From pastures to politics | Work of Arts
From pastures to politics | Work of Arts

From pastures to politics

by | September 15, 2014
Photography by John Ulan
The recipient of a 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award, you might know Dan Hays best as former Speaker of the Senate

He has received France’s Legion of Honour and a rare accolade from the emperor of Japan, but you might know him best as former Speaker of the Senate

On rolling pastures framed by a breathtaking view of the Canadian Rockies, Dan Hays (’62 BA) maintains a small breeding herd of beef cattle — some 120 Hays Converters, the hardy and efficient breed developed by his father, the late Harry Hays.

“I’ve been interested in agriculture all my life,” says Hays. “It has been a constant through the years.” Although he sold his ranch some years ago, this former Speaker of the Senate couldn’t make a complete break with raising cattle — thus the herd he retains near Pekisko, Alta.

Although firmly rooted in Alberta, he is also very much a citizen of Canada and the world.

His agricultural background is only one of the roots that anchor Hays to Alberta. He was born in Calgary, grew up on a farm on the outskirts of the city and has been associated with the same Calgary law firm for almost 50 years. An honorary chair of the Calgary Stampede Foundation, he continues to host the Hays Breakfast during the Stampede, a tradition that dates back to 1950.

Although firmly rooted in Alberta, he is also very much a citizen of Canada and the world. Appointed to the Senate of Canada by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1984, he played a role in some of the iconic public policy debates in Canada’s modern history — including those over the goods and services tax and the North American Free Trade Agreement — and chaired a special committee on Senate reform. From 2001 until 2006, he was Speaker of the Senate, the first Albertan to hold the position. The Speaker is behind only the governor general, the prime minister and the chief justice in Canadian precedence, the rules that dictate protocol among dignitaries.

Hays was born in 1939 and his earliest memories are of the war years. Two Japanese families lived on his family farm, having opted to serve as farm workers rather than be interned in a camp. The young Hays quickly developed a close relationship with them. “It was just the norm for me,” he recalls. “They babysat me, I had meals with them … .” He later became aware that the families were not well regarded by many in the community simply because they were Japanese. “It showed me how people can be so wrong, judging on the basis of ethnicity,” he says.

In 2000, the emperor of Japan conferred on him the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure.

His experience ignited an interest in Japanese culture. As a senator, Hays pursued a number of initiatives to promote Canada-Japan relations. In 2000, the emperor of Japan conferred on him the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Hays was only the second Canadian to be so honoured.

His international interests spread well beyond Japan. As Speaker of the Senate, he led 40 Canadian delegations to almost as many nations and welcomed a similar number of delegations to Canada. He worked to further Canada’s involvement in the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, the French-speaking equivalent of the Commonwealth. In 2011, in recognition of Hays’ efforts to build bridges of understanding between France and Canada, this proud Albertan and global citizen was made an officer of France’s Legion of Honour.

Originally appeared in the Autumn 2014 edition of New Trail.


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