Museum Musings: S.J.A Branion

Photo Courtesy Bill Smiley Archives. S.J.A Branion during his time as Mayor of Prince Albert.

Prince Albert Historical Society

He was a family man, an active and devoted member of his church, and very definitely community minded.

Samuel John Albert Branion was born to Robert and Mary J. (Langford) Branion on October 7th, 1874 in North Middlesex, Ontario. Robert Branion pursued “agricultural interests” for a number of years in Middlesex County, before moving to farm in southern Manitoba.   Upon retirement, he moved back to Hagersville, Ontario, where he died in November, 1913, nine years after the death of his wife.  Of note with respect to his family is the fact that three of his four grandparents were Canadians by birth, certainly a rarity in those early days of our nationhood.

Samuel John Albert Branion received his early education from the rural schools in North Middlesex, and then attended the collegiate in St. Mary’s, Ontario, prior to enrolling in the Stratford Model School.  Having taught for three years in his home community, Branion took further education from the School of Pedagogy in Toronto, which taught advanced teacher education.  This resulted in Branion receiving a first-class professional certificate.

With this training, Branion came west in March, 1897, settling north of Moosomin with a total capital of fifteen cents in his pocket.  He taught for a year at Trafford, another year in the adjoining school district, and a third year at the McKay rural school north of Whitewood.  His years of teaching were not, however, consecutive as he interspersed his years of teaching with employment threshing, and cooking in bush camps.  In 1901 and 1902, he taught in Medicine Hat, before returning to Wolseley, where he became principal of the school in January 1903, a position he held for three years.

During his time in Medicine Hat and Wolseley, Branion was taking classes by correspondence from Queen’s University.  This would lead to his resignation in order to attend three months on campus in Kingston in order to complete his arts degree.  Branion graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in 1907, returning to Wolseley in the summer to resume his responsibilities as principal of the school in the autumn, a role he fulfilled for a year, when he was appointed as the Inspector of Schools for the district.

During his time in Wolseley, Branion met Dora Reeve, the daughter of pioneer settlers who had come to Canada from Birmingham, England in 1882.  They married in 1904.  Prior to their marriage, Dora had been a school teacher.  Their daughter Dora Aileen was born in 1906, and a second daughter, Margaret was born in 1909.  A third daughter, Edith Doreen, was born after they moved to Prince Albert.

During his years as an Inspector of Schools, Branion did extra-mural work in the study of law through the University if Manitoba.  On taking his final examinations, he was awarded a silver medal, indicating that he had the highest standing in that year’s class.  As a result, in May, 1911, Branion resigned his position as Inspector of Schools and joined the firm of Thompson and Kennedy as a student. He moved to Prince Albert in April 1913, entering the office of Algernon Doak.  Branion was called to the bar in July 1914, at which point he opened his own office in the old Union Bank building (the northwest corner of Central Avenue and 12th Street West where the HopeHealth Centre is now located).

Branion was elected to the Prince Albert School Board in the autumn of 1914, and served on that body until 1923.  He also served as an alderman in 1917 and 1918, a period during which the City was suffering from the disastrous effects of the LA Colle Falls debacle.  He served on Council once again, from 1925 to 1929, this time sitting in the mayor’s chair.  He later served the City in an unelected capacity as the City Solicitor for eleven years up until his death.

In addition to serving on City Council, Branion played an active role in Wesley Methodist (later Wesley United) church.  He served as the recording steward, a trustee (during some of which time he served as the chairman), and as a member of the Church Board of Sessions.  In addition to serving locally, he served as president of the Association of Saskatchewan United Church Conference, and as a member of the Board of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the General Council of the United Church of Canada, and on various Conference committees.   Branion was also associated with the United Church college (St. Andrew’s) in Saskatoon, serving fourteen years on its Board of Management.

For over fifty years, Branion was associated with the Masonic Order.  He was a member of Prince Albert Lodge #63, and in 1943 Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Saskatchewan, A.F. and A.M., as well as being a member of the Royal Templars of Temperance.

Locally, Branion was a member of the Bar Association, and a charter member of the Kiwanis club, in which he served as president.  He also served on the Library Board, acting as secretary from 1938, and as an executive member of the Red Cross.

Given his legal training, Branion acted as a magistrate for a period of time, and with his strong religious faith, he personally looked after the Kiwanis sermonette which was a weekly feature of the newspaper’s church page on Saturdays.

Branion became a member of the Round Lake Outing Club, and built a cottage there in 1923.  That was, unfortunately, the year in which his wife Dora died, leaving him with three young daughters, Aileen, Margaret, and Edith.  It was at the cottage at Round Lake where Branion met Jean Rankin, who lived in a neighbouring cottage.  After some time, the two became romantically involved and married.  Little information is available about Jean and her family, although we know that her son, Bruce, was a well respected and highly regarded Canadian diplomat.

The death of Samuel Branion occurred in the Victoria Hospital on April 17th, 1958.  He passed away quietly at the age of 84 after being hospitalised since suffering a stroke in his office on March 20th.  The funeral service was held at Wesley United Church with the Reverend R.J. McLellan officiating, assisted by the Reverend G. Duncan Wilkie (president of the United Church Conference) and Dr. R.D. Tannahill (St. Andrew’s College).  Masonic rites were conducted at the grave site in South Hill Cemetery by Past Grand Master Dr. Russell Partridge, assisted by R. Tate (Grand Secretary) and Richmond Mayson (Deputy Grand Master).

Amongst those represented at the funeral were several Masonic Lodges, the Board of Trustees of Wesley United Church, the Board of Session, the Board of Stewards, AOTS Women’s Federation, the mayor and members of City Council, staff from the City administration, the Kiwanis Club, the Bar Association, and the Library committee.

In a tribute which Dick Mayson prepared for the Daily Herald, he wrote:

“Mr. Branion’s life was one of great activity and he had been successful in everything he had undertaken. His ambition and tireless energy steadily drove him forward. He was a citizen of whom any community would have been proud.”