The first two Governors General I looked at were a bit hands off when it came to their duties in Canada. While they did get involved in various matters, both Charles Monck and John Young disliked Ottawa, and seemed eager to get back to Canada.
Things would change with the third Governor General of Canada, Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, also known as Marquess of Dufferin. Throughout this episode, I will refer to him as Lord Dufferin.
Lord Dufferin was born on June 21, 1826, to Price Blackwood, the Fourth Baron Dufferin who was descendent from Scottish settlers who moved to the County Down two centuries previous. By 1763, the family were created baronets. As for his mother, Helen Selina Sheridan, she was the granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, a prominent playwright in England. Her sister was Caroline Norton, who was a women’s rights activist.
Born in Florence, Dufferin would be educated at Oxford where he became the president of the Oxford Union Society thanks to his skills with debate. He would remain at Oxford for two years before leaving without getting a degree.
In 1841, he succeeded his father as Baron Dufferin, and was appointed as a Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria. The Queen would say of him that he was quote:
“Much too good looking and captivating.”
In 1856, he would take the schooner Foam and journey around the North Atlantic, visiting Iceland and Scandinavia. He would publish a book upon his return to England, Letters from High Altitudes, which was very successful.
Rather than pursue the life of an author, Dufferin would go towards the world of diplomacy. In 1860, he was the British representative on a commission to Syria to investigate how a civil war had started. He proved to be highly skilled at being a diplomat and would uphold Turkish rule in the area, while preventing the French from establishing a client state in Lebanon.
On Oct. 23, 1862, he would marry Hariot Georgina Rowan-Hamilton, his distant cousin, which was arranged to end the deep hostilities between the families. The couple would have seven children that reached adulthood.
After his success in Syria, Dufferin was made the Under Secretary of State for India in 1864. Two years later, he became the Under Secretary of War, and then two years after that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
In 1867, Dufferin’s mother passed away, leaving him devastated at the loss. He would build Helen’s Tower on his estate to honour her, and a railway station nearby was named for her, as was Helen’s Bay.
Following the death of his mother, Dufferin found his career moving quickly.
On June 25, 1872, he would be appointed as the Governor General of Canada, beginning a six-year career that would see many changes come to the country. The move could not have come soon enough for Dufferin, who was in danger of financial ruin due to his high spending and large debts.
Lord and Lady Dufferin arrived on the Queen Victoria and thousands of people came out to see them arrive. The Ottawa Daily Citizen would write quote:
“The mayor, looking exceedingly gorgeous in all the glory of a new toga and chain, awaited, with the respectability of the city at his back, the arrival of the nobleman, who henceforth, for a while, to represent the greatest of earthly sovereigns on the continent of America.”
The newspaper then described Lord Dufferin as he stepped off the boat, stating quote:
“He is about five feet eight inches in height, sparely built and does not weigh apparently more than 140 pounds. His face is expressive of power and thought and there is an air of quiet determination about him that inclines an observer to conclude he is a man who can decide and act for himself.”
After several speeches, Lord and Lady Dufferin then made their way to Rideau Hall. The Citizen would state quote:
As soon as he took office, it became clear that Lord Dufferin would not be like his predecessors.
It was Dufferin’s feeling that the two Governors General who came before him were not giving the position the prominence it needed. He decided he would do something different and became much more active in his role and endeavored to get to know ordinary Canadians. Knowing both French and English, he would converse with many Canadians, who found him to have a lot of charm and to be very hospitable.
Dufferin would describe the role of being a Governor General as quote:
“Within the walls of the Privy Council I have as much right to contend for my opinion as any of my ministers, and in matters of the moment, they must not expect me to accept their advice merely because they give it but must approve it to my understanding and conscience.”
It was Dufferin’s hope that by being more active, he could strengthen Canada’s constitutional link with Britain, something that had suffered under Monck and Young.
Unlike his predecessors, he also followed Parliament with interest. He had do this through the newspapers as he was barred from entering the House of Commons except on special occasions. He was abreast of what was happening in Parliament enough that he would advise cabinet ministers to abandon policies if he felt they were mistaken in their path.
Lady Dufferin could attend the House of Common debates, and she would do so and then report back to him what had happened in the day.
On March 6, 1873, Lord Dufferin would deliver his first speech from the throne to open the second Parliament of the Dominion.
