Memorable Manitobans: John Bracken (1883-1969)
Educator, MLA (1923-1927), MLA (1927-1932), Premier of Manitoba (1922-1943), MLA (1933-1936), MLA (1937-1940), MLA (1941-1945), MP (1945-1949).
Born at Ellisville, Ontario on 22 June 1883, son of Ephriam M. Bracken and Alberta Gilbert, uncle of John William Bracken, he graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College. He was a government employee until he became Professor of Field Husbandry at the University of Saskatchewan in 1910. Ten years later he took an appointment as Principal of the Manitoba Agricultural College. One of his activities was a major survey of farm conditions in Manitoba. Within two years he had become Premier of Manitoba, elected in October 1922, his seat in the Legislature representing The Pas constituency. Although he regarded himself as a Progressive, most of his governments were of the Liberal-Progressive coalition variety, distinguished for their cautious non-partisanship and reflection of the rural interests of the province. He was re-elected or acclaimed in 1927, 1932, 1936, and 1941 general elections.
In 1943, Bracken reluctantly became Leader of the federal Conservative Party, insisting that it add the word “Progressive” to its name. He was not a successful leader. He did not actually enter the House of Commons until 1945 (from Neepawa), and he lacked charisma. On the other hand, he did push the party towards acceptance of the welfare state. Bracken stepped down from the leadership in 1948, subsequently serving as Chair of a Royal Commission on the liquor laws of Manitoba. He ran in the 1949 federal election but was defeated by Brandon incumbent James E. Matthews. He was also Chairman of the “Box Car Commission” in 1959, established to investigate the distribution of railway cars. He wrote two books, Crop Production in Western Canada (1920) and Dry Farming in Western Canada (1921), the latter book appearing just as the worst drought in Prairie history began.
On 22 June 1909, he married Alice Wylie Bruce (1883-1971), with whom he had four sons: John Bruce Bracken (1911-2001), Allan Douglas Bracken (1913-2000), William Gordon Bracken (1914-2008), and George Murray Bracken (1916-1988). The couple was inducted into the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, in 1959. He received an honorary degree from the University of Manitoba (1927) and was inducted posthumously to the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame (1980). He was a member of the Masons (Assiniboine Lodge No. 114).
He retired to Manotick, Ontario to raise Jersey cows, Palomino horses, and Shetland ponies. He died at Ottawa on 18 March 1969 and was buried in Rideauvale Cemetery at Kars, Ontario. There are papers at the Archives of Manitoba. In July 2016, a section of Highway 10 from the International Peace Garden to Riding Mountain National Park was named the John Bracken Highway in his honour.
Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.
“Free Press Necrology Files,” Winnipeg Elite Study, G. Friesen Fonds, Mss 154, Box 15, File 16, University of Manitoba Archives]
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
Obituary [W. Gordon Bracken], The Globe and Mail, 12 March 2008.
“John Bracken Highway honours former Manitoba Premier,” Manitoba News Release, 18 July 2016.
We thank Susan Bracken and Stan Barclay for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 15 April 2022