Lawyer-turned-author Garrett Wilson is a passionate son of Saskatchewan with a unique background and understanding of the province and its people. Born in 1932 in the small southern town of Limerick and raised there during the dustbowl years, he is the son of a pioneer homesteading Irish immigrant father and a school teacher Nova Scotian mother, both of whom gave him a wide perspective on prairie life and history.
Garrett’s childhood memories are of duststorms, grasshopper invasions, snaring and shooting an inexhaustible number of gophers, and a frequently absent father who travelled the province as a member of the Board of Review, assisting farmers who were drowning in debt. On several of the infrequent weekends when “Irish Charlie” Wilson was able to join his family, he arrived accompanied by the judges and lawyers also engaged with the Board of Review. Being bounced on the knees of so many of these men of the law surely influenced the boy toward his eventual career. Garrett listened quietly to hours of discussion about farm economics, politics, and then – war.
With the advent of the Second World War, the world turned for a small-town Saskatchewan boy. Uniforms appeared on the streets of Limerick, and then the skies filled with planes as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan took shape and young aviators from all over the world flocked to the Canadian prairies to learn a new and deadly trade. Garrett’s older brother, Kevin, joined the RCAF and shipped overseas as a navigator on Wellington bombers. After a dozen successful missions over France and Germany, on their first raid against Sicily Kevin’s plane and crew disappeared over the Mediterranean. Silence. Missing in Action. Presumed Dead.
It was not a rare event, even in such a small town as Limerick. When a local lad was lost, a moment’s silence was observed during morning assembly at the five room school. Twenty-two times during that War the Limerick pupils stood silently in memory of someone they had all known.
Garrett studied law at the University of Saskatchewan, graduating in 1954, B.A., LL.B. and with a commission in the Royal Canadian Air Force. While in final year, he served as editor of The Sheaf, the campus newspaper, and carried off a number of national journalism awards in competition with all other Canadian university papers.
Upon graduation, Garrett entered into practice in Regina. A stint as Regina City Prosecutor in 1958 led to more than thirty years as solicitor to the Regina Police, as well as forces in other urban centres. The insight gained into the world of criminal investigations resulted in Deny, Deny, Deny, (Lorimer, 1985), the best-selling account of the Colin Thatcher murder case, written with his daughter, Lesley.
Garrett was active and prominent in Liberal politics during the 1960s and 1970s, both at the provincial and federal level. He served as campaign manger of the successful 1967 re-election of the Thatcher Liberal government, as president of the then-powerful Saskatchewan Liberal Party from 1971 to 1975, and as Western Vice-President of the Federal Liberal Party from 1977 to 1980.
For many years Garrett was involved with the sports tourism industry throughout northern Saskatchewan, the North West Territories and New Brunswick. Holding a private pilot license, he became well acquainted with the provincial aviation world, particularly the bush flyers of the north.
And agriculture. For more than twenty years in the 1970s and 1980s, Garrett owned and managed a 2,000 acre grain and purebred Charolais operation south of Wood Mountain where he learned much of the trials, aspirations and sorrows of the farming world.
In 1964/1965 Garrett served as Chairman of the Saskatchewan Public Service Commission and successfully negotiated the first collective bargaining agreements between the Saskatchewan Government Employees Association and the new Liberal Government of Premier Ross Thatcher. He returned from private practice in 1968 to negotiate a renewal of those agreements, the largest in the province.
From 1973 to 1982, Garrett headed the Regina Rail Relocation Committee formed by Regina City Council to negotiate the removal of rail lines from the city. Successful relocation of several
feeder lines was accomplished, making possible the construction of the Ring Road and the Lewvan Expressway. Garrett’s committee completed the first, and perhaps the only, successful application in Canada for funding under the 1974 federal Railway Relocation and Crossing Act. Unfortunately, Regina’s proposal to relocate the downtown mainline and marshalling yards of the Canadian Pacific Railway was derailed by an international architectural competition to determine the new usage of the C.P.R. Station building. When the competition was concluded, Saskatchewan had lost the fiscal capacity to meet its committed portion of the funding and the project died.
After publication of Deny, Deny, Deny in 1985, Garrett, assisted by his then-law-student son, Kevin, followed in 1988 with Diefenbaker For The Defence, (Lorimer, 1988), a well-reviewed account of the legal career of the former Prime Minister. In 1999, Guilty Addictions (1999, NeWest), a political mystery set in Saskatchewan, was shortlisted for the Saskatchewan Book Awards fiction award and the Arthur Ellis crime writers award. In 2000, a second edition of Deny, Deny, Deny (Trafford) was shortlisted for the Saskatchewan Book Awards non-fiction prize.
In 2007, Frontier Farewell (Canadian Plains Research Centre), an account of “the 1870s and the end of the Old West,” received the Saskatchewan Book Awards prize for Scholarly Writing, and was recognized by a prominent academic reviewer as making “a significant contribution to scholarship on the history of the Canadian West.” Well received among a general audience as the go-to book on the early history of the pre-settlement era on the Western Plains, Frontier Farewell is also a text at the University of Regina. A second edition of Frontier Farewell was published in 2014.
Garrett has written or edited the memoirs of three Saskatchewan citizens who led memorable lives and made lasting contributions, including Serge K., (2010) Serge Kujawa’s account of his immigration to Canada and subsequent career as one of the country’s pre-eminent prosecutors, Walter Johnston of Carrot River Airways (2010), the story of an unusually talented northern bush pilot, and A Chronicle of War and Life (2012), Jack Drummond’s nine-decade life from Depression-era rural Saskatchewan through five years in Europe with the Canadian Army during the Second World War, and beyond.
Garrett has also contributed articles to publications as diverse as Regina’s Secret Places (CPRC 2006), 100 Days That Shaped Canada (Harper Collins 2011), The Literary Review of Canada, Canada’s History, The Globe and Mail, the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Western Sportsman, Folklore,the magazine of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Association, and Fort Walsh to Wood Mountain, a legacy book commemorating the famous North-West Mounted Police Trail.
In 2012 Garrett published In The Temple of the Rain God (Canadian Plains Research Centre, 2012), a picture of the first fifty years of Saskatchewan history as seen through the eyes of his Irish immigrant father, with emphasis on the farm debt crisis of the 1930s. Temple provides a first-person account of the workings of the little-known Board of Review established under the 1934 Farmers’ Creditors Arrangement Act that sliced away almost half of the mountain of debt that threatened to empty out the prairie lands so recently settled.
Garrett’s latest book is Outlier: Life, Law and Politics in the West, his personal memoir. It is an interesting, anecdote-filled insider view of Saskatchewan’s progress since the dust bowl days of the 1930s. Intimately involved in the province’s politics since the days of Premier Ross Thatcher, Garrett provides many never-before-told aspects of Western Liberal affairs. He also gives an intimate version of several of the high-profile legal events of the era, such as the Colin Thatcher murder case, the David Milgaard Inquiry and the Regina Police strike.
Garrett was designated a Queen’s Counsel in 1968, and in 2005 was awarded a Honourary Life Membership in the Law Society of Saskatchewan. He is also a former president and Life Member of the Regina Wildlife Federation. As well, Garrett is a former director and president of the Saskatchewan Book Awards and a former director of the Advisory Council of The Writers’ Trust of Canada.
In 1992 Garrett was awarded the Commemorative Medal For the 125th Anniversary of Confederation. In 2012 he received the University of Saskatchewan Alumni Achievement Award.