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Spence, George (1880–1975)

George Spence.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-B434

Spence was born in the Orkney Islands on October 25, 1880. He received his public school Education in England, and attended the Leith Academy Technical College in Scotland, where he studied electrical engineering. In 1900, he spent three years in the gold fields of the Klondike. He then farmed in Manitoba, and sometimes worked on survey parties with the CPR. In 1912, he settled on a homestead at Monchy, south of Swift Current, on the United States border in one of the driest parts of the Canadian Prairies.

Spence was elected to the Saskatchewan Legislature in 1917, then re-elected in 1921 and 1925. He resigned in 1925, and was elected a member of Parliament. Two years later he returned to provincial politics, and in succession was appointed Minister of Labour and Industries, Minister of Highways, and Minister of Public Works. During the period 1927 to 1938 he was influential in the building of ten branch railway lines in southwestern Saskatchewan, and the beginnings of the present-day numbered highway system.

He was acting chairman of the Better Farming Commission in 1920 that led to the establishment of the Swift Current Research Station, where dryland farming problems have been studied since 1921. Spence was appointed director of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in 1938. The engineering and financing of joint federal, provincial and local conservation projects were concluded. He was responsible for much of the planning of the South Saskatchewan River project. Following his retirement from PFRA in 1947, Spence served for ten years on the International Joint Commission, dealing with the allocation of water from sources shared by Canada and the United States.

He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1946 and in 1948 received an honorary degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He wrote a book, Survival of a Vision, and a treatise on the growing of tender roses. George Spence died in Regina on March 4, 1975.

Adapted from Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame

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Further Reading

MacEwan, Grant. 1958. Fifty Mighty Men. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books.
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