Fonds RBSC-ARC-1350 - Alexander Manson fonds

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Alexander Manson fonds

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11.5 m of textual records
73 photographs : b&w
1 photographic negative
4 objects

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Biographical history

Alexander Malcolm Manson, a British Columbia politician and judge, was born October 7, 1883 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was of Scottish ancestry: his father, Malcolm Manson, was from the Orkney Islands and his mother, Katherine MacTavish, was Scottish-Canadian. Following the death of his mother in 1889, Manson moved to Ontario to live with his grandparents.

Manson was educated at a public school in West Middlesex, Ontario and at Niagara Falls Collegiate Institute. He attended the University of Toronto, graduating in 1905 with a Bachelor of Arts. He then studied law at Osgoode Hall and graduated in 1908. Manson was called to the Ontario Bar in June 1908 and to the British Columbia Bar in July 1908. He settled in northern British Columbia, and became the first lawyer to practice in Prince Rupert. He established a law firm in Prince Rupert with William Edward Williams, Williams & Manson. The firm would later become Williams, Manson & Gonzales with the addition of another lawyer, Milton Gonzales. Manson practised law at this firm until 1922.

Alexander Malcolm Manson married Stella Beckwith in 1909. They had three children, Malcolm Alexander, Katherine Marguerite, and Marion MacTavish. He belonged to the Presbyterian faith and was active in Presbyterian churches. Manson invested heavily in industry throughout his life, including becoming a shareholder in several mines operating in British Columbia.

Manson was a member of several social societies and was particularly involved with the Freemasons. He was initiated at the Orient Lodge No. 339 in Toronto in 1908, passed and raised at the Tsimpsean Lodge No. 58 in Prince Rupert in 1910 and affiliated with the Tsimpsean Lodge in 1911, and was a charter member of the Tyee Lodge No. 66 in Prince Rupert. As a Freemason, he served as the Worshipful Master of the Tyee Lodge (1914-1915), District Deputy Grand Master for District 11 (1916-1917), Junior Grand Warden (1922-1923), Senior Grand Warden (1923-1924), Deputy Grand Master (1924-1925), and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon (1925-1926). Manson was also an Honorary Life Member of both the Enoch Lodge No. 99 in Anyox, British Columbia, and Orient Lodge No. 339 in Toronto.

Soon after beginning his career as a lawyer, Manson expressed an interest in politics. He first ran for office in the Skeena riding in 1912 as the candidate for the British Columbia Liberal Party, but was defeated in the general election. He ran again in the 1916 election, this time successfully. Manson was elected to the provincial legislature in the Omineca riding in 1916, 1920, 1922 (a by-election), 1924, 1928, and 1933.

Manson held a number of positions in Premier John Oliver's government. He served as the Deputy Speaker from 1918-1920 and was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on February 8, 1921. He was appointed as Attorney-General on January 28, 1922, also becoming King's Counsel, and as Minister of Labour on April 12, 1922. He would serve in this dual capacity as Attorney-General and Minister of Labour for 6 years. During this period, Manson was involved in the high-profile and controversial Janet Smith murder investigation and trial (1924-1925). His handling of the Janet Smith case would irreparably damage his political career.

Manson resigned as Attorney-General and Minister of Labour on August 20, 1928, following the Liberal defeat in the 1928 general election. Manson also relocated to Vancouver in 1928, where, in addition to his political commitments, he resumed work as a lawyer. Although the Liberals won the 1933 provincial election, Manson was not given any cabinet appointments in Premier Duff Pattullo's government. Manson shifted his focus to federal politics and ran as the Liberal candidate for the Vancouver South riding in the 1935 federal election, but was defeated.

On November 27, 1935, Alexander Malcolm Manson was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. As a Supreme Court judge, Manson delivered over 400 judgements, including more than a dozen death penalties. He became known for his harsh sentences and his rulings would be changed on appeal more often than those of any other judge. During the Second World War, Manson also served as chairman of the War Services Board.

Manson served on the Supreme Court of British Columbia for 26 years. He retired on March 1, 1961, when a new law requiring judges retire at 75 years came into effect. Although Manson objected to this forced retirement, arguing that the appointment had been for life when he became a judge in 1935, it was to no avail. He was 77 years old at the time of his retirement.

Alexander Malcolm Manson died of cancer on September 25, 1964 in Vancouver. He was 80 years old.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The fonds consists of records related to British Columbia politician and judge Alexander Malcolm Manson's life. The records in this fonds encompass all aspects of Manson's life and were produced both through his career and in his personal life. Notably, the fonds contains extensive records from Manson's political career, his judicial career, and the investments and trusts he managed. Many areas of Manson's life overlapped considerably, including overlapping careers, and records related to one area of his life may be found among records related to another area.

The contents of this fonds consist predominantly of correspondence, including carbon copies of correspondence sent by Manson. This correspondence pertains both to Manson's career as well as to various parts of his personal life and has been arranged according to the file names used by Manson wherever possible; correspondence that has not otherwise been sorted by Manson has been sorted as "general correspondence," a designation which also includes personal correspondence. Other types of records in this fonds include meeting minutes, court proceedings, financial statements, newspaper clippings, governmental reports, shareholder reports, certificates, invitations and event programmes, and photographs.

The fonds has been arranged into eight series: legal career; political career; judicial career; finances; personal life; Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; general correspondence; and photographs, scrapbooks, and ephemera.

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Physical condition

Some of the materials in this fonds exhibit signs of water damage. All materials in the fonds have undergone conservation and preservation treatment.

Immediate source of acquisition

This fonds was donated by Manson's children and grandchildren.


The original order of these records has been retained as much as possible, and is evident in the physical ordering of files in this series: a box may contain files belonging to several different series. This order reflects the order of files as they were received. Unfortunately, as the records and files in this fonds were left in storage for many decades between Manson's death and their donation, some of the order as kept and used by Manson may have been lost. Furthermore, a number of items, consisting predominantly of correspondence with notable political figures, were removed from their original locations prior to donation and the original order of these items could not be reconstructed.

The file names used by Manson were preserved wherever available; file names have been supplied based on a file's contents where no original file name was available as well as for items stored loose (i.e. not in a file folder). These file names were used to inform decisions about where to place a file within the intellectual arrangement of this fonds.

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A small number of records have notes written in shorthand in the margins.

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No further accruals are expected.

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Photograph identifiers: RBSC-ARC-1350-PH-01 to RBSC-ARC-1350-PH-74

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Fonds arranged and described by Cassidy Foxcroft, January 2019.

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