Memorable Manitobans: John Alexander MacAulay (1892-1978)

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John Alexander MacAulay
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Lawyer, businessman.

Born at Morden on 29 May 1892, on the site of what is today the Morden Experimental Farm, son of Finlay MacAulay (1842-1918) and Margaret MacDonald (1860-1930), and brother of Archibald “Archie” MacAulay and Marion Elizabeth MacAulay. Prior to the First World War, he obtained a BA degree from the University of Manitoba and taught at Parkhill School (1911) and Rosebank School (1913).

He articled in law with a Morden firm before enlisting in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, serving as a member of the Canadian Army Medical Corps and obtaining the rank of Sergeant Major. After his military discharge, he attended the Manitoba Law School then, after graduation, he joined the Winnipeg law firm then headed by Sir James Aikins which subsequently became Aikins MacAulay and Thorvaldson, which he headed until his death. He was appointed a King’s Counsel in 1931.

He was President of the Manitoba Bar Association and President of the Canadian Bar Association (1953-1954). In addition to practicing law, he was active as a long-time Director of The Great-West Life Assurance Company, a Director and Vice-President of Bank of Montreal, Canada Permanent Trust Company, Canadian Industries Limited (C-I-L), and Canada Safeway Limited, of which he was also the Chairman for many years.

On 27 June 1928, he married Phyllis Ardelle McPherson (1905-1999), daughter of Peter McPherson and Minto Toye (1873-1959) and niece of Chief Justice of Manitoba Ewen Alexander McPherson at Westminster United Church. They had two children: John Blair MacAulay and Carol Joan MacAulay. He was a long-time member of Westminister United Church, where he taught one of the largest adult Bible classes in Canada in the 1930s and 1940s and was active in the affairs of the Church.

He had a long and distinguished career with the Red Cross where he was President of the Manitoba Red Cross (1946-1947) and subsequently President of the Canadian Red Cross (1950-1951). He was Chairman of the International Conference of all Red Cross National societies in Toronto (1954) that was attended by representatives from virtually every country in the world and representatives of their respective governments. In 1957, he became the Chairman of the International Red Cross in Geneva, a position that he held until his retirement in 1965. The International Red Cross was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963, which he accepted as its Chairman.

Upon the creation of the Order of Canada in 1967, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest rank in the Order which is limited to 30 living members. He was awarded the Centennial Medal of Honour by the Manitoba Historical Society (1970) and was an Honourary Life Member of the Manitoba Club and of the St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg. He was twice named Winnipeg’s “Citizen of the Year” and was awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Manitoba (1954) and the University of Winnipeg (1970). He received a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal (1977). He was decorated by some 25 countries for his work with the International Red Cross. A keen art collector, he was active with and a major benefactor of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and was its President (1950-1958). He was a Trustee of the National Art Gallery of Canada (1955-1957) and a member of the Manitoba Arts Council (1960s).

Brother-in-law of Andrew Edward McGavin, and brother of Archibald MacAulay and Marion Elizabeth MacAulay.

He died at Winnipeg on 7 November 1978 and was buried in the Garry Memorial Park.


Attestation papers, Canadian Expeditionary Force, Library and Archives Canada.

Marriage registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

“MacAulay – McPherson,” Manitoba Free Press, 28 June 1928, page 10.

“Six Manitoba lawyers named King’s Counsel,” Winnipeg Free Press, 1 January 1931, page 1.

“John MacAulay considered himself a grassroots boy,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 November 1978, page 15.

A Proud Heritage: A History of The St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg 1871-1982 by Thomas Saunders, Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers (1982).

Obituary [Phyllis A. MacAulay], Winnipeg Free Press, 4 July 1999, page 22.

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

We thank J. Blair MacAulay, Heather McFarland, and Nathan Kramer for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 23 September 2023

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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