Memorable Manitobans: William Bain Scarth (1837-1902)
Land executive, MP (1887-1891).
Born at Aberdeen, Scotland on 10 November 1837, second son of James Lendrum Scarth, he was educated there and in Edinburgh. He came to Canada in 1855 and lived in Toronto for a number of years, where he invested heavily in various Canadian land development companies. One of these companies developed the northwest part of Manitoba in the area of Binscarth. He prospered mightily during the boom of the early 1880s. He fell on hard financial times when the boom collapsed. He did his best to make peace between the federal Conservatives of Sir John A. Macdonald and the provincial Conservatives under John Norquay in the 1880s.
He came to Winnipeg in 1884. In the 1886 provincial election he ran as an Conservative but lost by 39 votes. He was then pressed into service as a federal candidate, and won by eight votes early in 1887. The Canada North West Land Company, a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, of which he was managing director, was never happy with his career as a politician, but Sir John A. Macdonald regarded him highly. His prominence in the party ended with Macdonald’s death, although he was eventually rewarded for loyal party service with an appointment as federal deputy minister of agriculture in 1895. A Liberal investigation of his earlier land dealings criticized him but did not find much real corruption. He served as a Director of the Great-West Life Assurance Company in the 1890s.
Scarth was incapacitated from 1898 to his death at Ottawa, Ontario on 15 May 1902.
“W. B. Scarth is dead,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 May 1902, page 1.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
We thank Mark Huston for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 6 October 2018
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