Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: David Bruce Harkness (1872-1948)

Cleric, judge, eugenicist.

Born at Lambton, Ontario on 26 February 1872, son of Andrew Harkness and Isabella McWherter, he was educated at McMaster University and came to Emerson as a Baptist minister. He was the first editor of Western Outlook, the official journal of the Baptist Convention of Western Canada, and became a judge of the Winnipeg juvenile court (1922-1925). He helped to draft the Manitoba Child Welfare Act and the Winnipeg Juvenile Delinquency Act. He was active in the early Community Chest of Winnipeg.

After moving to Toronto in 1925, he helped to establish the city’s welfare department and headed its unemployment and relief department. He became secretary of the Social Service Council of Ontario because of his reputation as an expert on child welfare and a former magistrate. Subsequently, he was a co-founder and secretary of the Eugenics Society of Canada (ESC), and a strong advocate of legislation discouraging defective reproduction while encouraging fit parenthood. With the post-war reaction to Nazi atrocities, he advocated discrete toning down of the eugenics message while maintaining its essential role. Much of his time was spent on promoting the ESC across Canada.

He died at his home in Burlington, Ontario on 31 January 1948.


Ontario birth registration, Ancestry.

“Juvenile Court ex-judge dies,” Winnipeg Tribune, 2 February 1948, page 13.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

We thank Nathan Kramer for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough and Len Kaminski.

Page revised: 20 January 2020

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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