After one of the most famous Governors General in our history left the country in 1893, he was replaced by a relatively unknown Governor General named John Hamilton-Gordon, the First Marquess of Aberdeen.
For the first time in this series, as well, we have reached a Governor General whose fame is eclipsed by that of his spouse. In this case, that is Lady Aberdeen, who had much more of an impact on Canada than he did.
Throughout this episode, I will refer to the Governor General as Hamilton.
Hamilton was born in Edinburgh to George Hamilton-Gordon and his wife Mary Baillie on Aug. 3, 1847. His grandfather served as the prime minister of Britain from 1852 to 1855, while his father was involved in the boundary negotiations between Canada and the United States.
Educated at the University of St. Andrews and Oxford, he would become the Seventh Earl of Aberdeen after the death of his eldest brother in 1870.
In 1877, he married Isbhel Marie Marjoribanks, whom he had been a lifelong friend with. Together, they would have a relatively happy marriage, which produced five children. They shared an interest in politics, religion and social reform.
In 1870, Hamilton joined the House of Lords and served as the Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire in 1880, then as the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1881 to 1885. In 1886, he was appointed as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
In 1891, prior to becoming the Governor General of Canada, Hamilton bought the Coldstream Ranch in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The ranch would launch the first commercial orchard operations in the region and create an industry that has become incredibly important to the economy of the Okanagan to this day. Due to his ranch, several places in the area are named for Hamilton including Aberdeen Lake and Haddo Creek. Their ranch, which covered 13,261 acres, had 2,000 cattle, 62 horses, 70 hogs, 70 sheep and 50 poultry. There were also 25,000 apple, pear and cherry trees on 100 acres of the ranch.
Macleans would write in 1906 quote:
“Canadian apples and plums are unsurpassable in the world, and those grown by Lord Aberdeen in the Okanagan Valley are unsurpassable in Canada.”
Aberdeen also invested in a jam factory in the area, and the creation of the Grey Canal for irrigation.
The Vancouver Daily World would write quote:
The couple actually visited Canada on a regular basis, and even took a cross-Canada tour at one point.
On Sept. 18, 1893, Hamilton was appointed as the Governor General of Canada. He had arrived in Canada the previous day.
The Vancouver Province would say years later quote:
“Lord Aberdeen’s selection for the governor-generalship came as no surprise, for both Lady Aberdeen and himself had long displayed the keenest interest in the development especially by way of colonization of the overseas parts of the Empire.”
Upon Hamilton’s arrival in Canada at Quebec City, there was actually very little in the way of citizens coming out to see him. The Ottawa Daily Citizen reported quote:
“The weather, which has been disagreeable since yesterday morning, continued to be cold and rainy so that at 9 o’clock this morning there were very few onlookers to witness Lord Aberdeen’s official landing on Canadian soil.”
The Dublin Freeman would write of the appointment quote:
“If Lord Aberdeen is only half as successful a Viceroy in Canada as he was in Ireland, the people of the Dominion will deserve to be congratulated.”
In Canada, the Scottish and Irish Canadians applauded the appointment, while French Canadians also supported it since he supported French Canada’s constitutional rights and could speak fluent French.
As with other Governors General, the couple were not pleased with Rideau Hall. Lady Aberdeen would describe the home as quote:
“put away in its clump of bushes.”
Almost immediately upon his appointment as Governor General, he would go through a time of political upheaval in the country.
When he arrived, Sir John Thompson was prime minister and the two became fast friends. Lady Aberdeen would write of Thompson that he was a quote:
“very lovable man and a sincere affection grew up between him and ourselves.”
Sadly, Thompson would die suddenly of a massive heart attack at Buckingham Palace on Dec. 12, 1894. Hamilton would say quote:
“Naturally, I am terribly shocked at the news. Not only because of the position which the late Sir John Thompson held as Prime Minister, but also because we were personal friends. Upon receipt of the news Lady Aberdeen at once sent to Lady Thompson a message conveying our heartfelt sympathy.”
It now fell to Hamilton, like Stanley before him, to choose a prime minister. He would write quote:
“Instead of one individual being marked out by circumstance and public opinion as the proper person for the vacant position, there are at least four of the existing Cabinet who considered they were each fully, or indeed, specially qualified for the position.”
Hamilton would choose Sir Mackenzie Bowell, who was ousted by his own cabinet in 1896 and replaced by Sir Charles Tupper. Tupper would only serve for 69 days before he lost the election to Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
In only five years as Governor General, Hamilton worked with four prime ministers.
During this time, Hamilton refused to appoint senators or judges that were recommended by Sir Charles Tupper between the election loss and the formation of the Laurier government.
The Vancouver Daily World reported quote:
“A well-informed politician told me today that Lord Aberdeen has positively refused to sign any orders-in-council making new appointments unless the Government would consent to have them equally divided between Liberals and Conservatives.”
Tupper had attempted to hold onto his office and had begun making those appointments, which Hamilton refused to confirm. This would set a precedent for future governors general. Hamilton would write quote:
“We had a few days of great tension, and Sir Charles did not hesitate to express his opinion that I was departing from precedents and infringing on the principles of self-government. The episode led, unhappily, to a complete estrangement for many years.”
