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Gardiner, James Garfield

Farmer, Teacher, Politician
1883-1962

 Gardiner, James Garfield - City of Regina

James Garfield Gardiner, Premier of Saskatchewan from 1926 to 1929 and from 1934 to 1935. ca. 1935. CORA-RPL-A-297

James G. Gardiner is the only person ever to be Premier of Saskatchewan during 2 non-consecutive terms of office. Throughout his political career, Gardiner was a voice for agrarian interests. As Agriculture Minister, Gardiner was a minister who actually held an occupation directly related to his portfolio.

James Garfield Gardiner was born on a farm near Farquhar, Ontario. As a 17 year old boy he travelled to Saskatchewan as part of a harvesting crew. Such crews were commonplace before farm mechanization and like many young men from Ontario Gardiner came west in a threshing crew and settled in the province.

Gardiner acquired a university education and began teaching in Lemberg. By 1911, he was principal of Lemberg high school and a dedicated Liberal. It was not until 1914 that Gardiner tossed his hat into the ring in the North Qu’Appelle byelection. He held the seat until 1934.

Gardiner ran the “Big Red Machine” in Saskatchewan. From 1914 until 1929, the Liberal party dominated every election it entered in the province, federal or provincial. Gardiner commanded the machinery with his keen organizational and administrative skills, overseeing a cadre of public employees whose policy decisions were always favourable to the Liberal party. It was his efforts that kept Mackenzie King’s seat in Prince Albert – the only seat King ever won as an incumbent.

Gardiner first became Premier in 1926, when the economy was booming. Gardiner’s decisions did not affect any lasting changes upon the province. It was his defeat in the election of 1929 that would have a large impact on the province’s future. The big issue was separate schools. Anderson’s Conservatives had an association with the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK had come to Saskatchewan in 1926, preaching hatred of linguistic and religious minorities in the province. Gardiner had been denouncing the group since 1928, pleading for tolerance of minority rights. His pleas fell on deaf ears and the Liberals were defeated by a coalition government that consisted of Conservatives, Progressives and Independents. (This was the last minority government that Saskatchewan would see until 1999.)

Gardiner’s party machinery was defeated but not dead. He rallied to return in 1934 as Premier. By that time, Gardiner was representing Melville after having lost his riding of North Qu’Appelle. His second 10ure in office was lacklustre, however; he wanted a federal cabinet seat and spent most of his time jockeying to achieve that position rather than governing the province. He achieved his goal in 1935, becoming federal Agriculture Minister and resigning as Premier.

As Agriculture Minister, Gardiner had more of an impact on the province than he ever had as Premier. During his unprecedented 18-year tenure as Agriculture Minister, he oversaw the drafting of the Prairie Farm Assistance Act (1939). The act took federal responsibility for the economic well-being of prairie farmers and all subsequent agricultural legislation has reflected this. Gardiner himself was a farmer – he owned a farm in Lemberg. In 1958, after a failed bid for leadership of the federal Liberal party (he was second to Louis St. Laurent), Gardiner returned to the farm, where he died in 1962.

Gardiner’s name lives on in the province – Gardiner Dam is named in his honour. Two streets in Regina, Gardiner Avenue and Gardiner Park Court, also honour his contributions to the province.