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After Alfred Boyd, we progress to another man who was premier, but also not premier but whom is considered now to be premier, Marc-Amable Girard

Born in Lower Canada, in what is now Quebec on April 25, 1822, he attended college and articled with notary Louis Lacoste in Boucherville. In 1840, he spent time in Middlebury, Vermont to familiarize himself with the English language.

When Lacoste was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1843, he had Girard look after his practice. On Feb. 12, 1844, Girard was admitted as a notary and for the next 26 years he worked as a notary.

He was well known in his field, and from 1859 to 1870, served as a trustee of the Board of Notaries in Montreal. He also speculated land and held the office of mayor, school commissioner and municipal councilor.

In 1848, he convinced his friend George Etienne Cartier to run for the Legislature, which he did and won. Cartier would become a major figure in the Confederation of Canada, and have a large impact on the later life of Girard.

He attempted to get elected to the Province of Canada Legislative Council in 1858 and the Canadian Assembly in 1863, but lost both times.

When the Red River Resistance happened, George-Etienne Cartier, the Quebec Lieutenant for the Conservative Party, sent Girard out west to meet with Riel.

On Aug. 23, 1870, Girard met Riel with Joseph Royal, spending ten minutes with him. The next morning, Riel fled to the south as Colonel Garnet Wolsely and his troops entered the fort, sent by the Canadian government.

In the new province of Manitoba, Girard’s main concern was to ensure that the new province of Manitoba would be open to French-Canadians.

On Sept. 16, 1870, Girard was appointed the Provincial Treasurer by Lt. Governor Adams George Archibald, who was effectively in charge of the province and could appoint anyone he liked to the government. With his appointment, Girard became the leading minister from the Francophone community.

When Manitoba held its first election on Dec. 27, 1870, Girard was elected by acclamation. One year later, he was appointed to the Senate of Canada, becoming both an MLA and Senator but he did resign his cabinet seat.

In May 1871, Riel returned to Manitoba and Girard felt that a policy of conciliation would succeed if Riel could be persuaded to avoid drawing any attention towards himself. He said,

“For the sake of your country and your friends, absent yourself for a while from the country.”

Others with Girard felt he was too timid, and called him a fool in letters and someone who only wanted to please the English.

On Oct. 5, some Fenians crossed into Manitoba on a raid. With no help from the Metis, they went back to the United States. Afterwards, Girard took Archibald to review the Metis horseman who turned out to defend the colony. Girard did not name the individuals in the group, one of whom was Riel, to the Lt. Governor and Archibald shook hands with all of them.

On May 8, 1871, he was admitted as an attorney and barrister, becoming the first member of the Manitoba bar in the process. On June 29, he was made a commissioner to administer oaths of allegiance and office.

On Dec. 14, 1871, he technically served his first term as the premier of the province, serving until March 14, 1872, although Archibald held the power in the province. Nonetheless, today Girard is seen as the second premier of Manitoba. At the time, he was also serving on the Senate.

In a rare triple mandate, he was appointed to the Temporary North-West Council of the Northwest Territories on Dec. 28, 1872.

The Victoria Daily Standard wrote,

“The first named gentleman is a French Canadian who occupies the position of Treasurer in the Provincial Cabinet.”

His time on the council was widely praised. The Regina Leader-Post said,

“For some years he occupied a position on the executive council of the North West Territories and it was his fertile brain that devised much of the early legislation of this great and important country.”

By the time 1874 came along, the Manitoba government was having trouble keeping the peace between its ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. As more English settlers came in, pushing the French settlers to the side, the ridings were also changes to accommodate the changing demographics. The proposal to change the boundaries was put forward by John Norquay in June 1874 but it split the government between the English and French.

Girard strongly believed in amnesty for Riel, even telling that to his friend Sir George Etienne Cartier. The British Whig wrote,

“Girard presented to Cartier the strong feeling of the people in favour of amnesty and the belief of the people that it had been promised.”

Girard voted with the French side, bringing down the government in a non-confidence motion on June 22, 1874.

On July 8, 1874, Girard became premier of Manitoba. He was the first elected official in Manitoba to choose his own cabinet, rather than the Lt. Governor. For this reason, while I am calling him Manitoba’s second premier, some consider him to be the first true premier of Manitoba.

In order to keep his government up, he had to form an alliance with the English side of the government but this was a shaky peace.

During his time as premier, he attempted to put in fiscal restraint and create an effective system for auditing public accounts. He also wanted to abolish the Legislative Council, which was not elected. His government also created 14 English-speaking ridings and 10 French-speaking ridings, which most considered to be a good compromise.

Things were made worse when in November 1874, Ambroise Lepine was convicted of the murder of Thomas Scott during the Red River Resistance, which caused the English side of the party to abandon Girard.

With no option available to him to proceed further, he resigned as premier on Dec. 23, 1874.

The Ottawa Daily Citizen wrote,

“The old government resigned and yesterday the Lt. Governor sent for Honorable Davis and charged him with the duty of forming a new government. He succeeded in doing so last night.”

Girard continued to serve in the Legislature until for several years, with one brief gap between 1878 and 1879.

On Sept. 23, 1878, he married Marie de La Mothe, who was the widow of Alfred Versailles. Together they had two children, one son who died in infancy, and a daughter.

He was also not done being a prominent person in the province.

When the ministry of John Norquay threatened to eliminate bilingualism in the provincial government and redraw the electoral map in the favour of the English residents, he brought Girard back into cabinet as the Provincial Secretary. At the time, Girard was very popular with the French community of the province and he was able to secure a compromise on bilingualism and ensure guarantees on education and representation for the language.

Throughout his political career, he was a strong supporter of Sir John A. Macdonald, both in good times and bad.

He resigned as the provincial secretary on Nov. 16, 1881 and became the Minister of Agriculture, but he did not run in the 1883 election. The dual mandate rule had ended and he decided to remain on the Executive Council until Sept. 6, 1883 when he resigned.

He was described as a man who could compromise and was respected for his personal charm and integrity, but his leadership was lacking and it made it difficult for him to promote the political interests of the French Canadians in Manitoba.

In the Senate, he was instrumental in having the Canadian Pacific Railway change its route from the narrows of Lake Manitoba to the south of the lake. He had requested a special committee of the Senate, which was formed at his request, and which he presided over for two consecutive sessions.

In September 1892, Girard began to take a turn for the worse. A week earlier, he had been out and about as usual, visiting friends but the following day he was sick and confined to his home. The Manitoba Semi-Weekly Free Press wrote,

“Senator Girard lies very ill at his residence in St. Boniface. He has been ailing for some time and was very ill for a time while at Ottawa, but recovered somewhat. His physician holds out no hope for his recovery.”

He remained in the Senate until his death on Sept. 12, 1892.

The Manitoba Semi-Weekly Free Press wrote of him,

“One of Manitoba’s best citizens carried off after a brief illness.”

The Regina Leader-Post would say of him,

“His intellectual gifts were large, and these were enhanced by a liberal education, but after all, greater than these was his nobleness of heart. He was proud of being of French lineage, but prouder of being a British subject.”

In St. Boniface when he was buried, all the businesses were closed in the community and every flag was at half mast. The pall bearers for his funeral included the Lt. Governor, several senators, and a few MLAs.

In 1970, papers written by him were purchased for $5,000 by the provincial archivist. The letters included one to Sir George Etienne Cartier.

Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Manitoba Historical Society, Wikipedia, Visages du vieux Saint-Boniface, Brandon Sun, Victoria Daily Standard, Manitoba Semi-Weekly Free Press, Regina Leader-Post,

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