The argument for Alberta independence in 1911

Alwyn Bramley-Moore, the first advocate for Alberta independence

So Western separatism has reared its head again, and “Wexit” is seeking to form its own political party. I will not be voting for it. In fact, I will be voting against it if I can. I may have grown up in Saskatchewan and lived in Alberta, a place which I love, but I have also lived all over Canada, and am most aware and proud of that common web of experience and existence which makes us, as Canadians, a whole that is much greater than the sum of our parts.

I could go on at great, passionate length about this, but here I will tell you, that my great-grandfather is considered one of the patron saints of Alberta Separatism, if not the Patron Saint.

Alwyn Bramley-Moore (born 1878), an immigrant from England, was an MLA in the only Liberal government in Alberta’s history, sitting in the Legislature from 1908 to 1913. During this time, he wrote a book, “Canada And Her Colonies: Or, Home Rule For Alberta,” published in 1911. This book is still in print. I possess a couple of first editions.

In this book, Bramley-Moore denounced the way in which Ottawa had granted provincehood to Alberta in 1906. He argued that protective tariffs were to the benefit of Eastern Canada — “the Empire of the St. Lawrence” — and western Canada had to pay top prices for manufactured goods, while Ottawa continued to maintain control over Alberta’s resources, the nature of the relationship between an empire and its colony.

Like an empire and its colony, he wrote, such a relationship would create grievances that “would engender bitterness and hatred.”

Bramley-Moore said Alberta should declare its independence, take control of its own resources, then use its independence as a bargaining chip to re-enter Confederation on better terms.

“[Alberta] should hoist the flag of independence, which would ipso facto make the province owner of her own resources. After a banquet or two and patriotic oratory, the province might express a desire to be reinstated in the Confederation, and then she would be in a position to make a bargain.”

Bramley-Moore was the first Albertan to publicly make this argument. As an MLA, he introduced a resolution demanding Ottawa transfer ownership over Crown lands to Alberta, which finally happened in 1930.

Those were different times. Oil wasn’t the chief consideration. Resources flowed eastward (even though the natural trade lines were and still are north-south) not west to “tidewater.” In 1908, the Empire of the St. Lawrence was just that. Canada and her colonies indeed.

During the late 1970s and ‘80s, my great-grandfather’s name was bandied about by the Western Canada Concept, an Alberta Separatist Party a movement that these days is remembered with disdain, by Albertans.

I haven’t heard Bramley-Moore’s name used lately, in the context of “Wexit,” and I hope it is not. There is a lot more to his long and colourful story than just that — but while he considered himself foremost a proud Albertan, he was also a believer in Canada as a Confederation, as a bold political and national experiment with a future.

As it turned out, in 1914, Bramley-Moore decided he was still an Englishman primarily, and at age 35 went overseas to fight in the Great War. But it was as a Canadian that he transferred to the newly formed Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He was shot through the head by a German sniper early in 1916.

He remains the only Alberta MLA to have been killed in war.

With files from McLean’s: “Separatism, Alberta-Style, Sept. 4, 2008.

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