Today, we begin our fourth season and a journey to discover the Governors General of Canada, from the first, all the way up to our current Governor General Mary Simon.
As I mentioned last season, for the Governors General prior to Vincent Massey in the 1950s, I am mostly going to focus on their time in Canada, rather than their lives before and after. This is because their time outside of Canada tends to blend more into European history, and I wanted to keep the focus on Canada for this season.
The history of the Governors General begins with a man named Charles Monck.
Born on Oct. 10, 1819, Charles Stanley Monck was born in Templemore, Ireland to Charles Monck, the Third Viscount Monck, and his wife Bridget. Monck’s grandfather had been granted the title of viscount for his support of the Act of Union between the British and Irish Parliaments in 1800. His family could also trace itself back to Guillaime Le Moyne, who came with William The Conqueror to England in 1066.
As a young man, Monck obtained a law degree at Trinity College.
On July 22, 1844, he married his cousin Elizabeth Monck. Together, the couple would have seven children, but only four, Frances, Elizabeth, Henry and Richard, survived to adulthood.
In 1849, upon his father’s death, he became the Fourth Viscount Monck.
In 1852, he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Portsmouth, and from 1855 to 1858, he served as the Lord of the Treasury under Lord Palmerston, the future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
In 1858, he lost his seat in the election and decided to leave active politics. Having inherited large debts, he was in need of a secure income and that was when Lord Palmerston offered him the position of Governor General of Canada. Monck would accept for, in his words, the money.
On Oct. 23, 1861, Monck arrived in Canada, ready to take on the post of Governor General of British North America and the Governor of the Province of Canada.
The Quebec Mercury would write quote:
His family would come to Canada with him but would not stay throughout his term as Governor General. While they were in Canada, the family lived at Spencerwood in Quebec.
As he took his post, Canada was beginning to coalesce into a country and Confederation.
The American Civil War was fought during his time as Governor General.
In his first year as Governor General, a major diplomatic crisis would erupt between Britain and the United States. Called The Trent Affair, it almost erupted into war between the two nations.
The Trent Affair was a diplomatic incident that occurred when the US Navy captured two Confederate envoys from a British Royal Mail steamer. The British government protested this action, while the public reaction in the United States was the celebrate the capture and rally against Britain, threatening war. The Confederate States hoped that the incident would lead to a war as it would help their cause. The British government demanded an apology and the release of the prisoners. Not wanting to risk war with Britain, President Abraham Lincoln’s administration released the envoys but did not give a formal apology.
After the St. Albans Raid in 1864, when several Confederate soldiers looted banks in Vermont and then fled to Canada, Monck would order their arrest. His sister-in-law, Frances, would write quote:
“The Yankee papers praise him much for his prompt conduct.”
Monck supported the idea of Canadian Confederation and he would work closely with John A. Macdonald, George Brown, George-Etienne Cartier and Etienne-Paschal Tache, who formed the Great Coalition in 1864.
During this time, the Quebec Conference, Charlottetown Conference and London Conference were all held to determine what form Confederation would take. He would invite representatives from the Maritimes to meet with representatives of the Province of Canada in 1864 to speak about Confederation. He would write during the conference quote:
By 1866, Monck was eager to return to the United Kingdom and his estates but he was convinced to stay on as Confederation was near for Canada.
Around this same time, Canada was dealing with the Fenian Raids from the United States. These raids were conducted by the Fenian Brotherhood, who were an Irish Republican organization that conducted the raids to pressure Great Britain to withdraw from Ireland. While the raids only lasted a few years, they were unsuccessful in their goal but they presented a headache for Monck and the soon-to-be-created Canada.
While Monck did help Canada coalesce into Confederation there were criticisms of him related to his lack of administrative experience. In one case in 1863, a proposal to build a telegraph and postal service between New Westminster in future British Columbia and Lake Superior would fall through because Monck failed to deliver his input on the matter.
The Colony of British Columbia had written to Monck on May 1, 1863 but he never replied. In the minutes of a meeting in at the Legislature it is stated quote:
“I presume that for them whatever telegraphic communications are required with Canada already exist. The only practical question was as to continuing such communications beyond their present limit in Canada. I presume that Lord Monck ought to be reminded of the dispatch on this important subject, which appears to have escaped his attention.”
Canada would not get a trans-Canada telegraph service for another 20 years when it was built along with the transcontinental railway.
In 1867, when Canada was born through Confederation, Monck remained as the Governor General, becoming Canada’s first ever Governor General.
