When I was growing up on the farm John G. Diefenbaker was a mythic figure. When I started school he was Canada’s Prime Minister. He remains the only Prime Minister to have come from Saskatchewan.
He was fondly referred to as “Dief the Chief”. The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder sets out his close connection with the Indian peoples of Canada.
While he was Prime Minister, Dief was remembered in our community as a talented criminal defence lawyer. One report says he represented 18 people charged with capital murder. He was successful in defending many of them but at least one of his clients was convicted and hung. An interesting article on his legal career is available at http://ecommons.usask.ca/bitstream/handle/10388/242/Whiteway_Diefenbaker_manuscript.pdf?sequence=3.
Diefenbaker’s first law office in 1920 was in Wakaw which is 85 km down the highway from Melfort. He traveled for court cases through our rural area. A photo of a replica office is to the right.
By time I reached university in the early 1970’s he was no longer Prime Minister or even leader of the Progressive Conservative Party but he remained a Member of Parliament (MP) for Prince Albert. Through changes to riding boundaries Meskanaw became part of the Prince Albert Constituency.
I had finished first year law and was back home for the summer when a federal election was called. Dief, in his late 70’s chose not to travel by car or bus while campaigning but hired a helicopter. He descended out of the sky one afternoon and I was one of the community members to have a chat with him. We talked about law school. We each had gone to the College of Law in Saskatoon.
When I graduated he was Chancellor of the University and conferred my law degree upon me. His class, 50 years earlier, had 20 students while there were about 100 in my graduating class.
While his health was in decline he was determined to remain an MP. In 1979 he was in ill health and 83 years of age but he ran again and was the winner. He had reached the stature of winning elections no matter his personal circumstances.
A short time later he died in Ottawa. A showman to the end he orchestrated his return to be buried in Saskatchewan. He arranged a train trip for 2,500 km journey home. People across Canada came out to watch the train go by and say farewell to the Chief. Our province deeply mourned Dief.
He is buried at the Diefenbaker Centre in Saskatoon beside his second wife, Olive.
The website for the Centre is http://www.usask.ca/diefenbaker/.