We are beginning our look at the premiers of Manitoba, and we are starting with Alfred Boyd, who is considered the first premier of Manitoba even though he was not recognized as such at the time of his appointment.
Born in England on Sept. 20, 1835, his origins prior to arriving in Canada are quite obscure. It is known that he arrived in Rupert’s Land as early as 1858 where he became a trader and merchant in the Red River Colony.
On July 9, 1858, a diary at Fort Ellice states,
“Mr. Boyd arrived here from Red River.”
When he arrived in Canada, he was described as a British sportsman, but he soon became a very successful trader.
He quickly began to assume a lot of wealth but prior to 1870, he had little involvement in public life. He was involved heavily in fur trading and in a letter dated Dec. 9, 1869, he said to his brother he was concerned that if the Indigenous were not able to trap furs during the growing troubles in the area, he would be ruined. At the time, he owed thousands of dollars to his brother and a London forwarding firm. To pay those debts, he had his brother sell his properties in England and divide them among the creditors.
His store was called Redwood by the locals, due to the colour it was painted and Boyd made enough he was able to buy an estate from William Inkster.
In January 1870, he was appointed to the Convention of Forty, which was the Parliament created by Louis Riel for his provisional government. On Jan. 25, he helped draft the constitution for the government. His role in the committee was mostly because he had been the earliest registered land-holder in the district.
While he was part of the committee, he and Riel did not get along. Boyd voted against Riel being leader, and he wanted Manitoba to be a territory, not a province.
Riel said later of him,
“One of the most decided against us.”
After the Red River Resistance ended and Manitoba joined Confederation, Lt. Governor Adams George Archibald named Boyd as the provincial secretary.
“A man of fair abilities, of considerable means and very popular among English half-breeds.”
Due to Boyd’s acceptance among the French population and English population made him a natural choice. He was also friendly with the Metis of the new province as well.
On Dec. 27, 1870, Boyd was elected to the Manitoba Legislature, winning 58 votes to 28 votes.
In January 1871, Boyd was made the Minister of Public Works and Minister of Agriculture by Lt. Governor Archibald. At the time, Boyd was not referred to as premier, and Archibald was the man calling the shots in the new province. Archibald would often make decisions for the province on his own without consulting with anyone.
Nonetheless, today, Boyd is seen as the first premier of Manitoba so I am referring to him as such. The government at this time was not the government of today, with parties. Instead, it was a coalition administration. The Lt. Governor essentially conducted the affairs of the province at this time, on instructions from Ottawa, which were handed to ministers.
Apparently, he was also a skilled cartoonist and was described by J.H. O’Donnell stating,
“drew many laughable sketches of members of the House that were grotesquely funny.”
In office, Boyd had several problems with constituents. They felt he didn’t do enough to deal with the Ontario immigrants flooding into the province. He also was slow to build bridges and jails, and he was criticized by his constituents for supporting public work construction in St. Boniface, now part of Winnipeg. He was also criticized by his enemies over allegations he submitted a claim for $56,000 for damages during the Red River Resistance, despite his losses being a fraction of that. He was awarded $2,505.18 for guns seized by Riel and others.
Eventually, the criticism became too much and Boyd resigned on Dec. 9, 1871. As he resigned, he called for more English mixed-blood representation in the cabinet.
The Weekly Manitoban said he was,
“calm, shrewd, always cool and moderate in his views.”
In 1872, Boyd was appointed to the Temporary North-West Council, remaining with it until it dissolved in 1875. In 1873, he helped found the Winnipeg Board of Trade.
From March to October 1873, he was the first Minister of Education for Manitoba, before he resigned again.
In 1874, he chose not to seek re-election.
There are few mentions of Boyd throughout the coming years. In May 1877, Le Metis stated that he was going to England for a brief trip. In May of 1887, it was mentioned that he was interested in real estate in Manitoba and had arrived in Winnipeg.
In 1889, Boyd moved to England where he had several properties.
He died on Aug. 16, 1908.
The streets of Alfred, Boyd and Redwood are named for him in Winnipeg.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Wikipedia, The Streets of Winnipeg, Manitoba Free Press, Le Metis, Kingston Whig Standard, Sault Star,