton Bulletin accused him of approaching two Liberal members who were also hotel keepers, Lucien Boudreau and Robert L. Shaw, and offering them immunity from prosecution for liquor offenses if they helped bring down Rutherford's government and replace it with one, led by Cushing, in which Boyle would be Attorney-General.[19]

Though Rutherford survived a motion of non-confidence (moved by Ezra Riley and seconded by Boyle) by three votes,[19] he was successfully pressured to resign by Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta George Bulyea. It had been expected that Cushing would replace Rutherford if the latter was defeated, but Bulyea and other prominent Liberals did not have confidence in him, and instead selected Arthur Sifton, Alberta's Chief Justice.[20]

Minister of the Crown

Sifton left all major figures of the A&GWR affair, including Boyle, out of his first cabinet, and instead appointed fellow judge Charles R. Mitchell Attorney-General.[21] However, in 1912 he decided that enough time had passed for old wounds to heal, and re-appointed Cross as Attorney-General. At the same time, he brought Boyle into his cabinet as Minister of Education.[22] The law required that members newly admitted to cabinet resign their seats in the legislature and immediately contest a by-election; Boyle was re-elected in Sturgeon by a safe margin.[23]

Boyle's time as Education Minister was tumultuous: many teachers enlisted to fight in World War I, and many others left the profession for more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. In its members' handbook, the Alberta Teachers' Association describes Boyle's efforts to remedy this situation as "heroic", citing in particular his convincing the legislature to set a minimum teachers' salary of $840 per year.[24] Another of Boyle's tactics to alleviate the teacher shortage was to make it easier for teachers qualified in Quebec to teach in Alberta.[25] However, this liberalization was subject to applicants' English proficiency: Boyle insisted that all instruction in Alberta schools be delivered in English.[26] A Québécois teacher who passed an English language proficiency exam would be granted a temporary teaching license, which could be upgraded to a full Alberta Teaching Certificate with five months' study at a normal school.[25] Boyle's insistence that Alberta was English offended not only the province's French Canadian minority, but also its Ukrainian-speaking population; an editorial in a Ukrainian newspaper maintained angrily that "the minister of education lies when he says that Alberta is an English province. Alberta is a Canadian province, where everyone has equal rights, including the Ukrainians."[27] During a by-election in Whitford Boyle accused the Conservatives of promising Ukrainian language schools to court the immigrant vote.[28]

In 1918, new premier Charles Stewart, who had succeeded Sifton when the latter entered federal politics in 1917, fired Cross and appointed Boyle Attorney-General.[29] The following year Boyle introduced legislation formally making English Alberta's only official language. At the time, he boasted that in the past election "my majority came from English electors" in contrast to a Conservative who supported "Russian schools for Russian people".[30] As Attorney-General, he also supported unsuccessful legislation to allow Imperial Oil to construct a pipeline in Alberta; in response to bipartisan opposition calling for pipelines to be common carriers, he said that to adopt such a course would be to tell oil companies that they "were free to spend vast sums in exploration work but if oil were found, they were not to pipe it out."[31]

One of Boyle's chief responsibilities as Attorney-General was to enforce Alberta's recently enacted prohibition. This proved difficult, as the law was widely disparaged—not least by judges, who reputedly presided over liquor trials while hungover. In 1921, Boyle estimated that bootleggers were profiting from prohibition to the tune of Can$7 million. He was denounced by supporters of prohibition for his ineffectiveness at enforcing it, and by its opponents for "arrogating to himself the powers of a czar."[32]

In the 1921 election, Boyle both sought re-election in Sturgeon and election in the new multi-member constituency of Edmonton. He was defeated in the former but victorious in the latter, making him one of two members from the 1st Alberta Legislative Assembly to be elected to the 5th; the other was Cross, Boyle's predecessor as Attorney-General and rival from the Alberta and Great Waterways Affair.[Note 2] Provincially, the Liberals were soundly defeated by the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), which, contesting their first election, won 39 seats to the Liberals' 14.[33]

Leader of the Alberta Liberals

Late in Stewart's term as premier, there had been speculation that he would resign due to ill-health, and Boyle was among the candidates mentioned as possible successors.[34] When Stewart did resign, immediately following the 1921 election, Boyle was selected to replace him. In the assessment of Lakeland College historian Franklin Foster, Boyle "showed vigour" in the legislature, where he presented a strong opposition to the new UFA government of Herbert Greenfield.[35] Even so, he showed some private courtesy: when John Edward Brownlee, Greenfield's Attorney-General and his strongman in the legislature, missed a session due to illness, Boyle assured him that the Liberals would not attack the government too vigorously in his absence.[36]

