News and Alumni Stories

Henry Alexander Dyde

M.C. (with Bar), OBE

An Officer, a Gentleman, and a Scholar

First Sessional Lecturer at the Faculty of Law to have been awarded the Military Cross and to have held a Rhodes Scholarship.


Sandy Dyde was a prominent Canadian who was active in the arts, sports, community life and at the highest level of government. Although his life was marked by sustained achievement, it is remarkable that by his 22nd year, he had won the Military Medal on two occasions and a Rhodes Scholarship.

Like many students in the early years of the University of Alberta, when Sandy Dyde began his studies in 1912 he was unaware of the pending cataclysm of the First World War. In late 1915, he was commissioned in the 202nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and he left for service in England one year later. He was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship in 1917, but at that time he was already on active service in France with the 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion. Before he was able to take up his Scholarship at University College, Oxford in 1919, he had already been gassed and wounded on separate occasions and had won the Military Cross for “acts of exemplary bravery during active operations”. Indeed, he had the unusual distinction of winning the M.C. on two occasions, once in 1917 and again in 1918. The citations attached to the two awards are typically understated but speak volumes about Sandy Dyde’s courage. The citation for his first Military Cross in 1917 read as follows:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While in command of a patrol in "No Man's Land" he was nearly surrounded by a strong enemy party, but attacking with the greatest determination, he killed eight and captured two, the result being due to his judgement and leadership”.

His second Military Cross was bestowed as a result of action in September 1918. That citation states:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while in command of a company in front of Bourlon and Raillencourt, September 27th-29th, 1918. His coolness and utter disregard for danger were an example and an inspiration to his men that made possible two attacks on successive days. On the night of 28th-29th, when the situation was obscure, he made a daring reconnaissance in front of the line and obtained information of the greatest value. His company captured many prisoners and machine guns as well as three guns.”

While he spoke little of his wartime experiences, his personal papers exhibit a quiet (and amply justified) pride in the achievements of the Canadian army. He commented that the Canadian Corps became known as “one of the best units of its size in the allied forces. Unlike the Australians, we were highly disciplined and …. we were considered equally with them as matchless attacking troops.”[i]

At the end of the conflict he was a Company Commander with the rank of Captain. He was demobilized in 1919 and resumed his academic pursuits. He clearly enjoyed his time at Oxford, which included a personal invitation to tea with Rudyard Kipling at the Randolph Hotel in 1922, visits to the London theatre complete with opera hat, cape and silver headed cane and vacations in France and Italy as well as a trip to Constantinople. His tutor throughout his B.A. in Jurisprudence and graduate B.C.L. course at University College was the celebrated Sir Carleton Allen.

Sandy Dyde graduated with second class honours in both degrees and felt he was part of a group of “good average scholars.” He returned to Edmonton in 1922 and articled to George Steer at a salary of $25 per month, which caused some hardship as his monthly rent at a cheap boarding house was $40. He was admitted to the Law Society in 1923 and initially practised with J.D.O. Mothersill in a firm which allowed the two principals, with some difficulty, to each draw $80 per month. After Mothersill retired to Florida for health reasons, he entered a partnership with Cy Becker, an air ace during the war and prominent bush pilot.

Sandy Dyde described the practice of law between 1922 and 1939 as an unproductive and a grinding business that allowed lawyers only to eke out a living. He noted that even before the Great Depression many lawyers left for the United States because of the bleak economic prospects in Alberta. However, he did find time for sporting activities and was simultaneously the badminton and tennis champion of Alberta in the 1920’s. In about 1930, he was appointed a sessional lecturer at the Faculty of Law, teaching three hour courses in Legal History and Personal Property for a salary of $600 per year, which proved to be a welcome supplement to his meagre earnings from legal practice. Dyde felt that he was more suited to teaching than practice, but in the 1920’s and 1930’s faculty appointments were few and far between. Interestingly in 1945, President Newton suggested that Dyde might become either Dean of Law or Dean of Arts, but by that time, legal practice offered better opportunities to improve his finances.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Sandy Dyde moved to Ottawa as Special Assistant to the Hon. Norman Rogers, the Minister of National Defence and the Hon. C.G. Power, Minister for Air Defence between 1939 and 1941. He then served as Military Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, the Hon. J.L. Ralston. During this period he was involved in two major wartime events. First in 1943, Ralston and Dyde travelled to London to address concerns about the leadership of General A.G.L. McNaughton, the senior officer of the Canadian Army in London, and if necessary to obtain his resignation. Ralston felt that McNaughton may have become aware of the purpose of their mission and that this prompted his resignation on grounds of health in December 1943. Secondly, in 1944, Ralston and Dyde visited Canadian troops throughout Italy and noted that they were badly in need of reinforcements. Ralston recommended that reinforcements should be drawn from personnel who had been conscripted for service in Canada. This advice was rejected by the Mackenzie King Cabinet and Ralston resigned his position as Minister of Defence, to be replaced by none other than General McNaughton. Despite McNaughton’s long held position against the use of conscripts in the European theatre, in December 1944, the King government reversed its earlier position when it authorized sending 17,000 conscripts overseas. Dyde pointedly underlined his own position when he stated that “I spent one day as McNaughton’s Military Secretary before I could get out”[ii]. He retired from military life with the rank of colonel in December 1944.

