Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice

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After John Campbell and Princess Louise left for England, Canada’s fifth Governor General arrived at our shores. Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, the Fifth Marquess of Lansdown, would arrive during a tumultuous time in our history but would prove himself able for the job.

Throughout this episode, I will refer to him as Fitzmaurice.

Born on Jan. 14, 1845, Fitzmaurice was the great-grandson of Prime Minister Lord Shelburne, and the son of Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice and his wife Emily. The lineage of the family dated back to the 12th century where his ancestors were the powerful Fitzgerald and Fitzmaurice families.

Studying at Eton and Oxford, he succeeded his father upon his father’s death and became the Fifth Marquess of Lansdowne in 1866. He inherited a large estate of 121,000 acres and an immense amount of wealth.

That same year, he entered the House of Lords as a member of the Liberal Party. He would serve as the Lord of the Treasury from 1869 to 1872 and the Under-Secretary of State for War from 1872 to 1874 and the Under-Secretary of State for India in 1880.

In 1869, he would marry Lady Maud Evelyn Hamilton and the couple would have four children together.

With his experience in overseas administration, he was chosen to become the new Governor General of Canada in 1883.

The arrival of the new Governor General was tracked closely by newspapers. The Montreal Gazette would write quote:

“The arrival of the steamship Circassian with the Marquis of Lansdowne and suite on board, has been eagerly awaited during the day, and telegrams from the various stations as to the whereabouts of the steamer have been watched with great interest.”

Upon his arrival in Quebec City, Fitzmaurice was greeted by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and a cheering crowd of people. The Montreal Gazette reported quote:

“Sir John Macdonald also received a hearty salutation from Lord Lansdowne, who assured the veteran statesman of the pleasure it gave him to renew his acquaintance, made some years ago in London.”

Due to his Irish heritage, his appointment was unpopular with Catholic Irish residents of Canada. Sir John A. Macdonald was also concerned but would state upon meeting Fitzmaurice that he was quote:

“relieved that there was not a single sign of dissent to the cheers which rang along the train platform.”

Macdonald and Fitzmaurice would actually become close friends, often dining together at Rideau Hall.

A few days after his arrival, Fitzmaurice would give his first proclamation, which were the appointments of his secretary, aide-de-camp and more. He would also take a trip through Ottawa and visit Parliament Hill for the first time on Oct. 25, 1883.

The Montreal Gazette reported quote:

“They say they are charmed with Ottawa scenery and the Government House surroundings. His Excellency has extended his patronage to the Philharmonic Society’s concert at the grand Opera House.”

Fitzmaurice arrived in Canada as the country was in the middle of building the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was quickly going bankrupt due to the high costs of building through British Columbia.

As Fitzmaurice’s grandfather was a general with Napoleon Bonaparte, he spoke fluent French, something that endeared him to Quebec. He would write after his first speech, to his mother stating quote:

“Before I had got out half a dozen words of the French reply, the whole audience burst into rapturous applause, which continued more or less until I had finished. I suppose my French was less bad than some to which they have been used, at any rate, it pleased the good folk of Quebec.”

In 1885, the North West Resistance erupted in the west under Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. While the resistance lasted only for a few months, it caused a great deal of unrest in the Canadian West, something that the Canadian government did not want as it was pushing for settlement out there upon the completion of the transcontinental railway.

In order to calm the situation, Fitzmaurice travelled out to the Canadian West and met directly with the Indigenous to hear their grievances over their treatment by the federal government.

He would publicly object to the treatment of the Indigenous by Indian Agents, stating in a letter quote:

“These Indian agents are many of them great knaves and are being paid for old scores now.”

He would also meet with Chief Poundmaker, calling him quote:

“A magnificent fellow, dignified enough to be an emperor and looking like one.”

When he met Chief Crowfoot, he said he was quote:

“the most influential Indian of the whole lot and we are anxious to be as civil to him as possible.”

With the Metis, he wanted to be conciliatory, focusing on their land claims. He would write to Macdonald quote:

“Would it not be possible to send out a strong commission with powers to deal promptly and liberally with these land claims?”

Sadly, his efforts did not do anything to improve the situation of the Indigenous.

