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© 2002 - 2005 AFHS
18 Jul 2002


William Aberhart

Premier of Alberta 1935-1943

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. In addition, , a long-time AFHS member, has kindly provided a brief family history for William Aberhart.

William Aberhart, the man who brought Social Credit to Alberta, was well-known even before he went into politics. He was principal of Crescent Heights High School and a prominent evangelist. He conducted the Back to the Bible Hour on CFCN radio and preached from the pulpit of his own Prophetic Bible Institute.

In 1932, Aberhart read a book about the Social Credit System of a British Amateur economist, Major C.H. Douglas. It was a revelation. Soon something new was added to Aberhart's evangelical message. The 50 big shots who run Canada, the bankers' toadies, the lackeys of the financial interests - they were to blame for the crisis. They were depriving the ordinary man of buying power, the lifeblood of the economy.

Aberhart's version of Social Credit is remembered mostly for printing "funny money" and for the promise of a $25.00 monthly dividend for every citizen. In fact, Social Credit prosperity certificates never became a major factor in the Alberta economy, and the monthly dividend was never paid. Yet, far from being a failure, the Social Credit party provided a government that people were happy to re-elect for 35 years.

Working with a promising young assistant named Ernest Manning, Aberhart established the Alberta Social Credit League. Powered by Manning's brilliant grass-roots organizing, the Social Crediters launched themselves into Alberta Politics. In August 1935, a record voter turn-out elected 56 Social Credit MLAs, everyone of them new to the Legislature. Also elected were 5 Liberals and 2 Conservatives. The previous government, the UFA, was wiped out.

Whether Social Credit could ever have worked is still a theoretical question. Aberhart proved beyond doubt that it wouldn't be allowed to work in one province. Again and again Social Credit measures passed by the Alberta Legislature were disallowed by Ottawa, or ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Aberhart was determined to subdue his opponents, notably the newspapers and the banks. He proposed laws that would have deprived newsmen and bankers of rights enjoyed by ordinary citizens.

In the midst of the uproar over Social Credit, hopeful signs began to appear. Alberta's 1938 wheat crop was the best in years. Merchant's reported seeing $100 bills again. The welfare rolls began to shrink. But relief of a grim different kind was already on the way. War would soon put everyone to work.

Premier William Aberhart of Alberta died May 23, 1943, and so ends the career of one of the strangest political figures ever to appear in the public life of Canada.

Whenever in the future the history of this country is recorded, his name will be found written largely in the pages. His contribution to our politics was unique and colorful. In the dark days of the last depression he came from the obscurity of a high-school classroom and a self-founded Prophetic Bible Institute, preaching a new doctrine and promising a new Utopia. That his theories were unsound, impractical and unworkable did not matter so much to the thousands of Albertans who rallied to the sound of his voice, as the fact that he represented protest against a system they believed was not providing them with their share of this world's goods.

Although his attempts at economic changes were all failures, and although his followers never realized the nirvana he had pictured, his death will bring sorrow to many who remained firm in their belief in his sincerity.

No one can deny that Premier Aberhart was the driving force behind the future of that movement is very much in the mists of the days to come. Sometime we may view in retrospect the whole record of the last decade and perhaps accurately estimate the value of Social Credit to the Canadian scene. Now it is too recent, too much current history, to fit into a definite plan.

In the brief life of this province, Alberta people, singly and in groups, have led or fostered many small rebellions and many phenomena. This foothills province has never cradled standard of stuffy thinkers and has never been afraid to break new ground.

Maybe when the pieces of the puzzle come together we will find that all we were really looking for was something akin to Mr. Roosevelt's four freedoms.