The Honourable John Norquay
Indigenous Premier, Canadian Statesman
John Norquay, orphan and prodigy, was a leader among the Scots Cree peoples of western Canada. Born in the Red River Settlement, he farmed, hunted, traded, and taught school before becoming a legislator, cabinet minister, and, from 1878 to 1887, premier of Manitoba.
Once described as Louis Riel’s alter ego, he skirmished with prime minister John A. Macdonald, clashed with railway baron George Stephen, and endured racist taunts while championing the interests of the Prairie West in battles with investment bankers, Ottawa politicians, and the CPR. His contributions to the development of Canada’s federal system and his dealings with issues of race and racism deserve attention today.
Recounted here by Canadian historian Gerald Friesen, Norquay’s life story ignites contemporary conversations around the nature of empire and Canada’s own imperial past. Drawing extensively on recently opened letters and financial papers that offer new insights into his business, family, and political life, Friesen reveals Norquay to be a thoughtful statesman and generous patriarch. This masterful biography of the Premier from Red River sheds welcome light on a neglected historical figure and a tumultuous time for Canada and Manitoba.
About the Author
Gerald Friesen taught Canadian history at the University of Manitoba from 1970–2011. He has written several books, including The Canadian Prairies: A History and Citizens and Nation. Former president of the Canadian Historical Association, he was an advisor on CBC-Radio Canada’s television series Canada: A People’s History. He lives in Winnipeg.