Boyle in 1935 with his daughter, Helen, and grandson, Ian

As leader of the Alberta Liberals, Boyle corresponded extensively with Liberal Party of Canada leader (and Prime Minister of Canada) William Lyon Mackenzie King; according to Foster, Boyle's letters to King were "a mixture of useless information and pleas to be rescued by an appointment to the bench."[35] It is possible that one of his letters had some impact on history, however: in 1924, while Greenfield was attempting to negotiate control of Alberta's natural resources from King's federal government, Boyle sent King a letter warning him that the UFA was doomed in the next election unless "something extraordinary happens. That extraordinary thing which Greenfield wants to happen now is obtaining from you the natural resources at once."[37] King drew out negotiations until Greenfield returned to Alberta empty-handed; soon after, Greenfield was forced from office by his own backbenchers, and replaced by Brownlee.[38]

Judicial career and later life

In 1924, Boyle was appointed to the Supreme Court of Alberta, and resigned from the legislature.[2][3] He was succeeded as Liberal leader by another former Attorney-General, Charles R. Mitchell.[37] As judge, Boyle once refused to issue an injunction to end a coal miners' strike that had turned violent, because he believed that the Alberta Provincial Police could contain the violence if properly instructed (another judge later issued the injunction).[39] It was also before Boyle that the statement of claim was filed in MacMillan v. Brownlee, the case that forced Brownlee to resign as premier.[40][Note 3]

Boyle was a member of the Presbyterian Church, the Masonic Order, and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He was still sitting as a judge when he died February 15, 1936, on his way to Jamaica.[1] The Edmonton neighbourhood of Boyle Street and the village of Boyle are named in his honour; perhaps ironically, the latter lies on what was once the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway line.[2]

Electoral record

1921 Alberta general election: Edmonton
Party Candidate Votes % Elected
Liberal Andrew Robert McLennan 6,498 36.20% Green tickY
Liberal John Campbell Bowen 5,803 32.33% Green tickY
Liberal Nellie McClung 5,388 30.02% Green tickY
Liberal John Robert Boyle 5,361 29.86% Green tickY
Liberal Jeremiah Wilfred Heffernan 5,289 29.46% Green tickY
United Farmers William Jackman 4,978 27.73%
Conservative Albert Freeman Ewing 4,777 26.61%
Labour A. A. Campbell 3,736 20.81%
Conservative Herbert Howard Crawford 3,553 19.79%
Conservative Elizabeth Ferris 3,188 17.76%
Labour Robert McCreath 2,931 16.33%
Independent Joseph Woods Adair 2,571 14.32%
Labour Elmer Roper 2,515 14.01%
Conservative Ambrose Upton Gledstanes Bury 2,509 13.98%
Conservative William A. Wells 2,329 12.97%
Independent James Kennedy Cornwall 2,082 11.60%
Independent A. L. Marks 1,744 9.72%
Independent Liberal Gerald Pelton 1,467 8.17%
Independent William Short 1,447 8.06%
Independent Labour William R. Ball 1,409 7.85%
Independent A. Boileau 1,226 6.83%
Independent Labour Mary Cantin 1,133 6.31%
Independent Labour Ernest Brown 1,073 5.98%
Independent Labour James Bailey 941 5.24%
Independent Labour Joe E. White 927 5.16%
Labour Socialist Marie Millard 883 4.92%
Total votes cast 17,951
Rejected, spoiled and declined N/A
Eligible electors / turnout N/A N/A N/A
Source: "Edmonton Official Results 1921 Alberta general election". Alberta Heritage Community Foundation. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
Election held under multiple non-transferable vote for five members to the Legislative Assembly.
1921 Alberta general election: Sturgeon
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
United Farmers Samuel Allen Carson 2,815 59.09%
Liberal John Robert Boyle 1,949 40.91% -6.28%
Total 4,764
Rejected, spoiled and declined N/A
Eligible electors / turnout 6,299 75.63% -17.94%
United Farmers gain from Liberal Swing 3.99%
Source: "Sturgeon Official Results 1921 Alberta general election". Alberta Heritage Community Foundation. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
1917 Alberta general election results (Sturgeon)[41] Turnout 93.5%
  Liberal John Robert Boyle 1,546 47.19%
  Conservative J. Sutherland 1,212 37.00%
  Independent H. Mickleson 518 15.81%
1913 Alberta general election results (Sturgeon)[42] Turnout 69.9%
  Liberal John Robert Boyle 936 62.73%
  Conservative James Duncan Hyndman 556 37.27%
1912 by-election results (Sturgeon)[43] Turnout N.A.
  Liberal John Robert Boyle 1,173 66.08%
  Conservative A. W. Taylor 602 33.92%
1909 Alberta general election results (Sturgeon)[15] Turnout N/A
  Liberal John Robert Boyle Acclaimed
1905 Alberta general election results (Sturgeon)[8] Turnout N.A.
  Liberal John Robert Boyle 721 76.78%
  Conservative Frank Knight 218 23.22%
1904 Edmonton municipal election results (aldermanic candidates)[7] (eight elected) Turnout N.A.
Charles May 471 63.39%
John Robert Boyle 349 46.97%
Kenneth McLeod 330 44.41%
Thomas Bellamy 310 41.72%
William Clark 277 37.28%
Joseph Henri Picard 262 35.26%
Daniel Fraser 257 34.59%
William Antrobus Griesbach 239 32.17%
Thomas Grindley 231 31.09%
Gustave Koerman 224 30.15%
Peter Butchart 204 27.46%
Donald MacDonald 171 23.01%
William Deyl 170 22.88%
Herbert Charles Wilson 162 21.80%
Frank Haldane 161 21.67%
Samuel Paton 143 19.25%
W. S. Weeks 80 10.77%


  1. ^ At the time, the city council included eight aldermen on staggered two-year terms. In the 1904 election, the top four finishers were elected to two-year terms, and the next four to one-year terms.
  2. ^ Boyle's 1924 resignation would leave Cross as the sole survivor for slightly over a year, until he too resigned.
  3. ^ Boyle did not preside over the case itself, which was tried by William Carlos Ives.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Boyle, John Robert". Edmonton Public Libraries. Archived from the original on 2011-07-05. Retrieved 2010-07-09.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Herzog, Lawrence (August 1, 2002). "Lambton Block". Real Estate Weekly. Archived from the original on February 24, 2012. Retrieved 2010-07-09.
  3. ^ a b c "John R. Boyle, Lawyer (image NA-4264-1)". Glenbow Archives. Retrieved 2010-07-09.
  4. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, Nov. 23, 1896
  5. ^ Boyle and District Historical Society (1982). Forests, furrows and faith : a history of Boyle and districts. Boyle. p. 13. Archived from the original on 2017-03-03. Retrieved 2013-08-12.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ Todd, Robert (April 2010). "Best in the West". Canadian Lawyer. Archived from the original on 2010-07-10. Retrieved 2010-07-17.
  7. ^ a b "Election Results 1892–1944". City of Edmonton. Archived from the original on 2013-09-04. Retrieved 2010-07-06.
  8. ^ a b "Election results for Sturgeon, 1905". Alberta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-07-06.
  9. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, May 26, 1906
  10. ^ Thomas 38
  11. ^ Thomas 53
  12. ^ Thomas 60–61
  13. ^ Thomas 61
  14. ^ Thomas 69
  15. ^ a b "Election results for Sturgeon, 1909". Alberta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-07-06.
  16. ^ Thomas 70–71
  17. ^ a b Thomas 72
  18. ^ Thomas 79–80
  19. ^ a b Thomas 84
  20. ^ Thomas 89
  21. ^ Thomas 90–91
  22. ^ Thomas 125
  23. ^ Thomas 127
  24. ^ "The Early History of the Teachers' Association". Alberta Teachers' Association. Winter 2005. Retrieved 2010-07-17.
  25. ^ a b Mahe
  26. ^ Aunger (2005) 116–117
  27. ^ Hoerder 286
  28. ^ Aunger (2004) 474
  29. ^ Thomas 185
  30. ^ Aunger (2004) 479–480
  31. ^ Breen 36
  32. ^ Thomas 192–193
  33. ^ Thomas 204
  34. ^ Thomas 194
  35. ^ a b Foster 74
  36. ^ Foster 107
  37. ^ a b Foster 114
  38. ^ Foster 116
  39. ^ Fudge, Tucker 85
  40. ^ Foster 222
  41. ^ "Election results for Sturgeon, 1917". Alberta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-07-06.
  42. ^ "Election results for Sturgeon, 1913". Alberta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-07-06.
  43. ^ "Past by-election results". Elections Alberta. Archived from the original on 2009-06-07. Retrieved 2010-07-06.

Works cited

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John Robert Boyle
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