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Biography of Donald Sutherland

Donald Sutherland was born on April 8th 1863 to Robert and Elizabeth (nee Hutchison) Sutherland of West Zorra Township. He would eventually settle on Lot 7, Con 1 in the Township of North Oxford where he was prominent in the farming community for many years. In 1896 he married Minnie Pearl Hossack, with whom he had five sons (Bruce, Evan, Donald, Burleigh, and John) and two daughters (Jean and Helen).


He began his political career serving as a member of the North Oxford Township Council in 1896. In 1901 and 1902 he served as county councilor for Ingersoll, North and West Oxford. In 1902 he was elected as a representative for the South Riding of Oxford in the Ontario Legislature, gaining the seat for the Conservative party, which had historically always been held by the Liberal party. He was re-elected in the general election of January 25, 1905, though defeated in the general election of 1908. During his time in provincial politics he introduced a Bill into the legislature to regulate the speed and operation of motor vehicles on Ontario Highways.


On March 10th 1909, Donald Sutherland was appointed Director of Colonization and Immigration for Ontario by the James P. Whitney government, where he helped to promote the settlement of Northern Ontario. Two years later he resigned as Director so that he could run in the Federal election of 1911. On September 26th, 1911 he was elected to the House of Commons, being the first Conservative elected to the House of Commons for the constituency of South Oxford. He moved the address in reply to the speech from the throne during the special war session of August 9th, 1914 and a year later would present a speech to the House of Commons concerning the War Budget. He was re-elected at the general elections in 1917, 1921, and 1925 and was made a member of the Privy Council and appointed a Minister without Portfolio in the Meighen Cabinet on July 19th 1926. Defeated in the general election in 1926, he resigned from the Meighen Cabinet. In the ensuing years he would be defeated in the general election for the House of Commons in 1930 and the By-election for South Oxford in 1934 following the death of Hon. T.M. Cayley.


In 1932, Donald Sutherland was asked to head an inquiry for the Combines Investigation Bureau into the alleged price fixing by the various Tobacco Companies following a complaint by tobacco farmers in Ontario. In 1935 he was appointed to the Senate of Canada and was a member until his death on January 1st 1949.


On January 4th, 1949 the Woodstock Sentinel Review published an editorial which eloquently summed up the life and career of Donald Sutherland: "He was a doughty campaigner, and not one to be easily discouraged. As a public servant and as a farmer he left his mark on his township, his province and his country. No man could have a better epitaph then that." (Series 4B, #9.22)

Tobacco Combines Investigation

In the mid-1900s, Tobacco farming was big business in the Ontario, with the increase in tobacco acreage in the 1930s benefitting the large tobacco companies, such as Imperial Tobacco, Canadian Leaf Tobacco, and MacDonald Tobacco. Representatives of "leaf buyers" would travel to individual farms to negotiate prices, which put the so-called buyers in a power bargaining position. Often there was little competition among buyers as farmers might receive only one offer, or maybe none at all, and the farmers often had no room to negotiate. Given the financial situation at the time, this made things difficult for the farming community


In 1932 the prices offered to farmers were so low that an editorial published in the Tillsonburg News stated that the tobacco companies were "intimidating" growers using "degrading and dastardly" tactics that harkened back to days of slavery.1 Disgruntled tobacco growers appealed to the federal government asking that they formally investigate price-fixing by the big tobacco companies.


That same year, Donald Sutherland was asked to head an inquiry for the Combines Investigation Bureau into the alleged price fixing by the various Tobacco Companies.


After some debate over the nature of his findings, in 1934 Sutherland’s Report was published, stating overall that the growers had been operating at a decided disadvantage. An outcome of these findings was the emergence of farmer controlled marketing boards which would give farmers additional bargaining powers. Although the system still dealt with problems, including the influence of tobacco companies on marketing boards and the government, by the 1950s farmers were able to receive fair and higher prices for their products.

Privy Council and Senate

The Queen’s Privy Council for Canada is the group of cabinet ministers, former cabinet ministers and other prominent Canadians appointed to advise the Queen on issues of importance to the country. This includes both issues of state and constitutional affairs.


In July 1926, Donald Sutherland was appointed to the Privy Council on the recommendation of Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen. Defeated in the general election, two months later, he resigned from the Meighen Cabinet, and subsequently the position.


In 1935, Donald Sutherland was appointed to the Senate of Canada; being the first person from the County to be appointed to the Upper House. He was also one of a few farmers to have retained a seat. He would hold the position, until his death in 1949.

Ontario Bureau of Colonization and Immigration

The Ontario Bureau of Colonization and Immigration was established to promote the settlement of “New Ontario” (Northern Ontario). It also assisted with placing farmer hands and domestic help, mostly from England and Ireland, across the Province.