Despite his sympathy to the Indigenous and Metis, he would uphold the capital punishment sentence of Louis Riel. The International Arbitration Society would send a cable to Fitzmaurice asking him to intercede over the death sentence but he would refuse.

What did happen when Fitzmaurice went to the west was that he developed a great love for the physical beauty of Canada and the outdoors.

He would also become the first Governor General to travel the entire length of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was completed in November 1885. When he departed on a train from Ottawa on Sept. 24, 1885, the CPR was not finished yet, so he went by horseback and boat until he arrived at Port Moody, British Columbia. He then went to Craigallachie to drive in the last spike but poor weather had delayed the completion of the railway. Macdonald then told Fitzmaurice that he should return to Ottawa, which he did in nine days by rail, arriving in Ottawa on Oct. 26, 1885.

The trip was described in 1920 by Macleans Magazine, which stated quote:

“Lord Lansdowne was a singularly quiet man and hardly made an enquiry or a remark during the trip, though he took a great interest in everything.”

The trip, even though broken up slightly, consisted of Fitzmaurice traveling along the right-of-way of the railroad where tracks had not been laid down.

The trip also included going to Lethbridge, Alberta to see the coal mines, going to the Rogers Pass where the track ended only 25 kilometres short of where they would connect with the rest of the British Columbia track.

The Royal Society of Canada would state that this was the first occasion on which the new railway route had been followed on both directions across the mountains on the same overland journey.

During his visit to British Columbia, he received two Indigenous masks as gifts, which are now in the British Museum.

His stay in British Columbia was greeted with enthusiasm by residents of the province that had only recently been connected to the rest of the country. The Victoria Daily Times would report quote:

“His Excellency was received by the Mayor and Council and on his stepping ashore was greeted by a rousing, hearty British cheer.”

The newspaper would note that he would be visiting various dignitaries in the capital of the province, and attending many functions during his stay. The Daily Times reported quote:

“The reception according His Excellency, the Governor General, by the citizens of Victoria was a most cordial one, evincing the attachment of this remote portion of Canada to our most gracious Queen and the throne of Great Britain.”

While in Winnipeg, he became the third Governor General to visit the community and was greeted with enthusiasm by its residents. He would visit the province of Manitoba twice, both times of which were declared general holidays in the province.

The Manitoba Weekly Free Press reported quote:

“We welcome Lord Lansdowne to Winnipeg as infinitely the best and most deservedly popular Governor General who has yet ruled the Dominion.”

Due to this love of the Canadian wilderness, he would purchase a second residence for the Governor General, located on the Cascapedia River in Quebec.

Fitzmaurice estimated that in his time in Canada, he caught 1,245 fish, weighing a total of 29,188 pounds, with an average of 23 pounds. The largest he ever caught was 45 pounds, while 210 fish were over 30 pounds.

He would reminisce in Macleans magazine in 1920 of one fish he called Jack the Sailor, which he believed to be 50 pounds. He would write quote:

“If there were good days and brilliant successes, there were also disappointments and tragedies. I can still visualize the huge fish which I hooked in Jack the Sailor, which after running out the great part of my line, leaped into the air and then parted company. If ever I saw a 50-pounder, it was that fish.”

At Rideau Hall, he had two open-air skating rinks on the grounds, as well as a covered curling rink and toboggan slides. On Saturdays, residents could come to Rideau Hall where a military band played music.

On Dec. 22, 1883, the Lansdowne Tobogganing Club was formed, with the Governor General and his wife becoming patrons. The slide was installed at Fletcher’s Field, and ran for 600 yards with a wooden shoot that was 15 feet high and 50 feet long. By February, the club had over 350 members.

As a lover of curling, he became the skip for the Rideau Hall team that was called invincible for its play on the ice.

In 1886, there was a dispute between Canada and the United States over the issue of fishing rights. It would fall to Fitzmaurice to negotiate this, which he was able to. He would encourage the British government to support Canada in the negotiations. In the end, Fitzmaurice was able to get a new trade agreement accepted by President Grover Cleveland but it was rejected by the American Senate.

There were some issues during the time Fitzmaurice was Governor General and they came in the form of William O’Brien, an Irish man who seemed to have a personal crusade against Fitzmaurice.