After the war, his wartime service was recognized when he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). In April 1949 he married Dorothy (“Bobby”) Reynolds Plaunt of Ottawa, the widow of Alan Plaunt, one of the co-founders of the CBC, who had died in 1941 at the age of 37.

One might think that obtaining a Rhodes Scholarship and two prestigious military medals by the age of 22 would be a huge achievement for any family. However, incredibly, Sandy’s honours were almost matched by his elder brother, Walter Farrell Dyde. Farrell was the first U of A student to win the Rhodes Scholarship in 1913 and in September 1917, on the same day as his brother, he too was notified that he had won the Military Cross as an Acting Major with the Royal Artillery.

There must be very few examples in the world of two brothers who each won Rhodes Scholarships and held three Military Crosses between them. Their family background certainly shows a strong intellectual lineage. Their father, the Reverend Samuel Walters Dyde, won the Gold Medal in Classics (1883) and the Gold Medal in Philosophy (1885) at Queen’s University. Unusually for the time, he then completed his D.Sc. at the University of Berlin in 1887. In 1911, the Reverend Dyde moved to Edmonton with his wife Jenny to become Principal of Robertson College, which ultimately became St. Stephen’s College at the University of Alberta. In 1918, he returned to Kingston as Principal of the Theological School, though he clearly left a major mark in Edmonton. Some idea of the depth of his intellectual interests is provided by the fact that he published a translation from the original German of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right in 1896. Google Books reports that this book is considered “by some the best introduction to any explication of the thought of Hegel”. Not content with that achievement, he then published a translation from the Greek of the Theaetetus of Plato in 1899 and he was an esteemed Shakespearian scholar. In recognition of his accomplishments, the University of Alberta awarded Reverend Dyde an honorary degree in 1915, a feat that was matched by Sandy Dyde in 1965.

The other members of the family were also talented. Farrell Dyde became a long-serving Vice President of the University of Colorado in 1947. The Dyde family had two daughters, Christina and Honora. Christina Dyde Wootton was a school teacher who also wrote a book entitled the Treasury Manual, which was published in 1934 and Honora Dyde Robbins was an artist who is credited as the cover designer of a book entitled “The Shadow of Tradition”, by Carrie MacGillivray, a tale of the emigration of Scottish Highlanders in 1785, that was published in Ottawa in 1927.

When he returned to Edmonton after the war, Sandy Dyde resumed legal practice with George Steer K.C. in the firm that became Milner, Steer, Dyde, Poirier, Martland & Layton. Sandy and Bobby Dyde became leaders in the cultural life of the postwar years. Sandy was one of the far-sighted souls who established the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in 1952. He ran as the Liberal candidate in Edmonton West in the federal election of 1957 and was narrowly defeated. Bobby was the first woman to be a member of the Board of the National Gallery of Canada, while Sandy was active in founding the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in the 1950’s and became a major fund raiser for the fledgling organization. He was not very impressed with the organizational efficiency of Oxford University, but clearly admired its collegiate nature. He was an active member of the Board of Trent University from 1965 until 1975 and praised its system of residential colleges, tutorials and approachable professors as a way of keeping the University in close touch with its students. In the 1950’s he was a co-founder of the University of Alberta Botanic Gardens and in 1959, the Dydes donated 80 acres of their land to form the core of the present (and wonderful) Devonian Botanic Gardens.

In the early 1960’s, the Dydes retained the now celebrated Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson, to build their summer home near Devon. This is said to be the only example of an Arthur Ericksen house on the Canadian prairies and it represents a wonderful integration of architecture and landscape.

Sandy Dyde was clearly a remarkable person who exhibited immense bravery under unimaginable conditions. He became one of the many graduates of the University of Alberta who gave their time as a sessional instructor at the Faculty and provided important leadership in the cultural life of Edmonton and Canada. He died at age 79 while on vacation in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1976.

David R. Percy, with grateful acknowledgement to Sandy Dyde’s stepdaughter Frances, who made available an invaluable archive of Sandy Dyde’s papers and corrected a number of inaccuracies in early drafts.


[i] H.A. Dyde Papers, 1896 et seq., p. 42-43.

[ii] H.A.Dyde Papers, Visit to Europe 1944, p.3.

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