Secret Life of Canada

The woman who stood up to the Premier

In 1934, after years of being assaulted by the Premier of Alberta John Edward Brownlee, Vivian did the unthinkable. She sued him ... and won.

Vivian MacMillan's true story among topics that fascinate Secret Life of Canada listeners

Vivian MacMillan, pictured here in 1934, endured years of assault and harassment at the hands of Alberta Premier John Edward Brownlee. (Provincial Archives of Alberta)

Why are treaties numbered? Who was Vivian MacMillan? When was the department store Zellers formed?  These are just some of the questions that listeners had for The Secret Life of Canada team. 

Co-hosts Leah Simone-Bowen and Falen Johnson answer questions from across the country in their final episode of the season. They explain the history behind the word "unceded" and journey to Calgary to tell the story of one of the most talked about court cases in the 1930s. Then, they dive into the ongoing love affair that Canadians have with the now defunct discount chain Zellers.

One of the last Zellers locations clears out its inventory after most of the stores were sold to Target in 2011. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

What you'll hear this episode

  • Why some treaties, the agreements between the government of Canada and Indigenous people, were numbered and why others received names.
  • A brief explainer of the term "unceded" 
  • A piece of early Alberta history first covered in the Secret Life of Canada Live show — back by special request.
  • The details of how a young woman named Vivian MacMillan sued the sitting premier of Alberta, John Edward Brownlee, after years of assault.
  • How Walter Zeller founded the first Zellers Ltd. department store.
  • The many "firsts" by the chain, including the first restaurant in a department store!
  • Where Zeddy — the Zellers mascot ended up after the store closed.
  • A shout out to all our listeners, but especially Ashley Gibson of Halifax, Jen Nassif of Calgary and Garth "Do Zellers!" Baker, who sent in the questions that inspired this episode. 

Key References