General Alexander Ross General Alexander Ross: the early years
Biography - Part 1
If the life of General Alexander Ross, CMG DSD VD QC LLD, can be summed up in one word it would be service...service to his country, his community and his church.
The life of this pioneer farm boy who rose to be a well-respected judge, a Brigadier- General in the Canadian Armed Forces, a politician and a pillar of his church and community, parallels the history and development of Canada and Saskatchewan.
Alexander Ross was born in 1880 in the old town of Forres, Harayshire in Scotland. He came to Canada with his family in 1886 to a homestead near the present village of Silton. The house on the homestead was typical of the day--a small frame home, heated by coal and wood stoves. Water was obtained from a well and at night the home was lighted by coal oil lamps.
Because of the isolation of the homestead, there was no school and young Alexander was taught to read and write by his parents. He had a burning desire to learn and took advantage of the many books brought from Scotland by his parents, so that when he started to school at the age of nine, he had no trouble keeping up with his peers.
By 1889, after a series of drought years, Alexander's father gave up his homestead and moved to Regina where he sought employment at his trade as a stone mason.
To the young Alexander, Regina was a metropolis with churches, schools and other boys. Due to a bout of typhoid fever, he was not games-oriented and there seemed to be no place for him in the school life except scholastically.
He became involved in the church life of the community by assisting in Sunday school and the church library, and later he became superintendent of the church Sunday school.
Aside from his church and school activities, Alexander had household duties, such as carrying water from the city well, chopping and carrying in the wood for the stoves, milking the family cow and delivering the surplus milk to customers for 10 cents per week.
Later he was employed at a stationery store where he collected the mail and delivered papers for the store. Each day before school he cleaned and dusted the store and acted as salesman for the store in his spare time.
This early training taught him how to work, a lesson he never forgot. As he grew older, he became a member of a debating club. He also became involved in politics and as such was the first secretary of the newly-formed Young Liberal Party. He became involved in the campaign that saw the first Liberal government of Saskatchewan in 1905, the year Saskatchewan became a province.
With his involvement in his church, his future seemed to be in the ministry, but that was not to be. In 1897 he passed his junior matriculation exam at the University of Manitoba, which was equivalent to grade 11.
With this qualification he obtained an interim teacher's certificate and was posted to a newly-opened school at Kronau. After a brief teaching career he returned to school and obtained his grade 12. He was now at a crossroads: teaching seemed to be the only career path, but the prospect was not attractive to him. One day he saw an ad in the paper offering employment in a local law office as a student at law.
At that time qualification for admission to the Law Society was based on the old English system consisting of theoretically learning law in a law office, passing two examinations after three years of articling and no university degree required. Alexander was accepted by the law firm of James Balfour in January of 1898. For $10 per month he was not paid for his legal work, but primarily as janitor. He walked a half mile to the office, cleaned two coal stoves, dumped the ashes, made up two fires, and swept and dusted the office.
He then returned home, changed clothes for work and was back at the office to open it at 9 a.m., picking up the day's mail on the way.
Aside from his janitorial duties he was the office boy and typist for the documents requiring more than one copy. All letters were written by hand with copies being indexed before being placed in a book. He also served papers and ran any errands necessary.
Since the senior partner was also the town clerk, Alexander had to transcribe the council minutes and with the junior partner being town treasurer, Alexander had to prepare the tax rolls, send out tax notices, collect the taxes and act as bailiff.
School board minutes, fair board minutes and sending out prize money during the fair were also included in his duties. During this time he also had to do the routine duties of the law office: going to court, serving papers, going to the Land Titles office and filing papers. With these later duties he learned the routine of court practice and knowledge of laws dealing with matters at the Land Titles office. Later he was entrusted with chamber applications.