As Governor General, he named Macdonald as the first Prime Minister of Canada. He would also announce Macdonald as a Knight Commander of the Bath.
Monck would write to Macdonald stating quote:
“I shall entrust you with the formation of the government but I must fervently trust you will be able to devise some means for holding together the present administration.”
Monck admired Macdonald, although he had concerns over his drinking. Macdonald also greatly like Monck, writing quote:
“I like him amazingly and shall be very sorry when he leaves, as he has been a very prudent and efficient administrator of public affairs.”
On June 20, 1868, Monck issued a proclamation, stating that he wanted quote:
“All her Majesty’s loving subjects throughout Canada to join in the due and proper celebration of the said Anniversary of the formation of the Dominion of Canada on the said first day of July next.”
This created Dominion Day, which we today call Canada Day.
On the day Canada was created through Confederation, Monck took the oath of office, swore in the prime minister and the Lt. Governors and reviewed the troops. He did this not in formal dress, but in plain clothes, something that disappointed Prime Minister Macdonald.
The Ottawa Daily Citizen reported quote:
“Lord Monck, who was in plain clothes and assumed no badge of office of any kind, advanced to the head of the council table and remained standing while his secretary read aloud the Royal instructions constituting him Governor General of the Dominion of Canada and defining the duties, titles and authority of that position.”
Monck for his part was irritable because Rideau Hall was not ready for him to move in quite yet due to extensive repairs and he would not live there until it was completed.
Monck had first seen Rideau Hall years previous and loved the look of it. In 1867, he would persuade the government to purchase it for $82,000. Today, this remains the official residence of the Governor General of Canada.
Monck would write his son Henry about the house, stating quote:
“We are agreeably surprised by this house.”
While Monck liked the house, he and his family did not seem to like Ottawa all that much.
The niece of Lady Monck would write in her diary that she was quote:
“Very disgusted with the squalid look of Ottawa.”
Monck appeared bored with Ottawa and while his predecessors and ministers wore the plume, gold braid and sword at important events, he would simply wear a business suit, as he did on the day Canada was born.
Many in the city felt snubbed by Monck’s attitude. At one point, the entire city had planned to welcome him as the first Governor General of Canada and a parade was planned for him. He would decline to take part. The Ottawa Times would write quote:
Monck was known to journey from his home at Rideau Hall to his office in Parliament by long boat, which was manned by the Royal Navy Bluejackets.
On Nov. 14, 1868, Monck’s term as Governor General ended and he returned to England.
The end of his term as Governor General was greeted with little fanfare. The Kingston Whig-Standard reported quote:
“No Governor General ever left Canada with less notice of a public kind than his departing Excellency. He may not have been a bad Governor General, for we know nothing bad that he has done, but he has been anything but popular during his long administration. He kept himself aloof from the people of Canada, not caring to mix with them.”
Around this same time, Sir John A. Macdonald wrote to Nova Scotia Premier, and future Prime Minister, Charles Tupper, quote:
“Monck has managed the relations between Canada and the United States with great discretion, when the slightest mistake might have created a war.”
The Canadian Portrait Gallery would state of him quote:
“He administered the Government in this country during a very troubled period. Of that administration as a whole it may be said to have been marked by much good sense and right feeling and by an honest desire to carry out the wishes of the people.”
In 1869, Monck was appointed Knight Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George. In 1869, he was named a member of the Privy Council.
In 1874, he was named the Lord Lieutenant of Dublin.
In June 1892, Lady Monck would pass away.
Monck would pass away on Nov. 29, 1894 at the age of 75. Overall, there was little in the Canadian papers to announce the death of the first Governor General. It was noticeable enough that C.J.I. Thomas wrote a letter to the Ottawa Journal stating quote:
“Noticing in your issue that Ottawa city is monumentally inclined, now that Lord Monck has just died, I think it would not be out of place, as he was the first governor general of the Dominion of Canada, to erect a monument in his memory at Ottawa. Now that Ottawa is in a monumental mood, I hope and trust that she will not forget to pay some tribute to honour to him that held the post of the first governor general of the Dominion of Canada.”
The Toronto Star would write of him that he had the genius of British Statesmanship. It would state quote:
“In noting Lord Monck’s death, editorially says he was not a brilliant man but he had, like every other English statesman of our time, that training and instinct for public affairs which are always useful in an outlying state of the Empire.”
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Wikipedia, Governor General of Canada, Lord Monck And The Canadian Nation, Colonial Dispatches, Macleans, Kingston Whig-Standard, Montreal Star, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Journal,
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