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William Aberhart Biography

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The Honourable William Aberhart (December 30, 1878 - May 23, 1943), also known as Bible Bill for his religious preaching, was a Canadian politician and Social Credit Premier of Alberta between 1935 and 1943.

The Honourable William Aberhart (December 30, 1878 - May 23, 1943), also known as Bible Bill for his religious preaching, was a Canadian politician and Social Credit Premier of Alberta between 1935 and 1943.

William Aberhart was born on a farm near Kippen, Ontario. He attended a local public school and several colleges, receiving teacher's training. Some time later, in 1911, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

Aberhart taught public school in several areas in Southern Ontario, including Wingham and Brantford, and was appointed Principal of Brantford Central Public School in 1905. During his time in Brantford, he volunteered much time to his devout Baptist faith, preaching at local churches and holding regular Bible studies.

In 1902, Aberhart married Jessie Flatt, with whom he had two daughters, Ola Janet and Khona Louise. In 1918, Aberhart began a Bible study group in Calgary, Alberta which grew steadily year-by-year; by 1923, the Palace Theatre had to be rented to accommodate those interested in Aberhart's message. In 1927, Aberhart was appointed Dean of the newly-founded Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute. The institute's building served as a centre of worship, radio broadcast, and biblical studies. Aberhart's Sunday broadcasts proved as popular as his Bible studies as they drew regular listeners across the Canadian mid-west, and some listeners in the northern United States.

Aberhart became interested in politics during the Great Depression, a time which was especially harsh on Albertan farmers. Particularly, he was drawn to the "social credit" theories of Major C. H. Douglas, a Scottish engineer. From 1932 to 1935, Aberhart lobbied for the governing political party, the United Farmers of Alberta, to adopt these theories, whereby the difference in production cost and individuals' purchasing power would be supplemented through government grants. When these efforts failed, Aberhart helped found the Social Credit Party of Alberta, which won the 1935 provincial election by a landslide and remained in power in the province until 1971. Aberhart served as Premier of Alberta, Minister of Education and, starting in 1937, Attorney General during his tenure with the party.

His government was unable to implement much of the party platform since the social credit concept relied on control of the money supply and of the banks, both of which are a federal responsibility under the British North America Act. Lieutenant-Governor John C. Bowen refused to give Royal Assent to three government bills in 1937. Two of the bills would have put the province's banks under the control of the provincial government while a third, the Accurate News and Information Act, would have forced newspapers to print government rebuttals to stories the provincial cabinet objected to. All three bills were later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

In 1938, relations with the lieutenant governor became so strained that Bowen even threatened to dismiss Aberhart's government, which would have been an extraordinary use of his reserve powers. The Social Credit government remained immensely popular with the Albertan people, however, so the threat was not carried out.

Although Aberhart was unable to gain complete control of Alberta's banks, his government eventually gained a foothold in the province's financial industry by creating the Alberta Treasury Branches in 1938. ATB has become Aberhart's legacy, operating as of 2004 as an orthodox financial institution and crown corporation.

Aberhart died unexpected on May 23, 1943 during a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia. He was succeeded as the Premier of Alberta by his student at the Prophetic Bible Institute and lifelong close disciple, Ernest Manning .

The Aberhart Centre, a long-term medical care centre in Edmonton, Alberta, is named in his honour, as is a high school in Calgary.

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