Lord Dufferin was also close friends with Sir John A. Macdonald and the prime minister would even become the godfather of the Dufferin’s youngest child Frederick.
Macdonald would say that Dufferin was quote:
“Pleasant in manner and has been both by speech and by letter very complimentary to myself. He is however, rather too gushing for my tastes.”
In order to have a more active role for himself and future Governors General, Dufferin would establish the Office of the Governor General in the Parliament buildings.
One year after he came to office as Governor General, Dufferin was faced with a crisis caused by the Pacific Scandal. This scandal, which involved several Conservative Members of Parliament accepting money from Sir Hugh Allan for the contract to build the transcontinental railway, would lead to the downfall of the Sir John A. Macdonald government. Dufferin would prorogue Parliament so that an enquiry could be established. The enquiry ruled against the government and Macdonald would resign as prime minister.
Dufferin would say that Sir John A. Macdonald’s fall was quote:
“Almost a necessity in the interest of the public morality of the country.”
Dufferin received criticism for establishing the enquiry and implementing a prorogue of Parliament. The Brantford Daily Expositor would write quote:
“A new Governor General is required for Canada. After all that has transpired, Lord Dufferin cannot be acceptable to the people. It is useless to attempt to magnify the office and forget the man. Loyalty to our country and to the mother country alike, forbid tame submission to impositions.”
Dufferin then asked Liberal leader Alexander Mackenzie to take over as prime minister, which he did until the 1878 election when he lost to Sir John A. Macdonald.
Overall, Dufferin wasn’t a fan of Mackenzie, and he described the Liberals as non-entities.
Also in 1873, Dufferin would establish the Governor General’s Academic Medals to reward Canadian students who achieved superior academic grades in school. To this day, the medals remain the most prestigious that can be awarded to a student and more than 50,000 have been awarded.
While Charles Monck had renovated Rideau Hall in 1866, Dufferin came in and began several extensive projects on the official residence of the Governor General. A ball room was added in 1873, while the Tent Room was built in 1876 to accommodate the functions held at the residence.
Dufferin also wanted ordinary Canadians to enjoy the grounds of Rideau Hall. To that end, he would built a skating rink, costing $1,624 of his own money. The only condition to use the rink was that the public had to be properly dressed.
Dufferin had a love of athletics and would skate and curl, and even set up a toboggan run for his children. Dufferin was said to have a great deal of physical energy and sailed as much as he could. He would also fish for salmon in remote areas of the country when he could.
Unlike his predecessors, Dufferin wanted Canada to have more control over its own affairs in order to prevent American encroachments into Canadian territory. He feared that without it, Canada would be annexed by the United States within a generation.
In 1874 when Canada and the United States were looking at a trade deal, Dufferin appointed Father of Confederation George Brown as the leading British commissioner, which was a big advance over the role Sir John A. Macdonald had received in the treaty negotiations for the Treaty of Washington in 1871.
In 1875, Dufferin pushed for the first major revision to the British North America Act, which would allow the Canadian parliament to follow the British parliament in its practice of examination, rather than being limited to British custom as it was in 1867.
Dufferin would also prevent the execution of Ambroise Lepine, who was a Metis leader sentenced to death for shooting Thomas Scott. While Scott was the son of one of Dufferin’s tenants on his estate in Ireland, Dufferin commuted the sentence of Lepine to two years in prison after he was appealed to by French Canadians who supported the Metis cause.
Dufferin wanted Quebec to remain happy as he felt the province was an integral part of Canada being a successful country. He would say that Quebec quote:
“Has in great measure saved the English population from Yankification.”
In his proclamation announcing the commuting of the sentence Dufferin stated quote:
Lord Dufferin also had a love for Quebec City and when city officials began to demolish the old city walls, he was appalled. He would persuade them to stop the demolition and to repair and restore what was damaged. A century later in 1985, Old Quebec became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Dufferins would become the first Governor General couple to use La Citadelle in Quebec City as a second vice-regal residence.
Despite spending most of his time in Ottawa, Dufferin made a point to visit every province in Canada, which by that point consisted of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. He was also the first Governor General to ever visit Manitoba, which he did in September 1877. While in Manitoba, with his wife Lady Dufferin, they would each drive a spike into the line of the still-in-construction Canadian Pacific Railway. To honour them, the first engine on the railway was named the Lady Dufferin.
