Charles Avery Dunning

Charles Avery Dunning PC (July 31, 1885 October 1, 1958) was a Canadian businessman, politician (both federal and provincial), and a university chancellor. He was born in Croft, Leicestershire, England.[1]

Charles Avery Dunning
3rd Premier of Saskatchewan
In office
April 5, 1922  February 26, 1926
MonarchGeorge V
Lieutenant GovernorHenry William Newlands
Preceded byWilliam Melville Martin
Succeeded byJames Garfield Gardiner
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan for Kinistino
In office
November 13, 1916  June 26, 1917
Preceded byEdward Devline
Succeeded byJohn Richard P. Taylor
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan for Moose Jaw County
In office
June 26, 1917  February 26, 1926
Preceded byJohn Edwin Chisholm
Succeeded byThomas Waddell
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Regina
In office
March 16, 1926  July 28, 1930
Preceded byFrancis Nicholson Darke
Succeeded byFranklin White Turnbull
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Queen's
In office
December 30, 1935  March 26, 1940
Serving with Peter Sinclair
Preceded byJ. James Larabee
Succeeded byCyrus MacMillan
James Lester Douglas
Personal details
Born(1885-07-31)July 31, 1885
Croft, Leicestershire, England
DiedOctober 1, 1958(1958-10-01) (aged 73)
Resting placeMount Royal Cemetery, Montreal
Political partySaskatchewan Liberal Party
Other political
Liberal Party of Canada

Early life

Known throughout his life as "Charlie", Dunning, a 17-year-old iron worker, followed a friend's advice and traveled to Canada to work as a farm hand. Satisfied that a permanent move to Canada made sense, he convinced the remainder of his family to come to east central Saskatchewan. Dunning filed for a homestead in the Beaverdale district, west of Yorkton.

Early business career

During his short career as a farmer, Dunning was involved in the local of the Territorial Grain Growers' Association, an early proponent of a farmer-owned cooperative grain marketing system. At his first general meeting of the Association, Dunning's enthusiasm was apparent, and he was promptly elected as a director. The following year, he was elected as vice-president of the Association.

A co-operative marketing system required physical assets. The Association convinced the Saskatchewan government to assist by incorporating the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company,[2] and provide it with limited financial backing. Dunning was appointed a provisional director of a Board that had only a few months to raise the necessary capital to build a line of rural grain elevators. At age 25, the youngest man on the Board, Dunning watched as each one of his seniors turned down the critical job of organizing the capital campaign. Dunning took the job and succeeded. The following year, in 1911, he was rewarded for his efforts by being named the first general manager of the Company. Four years later, it was the largest grain handling company in the world. As manager, Dunning was instrumental in developing a provincial hail insurance scheme, which survives today as Saskatchewan Municipal Hail Insurance.

Enters provincial politics

Dunning's interests turned to politics. The Liberal government of Walter Scott, Saskatchewan's first premier, was tainted with allegations of corruption. Traditional politics were being challenged, as farmer's movements had become politically active, creating political parties throughout Canada.

Dunning first ran for the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan as a Liberal in a by-election held in the Kinistino constituency in 1916. Unopposed, he was acclaimed a Member of the Legislative Assembly. During his time in provincial politics, Dunning persuaded the farmer's movement in Saskatchewan to support the Saskatchewan Liberal Party and the Liberal Party of Canada. During the 1920s, Dunning was able to maintain support for both the federal and provincial parties at a time when farmers elsewhere switched their support to the Progressive Party of Canada and the United Farmers.

Entering the government of Premier William M. Martin (another outsider brought in to "clean up" the reputation of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party), Dunning became Provincial Treasurer, a post he held continuously for his ten years as an MLA.

In the general election of 1917, Dunning won a contested race for the seat of Moose Jaw County by obtaining twice the votes of his opponent. He remained the member for Moose Jaw County for the remainder of his time in provincial politics. Dunning ran unopposed in the general election of 1921, and won a contested race in the general election of 1925 by a 2.5 to 1 margin.

Between 1916 and 1922, Charles Dunning held a series of Cabinet posts, which included appointments as Provincial Secretary and Provincial Treasurer, and as the Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Municipal Affairs, Minister of Railways, and Minister of Telephones. In 1922, at age 37, he became Premier.

Dunning's government ended prohibition after a 1924 plebiscite, but sought to continue regulation through government-owned and operated liquor stores. His last official act as Premier was to arrange for the sale of the Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool for $11 million (the equivalent in 2005 would be $130 million).

Federal cabinet minister

In 1926, Dunning was courted by Federal Liberals, to join the minority government of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. He won the seat of Regina by acclamation in a by-election held in March, and was immediately appointed to Cabinet as Minister of Railways and Canals.

By June, King was no longer able to govern, as a result of political scandal and the withdrawal of support by the Progressive Party. King went to Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy asking Byng to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. Byng refused, relying on the reserve power invested in him by the Imperial Government. Instead he asked Conservative Leader, Arthur Meighen to form a government. Dunning was now in opposition.