1902 Ontario Election

The 10th Legislative Assembly of Ontario was in session from May 29, 1902 until December 13, 1904. The majority party was the Ontario Liberal Party led by George William Ross, whom was elected Premier, while the Conservative Party, led by Sir James P. Whitney formed the official opposition.


In Oxford South, Donald Sutherland won the seat in South Oxford; being the first Conservative ever elected to this provincial seat. Andrew Pattullo won the riding of North Oxford and held the seat until his death in December 1903, whereupon James S. Munro assumed the position.

1905 Ontario Election

The 11th Legislative Assembly of Ontario was in session from January 25, 1905 until May 2, 1908. The majority party was the Conservative party led by Sir James P. Whitney, whom was elected Premier. Donald Sutherland retained the seat in South Oxford as a Conservative, while the riding of North Oxford was won by Liberal, James S. Munro.

1908 Ontario Election

The 1908 Ontario general election was held on June 8th, to elect the 106 Members of the 12th Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Although the Ontario Conservative Party, led by Sir James P. Whitney, was elected for a second term, Donald Sutherland lost his seat in Oxford South, to Liberal Thomas Richard Mayberry. In Oxford North, Andrew Mackay, also a Liberal candidate, was elected.

1911 Federal Election

The Canadian federal election of 1911 was held on September 21st to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons. This election ended 15 years of government by the Liberal Party of Wilfred Laurier, with the Conservatives winning and Robert Borden being elected Prime Minister. After losing in the 1908 Federal Election, Donald Sutherland won the seat for South Oxford as a conservative. He was the first conservative ever to hold this federal riding. In North Oxford, Liberal Edward Walter Nesbitt was elected as the Member of Parliament.

1921 Federal Election

The Canadian Federal Election of 1921 was held on December 6th, to elect the 14th Parliament of Canada. The Union government that had governed Canada through the First World War was defeated, and replaced by a Liberal government under the leadership of William Lyon MacKenzie King. A new third party, the Progressive Party, led by Arthur Meighen, won the second most seats in the election. Donald Sutherland, retained the South Oxford Riding, once again, as a Conservative, while Liberal Duncan James Sinclair won the riding of Oxford North.

1925 and 1926 Elections

The federal election of 1925 was held on October 29th to form the 15th Parliament of Canada. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberal Party formed a minority government with the help of the Progressive Party, even though Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives held more seats. Donald Sutherland, once again won the seat for Oxford South, while Conservative Donald Matheson Sutherland won the riding of Oxford North.


Following the King-Byng Affair, which dealt with corruption in the Department of Customs and Excise and subsequently a disagreement between the Prime Minister and the Governor General concerning the dissolution of parliament, the agreement between the Liberal and Progressive parties collapsed and dissolution of parliament was one again requested and approved.


In turn, the federal election of 1926 was held on September 14th to elect the 16th Parliament of Canada. This time the Liberals won the majority of the seats in the House of Commons, and Arthur Meighen, upon his party’s defeat and loss of his own seat, resigned as Conservative leader. In Oxford South Donald Sutherland was defeated by Liberal Thomas Merritt Cayley, while Oxford North also became a Liberal seat with the election of Hugh Allen.

1930 and 1934 Elections

The Canadian Federal Election of 1930 was held on July 28, 1930, to elect members of the 17th Parliament of Canada. Although Richard Bedford Bennett’s Conservative Party won the majority government, Donald Sutherland lost the riding of South Oxford to Liberal Thomas Merritt Cayley.


A Federal By-election occurred on April 16, 1934 to fill the seat in South Oxford following the death of Thomas Merritt Cayley. Donald Sutherland, once again campaigned as the Conservative candidate, but lost to Liberal, Almon Rennie of Tillsonburg. Rennie was the last man to hold the seat of South Oxford, as the electoral district was abolished under the Redistribution Act of 1933 which saw the merging of South Oxford and North Oxford into one riding.


When the 18th Parliament of Canada was established in October 1935, Almon Rennie was elected to the newly formed Oxford riding.

1917 Federal Election

The 1917 Canadian federal election was held on December 17th to elect the 13th Parliament of Canada. Dealing with the heavily debated issue of conscription, Sir Robert Borden’s Union Government was elected with a strong majority, defeating Sir Wilfred Laurier and the Liberals. Donald Sutherland was elected as Member of Parliament for the Riding of Oxford South as a Unionist. Edward Walter Nesbitt, also a Unionist, won the seat for Oxford North.

First World War

The First World War (WWI), or the Great War, was a global war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. Canada first entered the war on 4 August 1914 with the British declaration of war.


For a nation of eight million people, Canada’s war effort was remarkable. More than 650,000 men and women from Canada and Newfoundland served – over 66,000 gave their lives and more than 172,000 were wounded.