A look at the life of Rev. Walter George Brown

Many nationally significant people have called Red Deer home. One such individual was Rev. W.G. Brown, the longtime minister of Knox Presbyterian Church. Unfortunately, as time has passed, the legacy of this impressive man is starting to be forgotten.

Walter George Brown was born on Sept. 6th, 1875, in Athelstan, Quebec. He attended McGill University in Montreal and originally planned to become a lawyer.

However, after earning of Bachelor of Arts degree with first class honours, he decided to pursue a career in the ministry instead. He consequently attended the Presbyterian College in Montreal and won scholarships for his academic and public speaking achievements.

He was awarded his Bachelor of Divinity degree and was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church. During his time as a student missionary and as a young minister, he worked in the lumber camps of Northern Ontario. He often walked 50 to 60km a day to reach the remote communities.

In 1903, he went to work in the burgeoning mining towns of the West Kootenays. Again, he faced many challenges, including conducting services in the crude bunkhouses near the mines. Nevertheless, he built up a successful mission field.

In 1904, he married Martha Rowat at Athelstan, Quebec. They were to have four children – Helen, Rhoda, Jack and Jean.

After finishing at a Master of Arts degree at McGill and completing a term of study at the United Free College in Glasgow, Scotland, he moved with his family to Red Deer in 1908.

Once again, Brown worked hard to build up his congregation. He particularly excelled at youth work. With his encouragement, the Presbyterian Young Peoples’ Society installed an ornamental cast-iron fountain on Ross Street in front of the post office. This fountain had an outlet for people, a step-up for children, a large trough for horses and a small basin for dogs. The fountain was painted green each year for St. Patrick’s Day.

The Presbyterian Church in Red Deer became a strong and vibrant organization. In 1913, the Presbyterians’ Alberta Ladies College opened on the East Hill. It offered affordable educational opportunities for young rural women from across Western Canada.

As the 20th Century progressed, there was increasing debate about merging the Presbyterian, Methodist and congregational churches. Brown became one of the leading opponents to the move. He made countless speeches across the country to persuade the Presbyterians to remain a separate denomination. He was often quoted in the newspapers as ‘Brown of Red Deer’.

Despite his efforts, the federal government passed the enabling legislation to create the United Church of Canada in 1925. Undaunted, Brown pushed hard to maintain a separate existence for Presbyterian churches. As a result, Central Alberta became a major centre in Canada where the new Presbyterian Church in Canada remained a strong force.

In 1925, Brown moved to Saskatoon where there had also been strong resistance to Church Union. He built up St. Andrew’s as the largest Presbyterian congregation in Saskatchewan. In 1931, he was elected moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly. During that time, he also made an extensive tour of Korea, China and Japan.

Brown was greatly distressed by the poverty brought on by the Great Depression and the dust-bowl conditions of the Canadian prairies. On Dec. 18th, 1939, he was elected as the member of parliament for Saskatoon in a by-election for the United Reform Movement. In the 1940 general election, he was reelected with the support of both the C.C.F. (forerunner of the NDP) and the Conservative Party.

Brown died five days later on April 1st, 1940 of complications from a heart attack. He thereby holds the unfortunate distinctions as having one of the briefest terms as an MP (104 days) despite victories in two separate elections.

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