Judge William Melville Martin (1876-1970)
Born for Politics
Born in Ontario, W. M. Martin migrated west to Regina to practise law in 1903. In 1908 he was elected to parliament where he served for eight years. He resigned his federal seat to become Premier of Saskatchewan following the resignation of Walter Scott in 1916, influenced by William’s desire to remain in the West. He led the Liberals to victory in two more elections before resigning in 1922 to accept an appointment to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeals. From 1941 to 1961, he served as Chief Justice of Saskatchewan. Martin Collegiate is named in his memory.
Born in Norwich, Ont., William moved to Regina in 1903 to practice law after completing his education at the University of Toronto (B.A. 1898), the Ontario Normal College in Hamilton, and Osgoode Hall in Toronto. After entering his cousin’s law firm in Regina of Balfour, Martin, Casey and Blair, he became interested in politics.
In 1908, he became the first Member of Parliament for the constituency of Regina when he was elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal. Although he was re-elected in 1911 (as one of only 86 members of the defeated Liberal Party that year), he resigned from the House of Commons in 1916 to become Premier of Saskatchewan, succeeding Walter Scott. As Saskatchewan’s second premier, William led the Liberal Party to victories in the 1917 and 1921 provincial elections, and maintained the supremacy of the Liberals during a period of political turbulence arising from the repercussions of wartime developments in federal politics and the emergence of the Progressive Party. He served as Education Minister, drawing on his earlier background as a teacher.
During his career, he was often decorated for his excellence in many provincial, national, and professional pursuits. In 1916, he was appointed King’s Council and, in 1922, the University of Toronto awarded him an honourary Doctor of Laws. In 1922, he resigned as Premier to accept a position as judge with the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and remained as one of five judges on the Appeal bench until 1941, when he was appointed as the province’s Chief Justice*, a position he retained until his retirement in 1961. He also played an active role during the Second World War when he served as Custodian of Enemy Alien Property in Canada. In 1949, he was appointed chairman of the commission assigned the task of revising the Canadian Criminal Code. He turned down an opportunity to become a member of the Supreme Court of Canada; he preferred to stay in Saskatchewan.
William also served as provincial president of the Canadian Red Cross Society and of the King George V Jubilee Cancer Fund and Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge of Saskatchewan, serving for a time as Grand Master. In 1966, Masons from all parts of the province gathered to honour the man known throughout the province as “the Grand Old Man of Saskatchewan”. In 1959, Martin Collegiate was erected in recognition of his contribution towards the betterment of the city and the province. Martin Street is also named in honour of this noted statesman and jurist. In 1906 William married Violette Florence Thompson (1881-1946) of Ontario, a soprano gold medal soloist, a graduate of the Toronto Conservatory of Music. She was the first president of the provincial Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE). They lived at 2042 Cornwall St.
*While his tombstone suggests that he served as Chief Justice from 1922 to 1962, his tenure in that position was from 1941 to 1961.