Lt. Col. Spencer

Lieutenant Colonel Nelson Spencer
175th (Medicine Hat) and 31st Battalions

What happened to Colonel Spencer will happen, more or less decisively, to Government candidates throughout the prairie Provinces…

 And Colonel Spencer stands quite as high in the estimation of the voters in his district as Government candidates generally can stand in the opinions of their respective communities. If he could not save his deposit, it is a bad look out for them if the conditions of the contest are the same.

 (Edmonton Bulletin, 2 Jul 1921, 7)

Born in New Brunswick on 7 December 1876, Nelson Spencer was a Conservative politician in Alberta and member of the provincial legislature (1913—1921). He belonged to the 21st Alberta Hussars and raised the 175th Battalion from his riding in early 1916. In response to questions about Spencer’s competency, Sir Sam Hughes replied, “He as all the necessary qualities to become a most efficient officer, and is rapidly acquiring the necessary military training.”

The battalion sailed for England in October 1916 and was broken up to provide reinforcement drafts for Lieutenant Colonel A. H. Bell’s 31st Alberta Battalion. While overseas, Spencer won re-election by acclamation in the July 1917 provincial contest. Section 38 of the Alberta Election Act stipulated that any uniformed MLA would run unopposed. In January 1918, Spencer reverted in rank and joined his original volunteers with the 31st on the front.

On 6 October 1918, Spencer succeeded Lieutenant Colonel E. S. Doughty in command of the battalion. He led the 31st for the last month of fighting before the armistice. For heroism at Cambrai, he received the Military Cross:

When the advance was checked he went forward with the leading troops, and, by skillful and determined leadership, overcame the resistance of the enemy and cleared the way for a further advance.

He returned to the Alberta legislature in March 1919. Addressing the members for the first time in three years, Spencer declared, “No corps came out of the Allied ranks in the war with the honor and distinction that did the Canadian corps.”

In May 1921, the Conservative and Liberal Parties nominated Spencer to contest the Medicine Hat federal by-election following the death of the sitting MP Arthur Sifton. Spencer faced a strong challenge from UFA/Progressive candidate, Robert Gardiner. For the Meighen Government, the by-election was “not a fight for the constituency, but really and truly a fight for the Dominion of Canada.”

In the result on 27 June 1921, Gardiner overwhelmed the war hero Spencer with 13,133 votes to 3,369. As the loop-sided returns came in, the Edmonton Bulletin remarked, “In the interests of Col. Spencer, the Humane Society ought to interfere and prevent any more swelling of the records.”

Spencer later moved to British Columbia and served one term in the provincial legislature as Conservative MLA for Vancouver City (1928—1933). He died on 30 September 1943.

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