Charles M. O'Brien

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Charles M. O'Brien
C M O'Brien.png
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta
In office
March 1909 – March 1913
Succeeded by Robert E. Campbell
Constituency Rocky Mountain
Personal details
Born (1875-03-02)March 2, 1875
Bells Rapids, Ontario
Died February 23, 1952(1952-02-23) (aged 76)
Los Angeles County, California
Political party Socialist Party of Alberta, Socialist Party of Canada
Occupation activist, politician, former railway worker, miner, logger

Charles Macnamara "Charlie" O'Brien (March 2, 1875 – February 23, 1952) was a Canadian socialist activist and politician in Alberta, Canada. He served in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta from 1909 to 1913.


O'Brien was born at Bells Rapids, near Bangor, Hastings County, Ontario to John Patrick and Matilda (née Price) O'Brien. His father, J.P. O'Brien would perish in the sinking of a boat, the Mayflower, at the Madawaska River, in 1912.[1] He worked in the logging, mining industry and in railroad camps.[2] In 1899, he came west to Alberta while working for the railway, via the Crowsnest line of the Canadian Pacific Railway.[3] An evangelist, he was also a national organizer for the Socialist Party of Canada, and leader of the Alberta branch.[2][4]

O'Brien was described as a "dedicated socialist", and a skilled orator and author,[3] drawing comparisons to prominent activists Bill Haywood, Jack London and Eugene V. Debs, in terms of his impact in Socialism in Canada.[4] O'Brien ran for the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in 1909 in the new Rocky Mountain constituency, and, despite not garnering union support, was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in the 1909 Alberta general election as a member of the Socialist Party of Alberta, narrowly defeating Liberal John Angus Macdonald by 32 votes.[3] He was the first Socialist member elected to the Alberta Legislature. It was said that O'Brien's election to the legislature "reflected a growing radicalization" of coal miners in Alberta; O'Brien's constituency at the time was also mainly miners.[3] The Coleman Miner however down-played his election, saying:[5]

"The election just past goes to show just what little interest was taken in the affairs of the province by the thinking people, especially the votes of the Rocky riding. The Socialists deserve great credit for the way every man of them got out and hustled; also the supporters of the Independent who were made up of, principally, the working classes—including Dagos and Salvs who neither read, speak, our languafe. These people are herded to the polls like so many cattle and voted according to instructions from their leaders who are paid well for the service rendered. The services of these men are always at the disposal of the highest bidder. Surely this is a disgraceful state of affairs, never-the-less true.

— The Coleman Miner, March 26, 1909[5]

During his term in office, he worked to improve conditions for the miners, having run on that platform in his election bid. In December 1910, he introduced an amendment to the existing Coal Mines Act, proposing many additional safety measures in the industry.[6] O'Brien also initiated a bill permitting the Alberta government to protect an apparent Russian fugitive (charged with murder for assassination of a Russian governor and arson) by refusing to extradite him back to Russia if investigation showed that he faced political persecution back in Russia.[7][8][9] He would also participate in the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway debate. Owing to his speech skills, O'Brien would set a provincial legislative record during this term, delivering a speech to the house on February 13, 1912 which was 5 hours and 50 minutes in length, still having not finished his speech when the session was adjourned for the day.[10]

While in office would also continue his activism of Socialism, with giving speeches to promote it; an incident in 1909 occurred when he was arrested during while giving a speech near a highway in Regina. A crowd of 500 had gathered to listen, which resulted in O'Brien's arrest for obstructing traffic.[11] Also, in 1911 he engaged in a Canada-wide tour to promote Socialist ideals.[12] He was later endorsed by the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada at the end of his term.

He would stand for reelection in the 1913 general election, but was defeated by Conservative Robert E. Campbell, by just over 80 votes. O'Brien moved to Los Angeles, California around 1915,[13] where he would die in 1952.[14]

Electoral history

1909 Alberta general election results (Rocky Mountain)[15] Turnout N.A.
Socialist Charles M. O'Brien 555 37.83%
Liberal John Angus Macdonald 520 35.45%
Progressive Conservative H.E. Lyon 392 26.72%
1913 Alberta general election results (Rocky Mountain)[16] Turnout N.A.
Progressive Conservative Robert E. Campbell 1099 43.56%
Socialist Charles M. O'Brien 1018 40.34%
Liberal William B. Powell 516 20.45%


  1. ^ "C. M. O'Brien's Father Drowned". Blairmore Enterprise. Blairmore, Alberta. December 4, 1912. p. 4. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Western Press Association (1916), Northern who's who: a biographical dictionary of men and women especially compiled for newspaper and library reference, New York City, Portland, Oregon, retrieved February 18, 2014 
  3. ^ a b c d Finkel, Alvin (2012), Working People in Alberta: A History, Athabasca, Alberta: Athabasca University Press, ISBN 9781926836584 
  4. ^ a b Labour (St. John's) - Google Books. Retrieved 2014-02-19 – via Google Books. 
  5. ^ a b "O'Brien, Socialist, Elected By A Majority of 32". Coleman Miner. March 26, 1909. p. 4. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Amendment to Coal Mines Act". Edmonton Bulletin. Edmonton, Alberta. December 7, 1910. p. 9. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  7. ^ "C. M. O'Brien Secures Assent to Fedorenko Resolution----All Quiet Today". Edmonton Capital. Edmonton, Alberta. November 19, 1910. p. 1. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Russian Refugee Committed". Strathmore Standard. Strathmore, Alberta. October 29, 1910. p. 3. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Fugitive Will Be Protected". Claresholm Review. Claresholm, Alberta. November 24, 1910. p. 7. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  10. ^ "C. M. O'Brien Now Has The Record". Edmonton Bulletin. Edmonton, Alberta. February 13, 1912. p. 1. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  11. ^ "C. M. O'Brien, M.P.P., Arrested". Coleman Miner. Coleman, Alberta. August 20, 1909. p. 1. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  12. ^ "C. M. O'Brien Is Now In Ottawa". Edmonton Bulletin. Edmonton, Alberta. June 27, 1911. p. 9. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  13. ^ Chas M O Brien, "United States Census, 1930", FamilySearch, accessed February 18, 2014.
  14. ^ Charles Obrien, "California, Death Index, 1940-1997", FamilySearch, accessed February 18, 2014.
  15. ^ "Election results for Rocky Mountain, 1909". Alberta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  16. ^ "Election results for Rocky Mountain, 1913". Alberta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 

External links

  • Socialist in Alberta: Socialist History Project
  • Legislative Assembly of Alberta Members Listing
Legislative Assembly of Alberta
Preceded by
New District
MLA Rocky Mountain
Succeeded by
Robert Campbell
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