Memorable Manitobans: Thomas Alexander Crerar (1876-1975)
Born in Molesworth, Huron County, Ontario on 17 June 1876, son of William and Margaret Crerar, in 1881 he came with his parents to Manitoba to a homestead near Portage la Prairie. Educated at local schools, Winnipeg Collegiate, and Manitoba College, he taught school for five years, farmed on land near Russell obtained from the Hudson’s Bay Company, and managed a grain elevator.
In 1907, he became a director of the Grain Growers’ Company, and was subsequently President until its merger with Alberta Farmers’ Cooperative Elevator in 1917 to form United Grain Growers, of which he became President. He was appointed Minister of Agriculture in the Union government of 1917, responsible for the Wartime Food Control Board, but resigned in 1919 to protest high tariffs. He continued as President and General Manager of United Grain Growers until 1929.
He led the Farmers’ Progressive Party in the 1921 federal election, representing the moderates who wanted reform of the existing party system rather than a totally new political structure. He refused to join Mackenzie King’s government but also refused official Opposition status for the Progressives in 1921, and he resigned from the Progressive leadership in 1922. He joined the Liberal Cabinet as Minister of Railways and Canals in 1929 and took a seat in Parliament vacated by Robert Forke in an early 1930 by-election. He was subsequently defeated in the 1930 general election. Crerar returned to the House in 1935 and became the leading member of the Liberal Cabinet until the end of the Second World War, serving from 1935 to 1945 as Minister of Mines and Resources. He was also a member of the Cabinet war committee and Cabinet wheat committee from 1939 to 1945. He supported overseas conscription in 1944 and was appointed to the Senate in 1945, retiring in 1966.
On 31 January 1906, he married Jessie Hamilton (c1877-1967) of Solsgirth with whom he had two daughters: Dorothy Anna Crerar (1908-1983, wife of Bernard Naylor) and Jessie Audrey Crerar (1913-1922). He was a member of the IOOF, serving as Noble Grand of the Russell lodge.
He served as President of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg (1928-1929) and a Director of the Great-West Life Assurance Company (1928-1964). He was an Honorary Life Member of the Manitoba Club. He was the first politician awarded the Companion of the Order of Canada, and was inducted posthumously into the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame (1986). He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Manitoba (1954) and the Centennial Medal of Honour (1970) by the Manitoba Historical Society. In 2004, he was selected as a Person of National Significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and a commemorative plaque was erected in Russell.
He died at Victoria, British Columbia on 11 April 1975 and was buried with his family in the Elmwood Cemetery.
His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
Birth, marriage, and death registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.
“Crerar former Portage resident,” Manitoba Liberal, 18 October 1917, page 6.
“At 90, Thomas Crerar still looks ahead,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 January 1966.
“Jessie Crerar, Senator's wife, dies at home,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 February 1967, page 9.
Obituary [Jessie Hamilton Crerar], Winnipeg Free Press, 21 February 1967.
“Sen. Crerar dies after long career,” Winnipeg Free Press, 14 April 1975, page 1.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 27 January 2023