The Brantford Daily Expositor would write quote:
“The visit to the North-West will form one of the brightest pages in the history of Manitoba. If the Earl of Dufferin had returned to England without having made this trip to Manitoba, although he had visited every other province, he would have left North America without having seen the Dominion of Canada, although five years its Governor. We feel proud of the honor he has conferred upon us.”
During his visit, he would take a canoe trip down the Winnipeg River. It would be reported quote:
“The vice-regal party returned to Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon. The canoe trip down the Winnipeg River was much enjoyed. They visited Gimli yesterday and were warmly welcomed by the Icelanders. Stormy weather was experienced on the lake.”
In 1876, Dufferin made a long official visit to British Columbia to help diffuse tensions between the province and Canada over the delayed railroad. His visit went a long way to ensuring that British Columbia didn’t leave Confederation. His visit to the Maritimes three years previous had also helped reduce hostility to Confederation there.
The month-long trip in the province was greeted warmly by the residents of the new province. In Victoria, the leaders of the town would announce in a proclamation quote:
“We, the Mayor and Council of Victoria, British Columbia, desire to accord to you a hearty welcome and beg respectfully to offer our felicitations to Your Excellency on the occasion of the arrival of yourself and Lady Dufferin at Victoria.”
Another article would state quote:
“The magnificent speech delivered by the Governor General to the citizens of Victoria, on the eve of leaving British Columbia, stamps Lord Dufferin as one of the ablest, most eloquent, and most patriotic representatives of royalty that Canada has ever had.”
The article would continue talking of the travels of the Governor General, stating quote:
“With the present visit to British Columbia, the Governor General may be said to have visited and travelled over the greater part of his vast domain. From Thunder Bay to Halifax and now to the Pacific, the courtly figure and well-turned sentenced of the Earl of Dufferin, and the countenance of his fair and graceful Countess are quite familiar.”
Lady Dufferin had a love for Canada and would write her mother about the country during her stay. These were compiled into My Canadian Journal. Later in her life, Lady Dufferin would say that the happiest time of her life was the time she lived in Canada. She was considered to be the most effective diplomatic wife of her generation.
The final public appearance as Governor General for Lord Dufferin was in Quebec, when he laid the foundation stone for Dufferin Terrace, which was a walkway that overlooked the St. Lawrence River.
Lord and Lady Dufferin were highly popular in Canada, although some politicians didn’t like how willing Dufferin was to get into politics on his own initiative.
The Montreal Gazette would write of Lord Dufferin upon his return to England, quote:
“We shall not likely forget the manner in which Lord Dufferin not merely did his duty to us as the representative of the Queen, but as the first of Canadians so long as he lived among us.”
Throughout Canada, Lord and Lady Dufferin have schools, public buildings and streets named after them. A statue of Lord Dufferin also stands at the Manitoba Legislature. Dufferin Island in British Columbia is named for him as well.
After leaving Canada in November 1878, Lord Dufferin would have posts in Russia and Turkey, and served as the Viceroy of India from 1884 to 1888.
In his later life, Dufferin would become known for living beyond his means and this would lead him to become the Chairman of the London and Globe Finance Corporation. This mining promotion and holding company would fall into insolvency in 1900 after it was found that the owner of the company, Whitaker Wright, was a con artist. Dufferin lost a substantial amount of money in the venture. Soon after, his eldest son, Lord Ava, was killed in action at the Boer War.
Two years later, on Feb. 12, 1902, Dufferin died.
Sir Charles Tupper would say of Dufferin quote:
“While at Ottawa, Lord Dufferin had to handle affairs of state through two great political crises. He knew that it was not his province either to dictate or direct, but his wise, statesmanlike bearing, and his strong personality made it possible for him to exercise very real influence on the destinies of the Dominion…His brilliant speeches, made while at Ottawa, were of immense value and importance to the country.”
Lady Dufferin would live for many more years, passing away on Oct. 25, 1936.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Wikipedia, Ottawa Daily Citizen, Governor General of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Brantford Daily Expositor, Montreal Gazette, Manitoba Free Press, Nanaimo Daily News, The Vancouver Province, Montreal Star