Premier of Alberta 1925-1934
Many thanks to AFHS member and volunteer, Heather Jaremko,
who provided the typescript of this page and obtained the permission
of the Calgary Herald
to reprint this work in the AFHS website. This work is based on
reports in the Calgary Herald between 1929 and 1939.
We will be pleased to hear from anyone who descends from
John Edward Brownlee and can fill us in on the family history of
this Alberta leader. Please contact the AFHS to start this dialogue
John Edward Brownlee became premier of Alberta in 1925; 9 years
later he resigned after one of the most sensational trials in Alberta's
history. One year after his own political demise, his party; the
UFA, was swept away by William Aberhart's
Social Credit forces.
Claiming unstated damages and costs and charging seduction of an
18 year-old girl, a writ was issued through Supreme Court channels
Friday, September 22, 1933 in the morning which Hon. John E. Brownlee,
premier of Alberta, is named as the defendant.
The suit is entered by Allan MacMillan, father of the girl, and
Vivian MacMillan, the girl herself, who is employed as a stenographer
at the government buildings.
Rumors of the sensational suit have been heard for some time past,
but first intimation that legal action was contemplated in the matter
came Friday morning September 22, 1933 shortly after 11 o'clock,
when Neil D. MacLean, K.C., filed the statement of claim at the
Brownlee said "While one regrets to have to face a case of
this kind, still it will enable me to come to grips with rumors
that have been spread abroad through the province for some weeks.
There is not a word of truth in the allegation against me. I will
defend the action to the limit, and hope to show before I am through,
the real cause behind it."
In a statement of defense filed Monday November 13, 1933, Premier
Brownlee completely denied all charges contained in the seduction
action brought against him by A.D. MacMillan and his daughter, Vivian
The statement of defense alleged that "the statement of claim
is false, frivolous, vexatious, scandalous and abuse of the process
of court, and the defendant will contend at or before the trial
of this action that it ought to be struck out and expunged from
the records of the courts.
The defendant also counter claims against Vivian MacMillan and
another person, or persons, asking $10,000. Damages alleging the
statement of claim is part of a conspiracy to injure his reputation.
The trial started the last week in June 1934. According to Miss
MacMillan, Premier Brownlee deprecated the proposal that she undertake
a musical career. The premier, she declared there was a little money
in music and it would take a long time to earn a living. He also
thought nursing was too hard a life for a young girl!
The premier then suggested, according to Miss MacMillan, that she
come to Edmonton and take a business college course, following which
he would obtain a position for her. He said he would act as her
guardian, invite her to his home and see she did not get into trouble
and would not be alone in a strange city, Miss MacMillan said.
Later the same day she and the Premier attended a dance, and he
danced with her. At this dance, she said, the premier told her she
was beautiful and he hoped she would come to Edmonton and carry
out plans he had suggested.
A grilling cross-examination of Miss Vivian MacMillan by A.L. Smith,
K.C., counsel for Premier Brownlee, had to be halted twice this
morning, June 26, 1934, as the plaintiff broke down and wept.
The 22-year old girl who charged Mr. Brownlee with having seduced
her when she was 19 years old and having continued an intimate relationship
during 2 1/2 years declared she never loved the premier and she
believed the premier never loved her after the six months.
Mr. Smith endeavored to show inconsistencies in Miss MacMillian's
story, and succeeded in obtaining an admission that she did not
occupy the maid's room in Premier Brownlee's house in October 1931,
when Mrs. Brownlee was away, and come into his bedroom during the
night. She said she must have slept in Mrs. Brownlee's room. She
insisted, however, that there had been improper intimacies.
On June 23, 1934 Premier Brownlee produced diaries covering the
years 1930-1933. He read entries which showed, he declared, he was
often out of the city or otherwise engaged on occasions when Miss
MacMillan declared he was driving her around in his car.
Miss MacMillan, he said, was a great friend of Mrs. Brownlee's,
and during 1932 and 1933 she became as close a member of the family
as it would be possible for anyone to be other than a natural daughter.
She was regarded as a niece would be, he said.
Going over the entire story told by Miss MacMillan, Mr. Smith questioned
the premier respecting the occasions upon which the premier was
alleged to have had improper intimacies with the plaintiff, and
concerning which Miss MacMillan had given specific dates.
The premier denied that nay intimacies had taken place with Vivian
in his car or any other car or his home, or in his office in the
On July 3, 1934 after 4 hours and 45 minutes deliberation the jury
in the MacMillan-Brownlee seduction suit upheld the action and awarded
Miss Vivian MacMillan and Al MacMillan a total of $15,000 damages,
$10,000 to the 22 year-old Edson girl, and $5,000 to her father.
In the richly panelled council chamber of the legislative buildings
where, behind drawn curtains, three premiers have been released
from office and 3 others selected as party chieftains during the
past 17 years, another dramatic political scene is being enacted
today with the resignation of John E. Brownlee in the hands of practically
the same followers who presented him with the premiership after
the deposition of Herbert Greenfield
nine years ago.
This chamber of memories where, since its opening in 1910, has
been cradled practically all of the legislation and government programs
now guiding and girding the province, saw the late A.L. Sifton turn
over the reins of office to Charles Stewart in 1917; witnessed the
departure of Mr. Stewart in 1921 and the incoming of Herbert Greenfield
and the U.F.A. regime in the same year, and one evening in 1925
was the setting of an unusual scene when Mr. Greenfield's colleagues
in the House asked for his resignation as government leader.
U.F.A. members, solemn-faced and openly apprehensive over the fate
of the party under any leadership other than that of John Brownlee
in the present crisis, entered the council chamber divided in their
allegiance. It was obvious that the resignation of Mr. Brownlee
would be accepted only after a struggle in the minds and feelings
of the majority of his followers.
Instead of obtaining $15,000 in damages awarded them by a jury
July 3, against Premier John Brownlee on seduction charges, Vivian
MacMillan and her father, A.D. MacMillan, of Edson, will not only
lose the monetary verdict but will be required to pay the costs
of the action believed to run into several thousand dollars.
This in effect is the judgment of Acting Chief Justice W.C. Ives
of the trial division of the Alberta Supreme Court, who presided
at the sensational seduction trial in Edmonton.
The judge ruled "It is quite clear that the daughter left
her home in Edson with the consent and approval of her parents and
was accompanied to Edmonton by her mother. It is equally undoubted
that no illness resulted from the seduction and no evidence that
the ability of the daughter to render services was in any way interfered
"In my opinion the law is well settled that damage is the
gist of the action and I am also of the opinion that the damage
necessary to found a right of action in the woman must be of the
same character as gave the master his right of action, that is loss
of service, or at least an interference with the woman's ability
to serve. I see nothing of the legislation.
"In my view of the law the action must be dismissed with costs,
including costs of discovery, and only one bill should be taxed."
The MacMillans lost again in the Alberta appeal court, but finally
won damages in the Supreme Court of Canada. By then, Brownlee had
left politics, and his successor, R.G. Reid, had been defeated by