Manitoba's First French Canadian Premier

By George Siamandas

Marc Amable Girard, Manitoba's first and only French Canadian premier died 107 years ago Sept 12 1892. While Alfred Boyd and HJ Clarke served before him, Girard is considered the first premier under a system of responsible govt. Girard was one of Cartier's young men sent to Red River to help provide leadership to the Metis. Girard had been born on April 25 1822 in Varennes, Quebec, and the 5th of 6 children and only son of farmer Amable Girard. He trained as a notary, which he did for 26 years and had been active in land speculation. He had also been a school commissioner, municipal councillor and mayor. In politics Girard had favoured economy in spending and reduction of public debt.


In 1870 as Manitoba became a province, Cartier asked Girard to go to Manitoba to provide leadership for the Metis. At age 48, bilingual and unmarried, Girard went west to take up the challenge, arriving in St Boniface on Aug 23 1870 along with Tache and Joseph Royal. Girard ran successfully for the new legislature and first Lieutenant Gov, Adams George Archibald seeing a need to provide French and English representation, appointed Girard treasurer and Alfred Boyd premier.

In order to make the new govt work Girard saw the need for reconciliation and hoped Riel would stay away from Manitoba. In 1871 Girard became the first Manitoban to be admitted to the Manitoba bar. And later in December he was appointed a federal senator and left his provincial seat.


After the provincial govt fell in July 1874, Girard was invited to form a govt. His govt would last half the year. At a time of growth in the English population, it was necessary to retain a balanced view. But Girard's colleague Dubuc was clearly on the French side, as president of the St Jean Baptiste society and as counsel to Riel. By December, Girard could no longer retain the confidence of the house and submitted his resignation.


Girard then faced difficulties in serving both as an MLA and a senator and he failed to be nominated in the next election, losing his provincial seat. In 1878 Girard was invited by Norquay to lead the French wing and won a seat and served the Norquay govt provincial secretary and as minister of agriculture till 1883. In 1883 a new provincial law made it impossible to hold both a federal seat and a provincial seat. Girard resigned on Sept 6.


Girard continued as a senator, a job he held for 21 years, and headed a senate committee on railways. But his days of influence were declining. In 1878, at age 56, Girard married a widow from Montreal who did not enjoy living in Manitoba, although at her first Winnipeg Christmas, she sang in the St Mary's choir. Her two children would inherit Girard's property in St Boniface. Girard died Sept 12 1892 in St Boniface. He is buried at St Boniface Cathedral near the tomb of Louis Riel.


While a street in Fort Rouge was named in his honour in 1882, it was spelled incorrectly, as "Gerrard", and since then, no one has bothered to change it to the correct spelling. Further until 1970, Manitoba Archives had none of his papers and it was not until 1970, that the govt of the day spent $5,000 buying up some of his papers in Montreal. The only item in his biography file is the 1970 press release telling of the purchase of his papers. We should be doing more to remember people like our first premier.


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