Confidentially Kemmis is a drunken incompetent and his appointment will be regarded [as a] joke.
(R.B. Bennett to Borden, 14 Dec 1914)
The son of a British Army officer, Arthur Charles Kemmis was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick on 10 February 1874. He spent his youth in England and Ireland before returning to Canada in the 1890s. He moved west to establish a law practice at Pincher Creek. He formed the 23rd Alberta Rangers in 1910. In December 1914, Kemmis was authorized to organize the 13th Mounted Rifles based in his hometown.
On the outbreak of the war in August 1914, Kemmis had pledged to support the “Mother Country”:
Should Britain become involved in a European war, Canada and Canadians have only one duty, to lend all aid to the Empire. England at war means Canada also. All possible aid in men and money should go forward after providing sufficient means for defence of the coasts. There is no question of Canadians; we are all Britishers.
Although he had promised military authorities to “cut out the drinking,” Kemmis evidently failed to do so and was forced to resign his commission in February 1916. Urias Holmes assumed command of the 13th CMR and led the regiment to England in July. A disgraced Kemmis later enlisted in General Jack Stewart’s 239th Battalion as a private. He was promoted to captain but reverted once again to lieutenant in order to serve in France and was wounded in May 1918.
In 1927, Kemmis was tasked with fellow war veteran Richard Godfrey Simmins to investigate the organization of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). The Kemmis-Simmins report advised centralizing the CSC to the furor of most commission members who resented being investigated by subordinates.
Critics within the civil service and parliament began to smear Kemmis’ reputation and challenge his qualifications as an examiner. They scrutinized his education and implied that a lawyer was unsuited to report on the civil service. Kemmis endured a parliamentary hearing and CSC continued to resist any institutional change.
Kemmis died in Nelson, British Columbia on 2 April 1950.