Skip to main content

The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons


Hon. Edgar Nelson Rhodes
P.C. (1917–1922)

In 1916 Edgar Rhodes was on a recruiting campaign to enlist Canadian soldiers for the First World War when Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden appointed him Deputy Speaker of the House. The 39-year-old Nova Scotia lawyer was preparing to go overseas to join the war effort, but Borden’s call was irresistible. Rhodes had already served eight years as an MP, and his appointment was greeted warmly by members of the House.

On February 3, 1916, as Rhodes was in the Chair presiding over the House for the first time, fire broke out in the Centre Block. Just as Rhodes led the members out of the House, a huge flame broke through a wall of the Chamber. Seven people died in the fire, including Bowman Law, MP, who was working in his office. The Library of Parliament was saved by the quick-witted action of Library clerk Michael MacCormac, who closed the Library’s iron doors in time. The rest of the Centre Block, however, was completely destroyed, and Parliament moved to the nearby Victoria Memorial Museum Building. For four years the House of Commons met in its auditorium.

In his 11 months as Deputy Speaker before the 1917 general election, Rhodes impressed members by his fairness and genial temperament, and by substantially reducing House expenditures. He was an obvious choice for the Speaker’s post, nominated by the Prime Minister and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. A keen fisherman, Rhodes is reported to have said that he would rather have been Canada’s greatest angler than Canada’s First Commoner (as the Speaker was known historically).

Rhodes decided not to run in the 1921 general election, and was sworn into the Privy Council. He accepted the presidency of the British American Nickel Corporation, whose previous president was the industry leader Sir James Dunn. He then returned to Nova Scotia, where he revived the Conservative party and became Premier. In 1930 he accepted a post in Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett’s federal Cabinet, served first as Minister of Fisheries and then as Minister of Finance, and in 1935 was appointed by Bennett to the Senate.

Rhodes’ wide-ranging business interests included rolling stock (railway coaches and freight cars), mining, lumber, and shoe and piano companies.

Next Speaker: Hon. Rodolphe Lemieux

Previous Speaker: Hon. Albert Sévigny

Artist: Sir Edmund Wyly Grier
Date: 1921

Born: Amherst, Nova Scotia, 1877

Died: Ottawa, Ontario, 1942

Professional Background: Law

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: