| John Edward Brownlee
Premier of Alberta 1925-1934 Alberta would not be what it is today were it not for the premiership of John E. Brownlee. He is responsible for the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement in 1929, something dreamed about since the establishment of the Province in 1905, but not realized until much later, thanks to the leadership of John Brownlee. Brownlee’s legacy has largely been overshadowed by the scandal that ended his time as premier and resulted in the downfall of the United Farmers of Alberta government in the 1935 general election.
Born August 27, 1883, in Norfolk County, Ontario, John Edward Brownlee was the son of William James and Christina (Shaw) Brownlee. Brownlee attended public school and later attended the Sarnia Collegiate Institute. He trained as a teacher and taught school in Bradshaw, Ontario from 1902 to 1904. He then attended Victoria College (University of Toronto) and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1908.
In 1909, Brownlee articled with the Calgary law firm of Lougheed, Bennett, Allison, and McLaws. He was admitted to the Alberta Bar in 1912. On December 23, 1912, he married Florence Agnes Edy. They had two children: John Edy and Alan Marshall.
In 1913 he became a junior partner in the firm Muir, Jephson, and Adams. During his early years of practice, he did a considerable amount of legal work for the Alberta Farmers’ Co-operative Elevator Company Limited (later known as the United Grain Growers Company). By 1917, Brownlee became general counsel for the United Grain Growers and was legal counsel to the United Farmers of Alberta. He also played a prominent part in the organization of the Alberta Wheat Pool.
Following the election of the United Farmers of Alberta in 1921, Brownlee became the Attorney General, even though he had not run in the election (he ran in a by-election later that year). John E. Brownlee was appointed Premier of Alberta on November 23, 1925, after the resignation of Premier Herbert Greenfield.
The United Farmers accomplished a lot while in office, but they lead Alberta through the first years of the Depression – a difficult time throughout the province and continent. Following the suit brought against him by Vivian MacMillan, Brownlee resigned as Premier effective July 10, 1934. He continued to serve as MLA until he was defeated in the 1935 general election.
After leaving politics, Brownlee practiced law in Edmonton, and was soon legal counsel for the United Grain Growers. In 1948, he was appointed president and general manager of United Grain Growers, and moved to Calgary.
John E. Brownlee died on July 15, 1961, in Calgary.
John E. Brownlee: A Biography by Franklin Foster
Vivian Almeda MacMillan was born June 10, 1912 in Nelson, British Columbia. She was the daughter of Alan Duncan and Letha MacMillan; Vivian’s brother Harry was four years older than her. In 1920, the MacMillan family moved to Edson, Alberta, where Vivian’s father was employed as assistant foreman in the Canadian National Railway shop. Vivian attended Edson Public School and High School, and the family regularly attended Edson’s Baptist Church, where Vivian played organ and taught Sunday School.
In 1929, Vivian began her Grade 11 year at school, which was the highest grade at Edson High School at the time. This was the same year Carl Snell began teaching Latin at the school; Vivian was one of his students. As a Baptist church goer, Carl became a family friend of the MacMillans and often attended Sunday dinner at their home. Carl proposed to Vivian in the spring of 1930, but she refused on the grounds she was too young. As she could not continue to Grade 12 in Edson, Vivian contemplated further studies in music or nursing elsewhere, though her father wanted her to remain in Edson and continue her music studies there.
In August, Vivian moved to Edmonton to take a business course at Alberta College. She finished these studies in June 1931. She started working in the office of the Attorney General on July 3rd, and worked until September 22, 1933, the day her suit against Premier Brownlee was filed. In the fall of 1932, she met a young medical student, John Caldwell, the son of Reverend J. Caldwell. He proposed to her in January of 1933.
Following the trial in June of 1934, Vivian returned to her life in Edson. On August 7, 1935, she married Henry Sorenson, of Edson, who operated an ice cream parlour there. They had one son, Allan Crestin, born about 1938. Vivian moved to Calgary in 1940, likely around the time Henry enlisted to fight in the Second World War. Upon his return, Vivian and Henry divorced, and Vivian became the bookkeeper for a construction company operated by Frank Howie. By March of 1949, Frank and Vivian were having an affair and Frank divorced his wife in 1950. Vivian and Frank were married shortly afterwards. Their son, Michael, was born in 1955. Vivian and Frank later moved to the Okanagan, then to Arizona and finally to Florida. Vivian died August 1, 1980 in Florida.