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© 2002 - 2005 AFHS
18 Jul 2002

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John Edward Brownlee

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 courthouse.

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 MacMillan.

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 parliament buildings.

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 with."

"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 William Aberhart.