The matter continued over the summer. King took the position that Byng's refusal was unwarranted Imperial interference in Canadian affairs. King's grievance with the Governor General gained momentum when Meighen refused to swear in his cabinet, and instead appointed "acting ministers", pending a delayed vote of confidence. While this ongoing drama played out (the King-Byng Affair), there was doubt in Liberal ranks about King's viability as leader. A movement began to take shape among leading Liberals to draft Dunning as a replacement.

By September, King had convinced the Progressives to support him in a non-confidence vote. The Conservatives lost and the Liberals won the ensuing general election. King (and the leaders of the other Dominions) won recognition of autonomous status from the Imperial government (the Balfour Declaration of 1926) followed by the Statute of Westminster 1931. Doubts about King's status ended.

Dunning had won a contested race by 900 votes, and had again appointed to the same cabinet portfolio, but the relationship was never easy thereafter. King regarded Dunning as a threat.

During his time as Minister of Railways and Canals, Dunning was a staunch supporter of Sir Henry Thornton, the U.S.-born Englishman who, in 1922 had taken over the presidency of the Canadian National Railways. In that portfolio, Dunning established himself as a friend of the Western farmer. Decisions made during his tenure included his accession to a petition from area farmers to have the Canadian National Railways build a branch line through his old home of Beaver Dale to Parkerview, Saskatchewan. He also settled a longstanding debate by choosing Churchill, Manitoba as the terminus of the Hudson Bay Railway. Upon completion of the railway and port facilities in 1931, Churchill became the closest Canadian port to Liverpool. The shipping route to Churchill was 1,600 kilometres shorter than the old overland route to Montreal.

Minister of Finance

Still a young man, at age 44, Dunning became Minister of Finance in 1929. As in his previous portfolio, Dunning earned a reputation for hard work and fairness. It was said that it was typical of Dunning that, although feeling ill, he remained on his feet throughout the reading and passage of his first set of estimates as Minister of Finance. As soon as the estimates were passed, Dunning collapsed and was rushed to the hospital to be treated for appendicitis.

Dunning was not only interested in domestic politics. He was also keenly interested in international politics, and particularly, in Canada's relationship with his "old country", the United Kingdom. Dunning participated in Canada's delegation to the League of Nations.

In 1930, when the United States proposed the draconian Smoot-Hawley tariff, Canada's response was the Dunning tariff with increased duties and further tariff preference for the United Kingdom. The tariff was challenged by the opposition on the basis that the imperial preference was prejudicial to Canadian interests.

Defeated, returns to business

Several months later, in the 1930 General Election, R.B. Bennett wrested power from King (notwithstanding Bennett's views while in opposition, the Dunning tariff remained in effect until renegotiated in the late 1930s). Dunning lost his Regina seat by over 3,500 votes (obtaining only two-thirds of the winner's total). Safe Liberal seats were offered to Dunning, but he turned them down, thinking that a business career would protect his family's financial future. He restarted his business career reorganizing an under-performing subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, thereafter establishing a reputation as a brilliant re-organizer of insolvent companies.

Return to politics

King regained power in the 1935 general election. He immediately went to Dunning, pressing him to re-enter polities. King convinced Dunning that he was needed in the tough economic times created by the Great Depression, a sitting Member of Parliament stepped aside, and Dunning was yet again acclaimed in a 1936 by-election held in the constituency of Queen's in Prince Edward Island. Dunning returned to the Finance portfolio. This time, one of Dunning's legacies was the establishment of the Central Mortgage Bank, today the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Business executive

In ill health, Dunning left politics in 1939, relocating to Montreal. In 1940, he was appointed as President and CEO of Ogilvie Flour Mills, a position he held until 1947, when he was appointed Chairman of the Board. In addition to his Board duties with Ogilvie, Dunning continued his business of corporate reorganization. He sat on a number of prestigious corporate and bank boards, including that of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Chancellor of Queen's University

In 1940, Dunning was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Queen's University, and became Chancellor of the University. Dunning's abilities earned him the gratitude of the university, which named Dunning Hall (School of Economics) in his honour. The Chancellor Dunning Trust Lectureship was established by an anonymous donor, to "promote the understanding and appreciation of the supreme importance of the dignity, freedom, and responsibility of the individual person in human society". More recently, the University has established the Stauffer-Dunning Chair in Public Policy.

Later life, honours

Other Universities which granted Honorary Doctorates to Dunning included McGill University in 1939 and the University of Saskatchewan, in 1946. Charles Avery Dunning died in 1958 in Montreal. He was 74 years old.

In 2005, as part of Saskatchewan's centennial celebration, Dunning's memory was commemorated in two ways. First, the Provincial Revenue Building was renamed Dunning Place. (The Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company had its offices in the building when Dunning was General Manager). The choice is particularly appropriate, given Dunning's long tenure as Provincial Treasurer. Second, on the initiative of Saskatchewan's Lieutenant-Governor, Dr. Gordon Barnhart, Dunning's gravesite, in Montreal's Mount Royal Cemetery, was commemorated by a bronze plaque, recognizing Dunning's contribution to the people of Saskatchewan.


  1. "DUNNING, The Hon. Charles Avery, P.C." Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  2. J. William Brennan. "Charles Avery Dunning". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
Academic offices
Preceded by
James Armstrong Richardson, Sr.
Chancellor of Queen's University
Succeeded by
John Bertram Stirling
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