James Layton Ralston, born in Amherst,
Nova Scotia, on September 27th, 1881;
Montreal, on May 21st, 1948. Canadian Army
officer, lawyer and politician.
J.L. Ralston inspecting Canadian
troops stationed in England,
of National Defence / National
Archives of Canada, PA-132649
Upon graduating from Dalhousie Law School
in 1903, J.L. Ralston practiced law in Amherst,
Nova Scotia. He entered public life as a
Member of the Legislative Assembly for Cumberland,
in 1911, and was re-elected for a second
term in 1916.
During WWI, Ralston served as an officer
with the 85th Canadian Infantry Battalion.
With a reputation as a gallant and skilled
officer, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel
in 1918, and became commanding officer of
the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment. Pursuing
his military career after the war, he made
the rank of Colonel in 1924.
Ralston returned to politics on the federal
scene: a member of the Privy Council, he
received the National Defence portfolio
in Prime Minister
1926 government. He lost the department
in 1930 as R.B. Bennett's Conservatives
took power. Acting as the Canadian delegate
to the London Naval Conference, he later
sat on several Royal Commissions.
In September 1939, Ralston became Minister
of Finance; a few months later, on July
5th, 1940, a cabinet shuffle gave him the
National Defence portfolio, where he succeeded
Norman McLeod Rogers, who had died in an
In 1944, as fighting raged in Italy and
Normandy, there were concerns that the Canadian
Army may soon experience a shortage of men
to replace soldiers killed or wounded. In
October, Colonel Ralston visited the fighting
units to assess by himself the gravity of
the situation. Upon his return to Ottawa,
convinced that some 15,000 well-trained
men were indeed required, he reached the
conclusion that territorial defence troops
should be sent to the front. For political
reasons the King government could not impose
conscription for overseas service; Ralston
was forced to resign on November 2nd, 1944.
Although he was at times criticized for
a tendency to get bogged down by administrative
minutiae, Colonel Ralston was a good judge
of the valour of his superior officers.
He was also remembered as a man dedicated
to the defence of Canadian fighting troops.