John Walter Grant MacEwan was born in Brandon, Manitoba, where he lived until he was thirteen when he moved with his family to a farm near Melfort, Saskatchewan. There, MacEwan developed a work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit. When he wasn’t at school or helping out on the family farm, he enjoyed raising cattle and producing milk, delivering newspapers, and selling vegetables.
At the age of 19, MacEwan left Saskatchewan to attend the Ontario Agricultural College, which he graduated from in 1926. His interest in agriculture continued, and he attained a Master of Science degree in 1928. MacEwan’s first academic position was at the University of Saskatchewan, where he was the Head of Animal Husbandry for eighteen years. He was especially interested in researching farming and ranching techniques, which he lectured about at farms across the province.
During this time, MacEwan married his wife, Phyllis W. Cline, of Churchbridge, Saskatchewan. After the birth of his only child, Heather, Mr. MacEwan and his family relocated to Winnipeg, where he became the Dean of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba. There, MacEwan published his first of many historical books, using a simple style of English to ensure that his books were academically accessible to students.
He was also passionate about bringing awareness to environmental issues from the 1940’s, well before others realized the importance of this issue.
In 1951, MacEwan entered the world of politics, running as a Liberal candidate in Brandon, Manitoba. After being defeated in the election, MacEwan moved to Calgary, where he became an Alderman from 1953 to 1958. He was also one of the visionary founders of The Calgary Foundation, a community foundation that supports local charitable organizations. In 1955, MacEwan took on the role of Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly. In 1958, his strong liberal beliefs lead to his appointment as Leader of the Liberal Party of Alberta. Anti-Liberal sentiment lead to defeat in 1959, and MacEwan stepped down as leader in 1960. His political aspirations continued, and he was Calgary’s mayor from 1963 to 1965. In 1965, he was appointed to be the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta on the advice of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, a position which he held for two terms.
MacEwan received many honours in his lifetime, including Honorary Doctor of Law degrees from five universities, the Order of Canada in 1975, the Governor General’s Conservation Award, and the Premier’s Award for Excellence. Several institutions, like Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton and MacEwan Student Centre at the University Calgary, were also named in his honour.
Grant MacEwan is known as an academic, historian, philanthropist, conservationist, statesman, and a great Canadian who lived by his creed.