On May 11, 1887, he would speak to a group of people at Albert Hall in Montreal, where police were stationed nearby to prevent any sort of hostility. In speaking, O’Brien criticized the fact that 20,000 Pounds was being paid by the citizens of Canada to the Governor General. He would stay in his speech quote:

“If he was making a bad use of it, they should pass their opinion on his conduct, as they had a just and constitutional right to do so.”

He also criticized Fitzmaurice for his landholdings in Ireland and the eviction of various people during hard times.

The Orangemen, an organization aligned with the Governor General, would state they were ready to defend the vice-regal if O’Brien continued in his attacks on him.

Before long, the uproar died down and O’Brien faded into history.

Fitzmaurice would make the first long-distance phone call in Canadian history, which he did during a curling match between Rideau Hall and a Montreal team in 1887. The purpose of the call was to provide the ongoing results to a scoreboard in Montreal.

In 1888, Fitzmaurice departed Canada with regret, stating he would miss its quote:

“clear skies, its exhilarating sports, and within the bright fire of Gatineau logs, with our children and friends gathered around us.”

He would give much of the credit to his success as Governor General to his wife, who helped him along the way. It was Lady Maude who held a party for 400 Sunday School children at Rideau Hall that was a huge success that helped endear the new Governor General to Canadians.

Fitzmaurice enjoyed sports and played cricket, becoming the top scoring player on the Rideau Hall team, which defeated teams led by Members of Parliament and Senators.

Despite leaving Canada, he and Macdonald would continue to exchange letters. Fitzmaurice would write to Macdonald in 1889 quote:

“I fancied myself back in my study in Ottawa, listening to your confidences as to House of Commons prospects and difficulties, unsuspected by the outside world, within the Cabinet.”

Macdonald for his part would call Fitzmaurice one of the best Governors General Canada had ever had.

The Winnipeg Tribune would say of Fitzmaurice’s time as Governor General quote:

“The social atmosphere at Government House was given more colour and scope, and winter sports were brought into play as a medium of social contact, and their fame in various respects given wider currency in Great Britain.”

In speaking of him personally, the newspaper wrote quote:

“Lord Lansdowne personality was pleasing, dignified, even impressive, and his popularity in all respects was evidenced on his departure in a signal fashion.”

The Montreal Star would write decades later, quote:

“He was a vigorous man, deliberate and cautious, yet always anxious to proceed by the rule of reason in determination of policy. Lord Lansdowne lived in an atmosphere of glowing life, which made him the fitting representative of the Crown in Canada, then in the early period of settled development.”

After he left Canada, Fitzmaurice would serve as the Viceroy of India from 1888 to 1894, then as the Secretary of State for War from 1895 to 1900 and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1900 to 1905.

In the 1910s, future British Prime Minister Bonar Law would introduce a young Canadian Member of Parliament to Fitzmaurice in England. Law stated the man, William Lyon Mackenzie King, would be prime minister one day.

On June 3, 1927, Fitzmaurice became ill and died suddenly only hours later. He was 82-years-old.

Upon his death, his estate was worth an estimated $103 million dollars in 2020 funds.

Lady Maude would pass away in 1932.

In Canada, streets are named for Fitzmaurice in Toronto, Sudbury, Ottawa, Sarnia, Fredericton, Westmount and Sarnia, among other places. The community of Lansdowne in Nova Scotia is named for him, as is Mount Lansdowne in the Yukon. Four schools in Ontario and Manitoba are also named for him. The Lansdowne Subway Station in Toronto and the Lansdown Skytrain Station in Vancouver have also been named for him.

I will finish off this episode with a quote from the Montreal Gazette, printed a few days after his death. It states quote:

“That Lord Lansdowne was a popular Governor General is evidenced by the fact that towns, townships, streets and schools have been named after him in nearly every part of Canada. In this way, there will be perpetuated in the Dominion the name of one of the outstanding statesmen of the Victorian time and whose keen and helpful interest in public affairs was maintained throughout the long life now brought to a close.”

Information from Biographi, Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, Wikipedia, Montreal Gazette, Victoria Daily Times, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa Journal, Winnipeg Tribune,

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