Alexander Cameron Rutherford was born in Osgoode, Carleton County, Ontario, on February 2, 1857 to James and Elizabeth (Cameron) Rutherford. His parents emigrated to Canada from Aberfeldy, Scotland in 1855. He was educated in the public and high schools in Metcalfe, Ontario and attended Woodstock College. He taught school for a year and then attended McGill University in Montreal where he received his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Civil Law degrees in 1881. He articled with Sir Richard Scott in Ottawa, was admitted to the Bar of Ontario in 1885 and immediately went into the partnership of Hodgins, Kidd and Rutherford with offices in Ottawa and Kemptville. In 1888 he married Mattie Birkett and they had two children, Cecil, and Hazel.
He came west to South Edmonton (later Strathcona), North-West Territories in 1895, set up a law practice and became active in local politics. He served as Secretary of the local school board for nine years. With the incorporation of the Town of Strathcona, he became Secretary-Treasurer in 1899, serving until 1905. After two defeats in 1896 and 1898, he was elected to the North West Territories Assembly in 1902, serving until 1905. During this period he was Deputy Speaker.
In 1905, he was called to lead the first government of Alberta. Dr. Rutherford also held the portfolios of Provincial Treasurer and Minister of Education. In 1906, he introduced a bill which founded the University of Alberta and also founded the Provincial Normal School. In recognition of his efforts to establish higher education in the new prairie province, the University of Toronto awarded him an LL.D. in 1907. He resigned as Premier on May 26, 1910
He continued to take an interest in higher education the University of Alberta. In 1924 he was appointed the West Member of the Board of Governors for McGill University. He was elected Chancellor of the University of Alberta in 1927 and continued in that position until his death on June 12, 1941.