As for Laurier, Hamilton was very impressed with him and would describe him as a man of quote:
“brilliant gifts and high qualities, which certainly made our relationship, official as well as personal, both pleasant and animating. He was a loyal friend as well as a faithful counsellor.”
Due to this support of Laurier, some Conservative politicians would boycott functions at Rideau Hall.
In late 1895, Francis Valentine Cuthbert Shortis shot several employees at the Montreal Cotton Company. He had pleaded insanity, which was backed up by two psychiatrists. He would be convicted and sentenced to hang on Jan. 3, 1896. A debate over the matter in the public began and the Canadian cabinet was split on whether or not to overturn the death sentence. It then fell to Hamilton to decide. As he was against capital punishment, he commuted the sentence to life in prison.
As Governor General, Hamilton would travel extensively throughout the country. In Regina, he would meet Chief Crowfoot, whom he called quote:
“The splendid Blackfoot Chief of magnificent ability and statesmanlike foresight, to whom Canada and the Empire owe so much for his wise leadership of his people.”
Hamilton had met Crowfoot at the first Canadian North-West Territorial Exhibition, along with other leaders like Chief Piapot and Chief Red Crow. Hamilton was also made an honorary Blackfoot chief and he would visit the Sarcee Indian Reserve in Alberta. In October 1896, he was adopted into the Seneca tribe on the Six Nations Reserve in Brantford. He was given the name De-To-Rouk-Pat, which means Clear Sky. The Weekly Albertan reported quote:
“The Governor General was given a most cordial reception, the unusual feature of which was there vigorous war whoops.”
Hamilton would, like the Governors General before him, had a love for Canada. He would say it was a great place to raise children, stating quote:
“No more healthy conditions could be found anywhere in the world, and instructors with the highest qualifications in all departments of education are available in the chief centres.”
He also was involved in many sports during his time in Canada. He would write in his memoirs quote:
“The sunny winters were in themselves a joy, with their winter sports on our own ice rinks at Government House, skating, hockey tobogganing, sleighing to which we ourselves added skiing, as it was through our children’s Swedish governess that skis were first introduced to Ottawa.”
In 1897, he would lead the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria, which was a milestone for Canada at the time. Queen Victoria would also send a telegraph to Canada thanking citizens for the celebrations.
By November 1898, his time as the Governor General was coming to an end.
Prior to leaving Canada, Hamilton would state that a new Rideau Hall be built that provided a better view of the Ottawa River and that Major’s Hill Park be utilized as a skating rink in the winter.
He would say according to the Ottawa Journal quote:
“The capital, like the Dominion, he said, would be bound to grow and he hoped the municipal representatives would take every opportunity to improve it.”
On Nov. 12, 1898, his term as Governor General ended and he returned to England.
Lady Aberdeen would say of their time in Canada, quote:
“Of all these 21 happy years, I think none were happier than the five we have spent in Canada.”
Back in Liverpool, Hamilton praised Canada by stating quote:
“Canada’s bold policy in turning towards England when the markets of the United States were closer to her. Canada is working out her own development and destiny, for her own sake, but, in doing so, she is necessarily working, also for the sake of the great empire of which she forms so splendid a portion.”
For his remaining years, he would serve in various levels of government including as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland again in 1905.
He would spend most of his later years at his estate that he had built in Aberdeenshire.
He would pass away on March 7, 1934.
Both Prime Minister R.B. Bennett and Opposition Leader William Lyon Mackenzie King would praise Hamilton. The Calgary Albertan states quote:
“The Prime Minister…reviewed briefly the career of the former Governor General, Lord Aberdeen, he said, had been a democratic peer who took his duties seriously and discharged them in a fine and capable manner. Mr. Mackenzie King referred to the qualities of friendliness and kindness which had distinguished both Lord and Lady Aberdeen.”
The Winnipeg Tribune would say of him, quote:
“Canada will remember him as a modest gentleman of friendly instincts, who lent his efforts to minimize political struggles, growing out of questions that savored of disunion. He was a good man, rather than a great one, with the instinct to cultivate moderation and national unity among the masses.”
I can’t talk about Hamilton without talking of the many accomplishments of his wife Lady Aberdeen, who was an extraordinary woman.
Prior to coming to Canada with her husband, Lady Aberdeen was active in social activism in England and Scotland, along with her husband. They would fund a school and hospital together, and health care would become an important cause for Lady Aberdeen throughout her life.
In Canada, Lady Aberdeen was struck by the isolated lifestyle of the pioneers and she would found the Aberdeen Association of Distribution of Good Literature to Settlers in the West. This organization would send books and magazines to settlers to help break up the isolation.
As the wife of the Governor General, she would host many social events, winter festivals and costume balls. Unlike previous Governors General spouses, she was far more politically involved. She would attend events, collect information for her husband and travel extensively. She would even give him advice about political matters in the country.
The Montreal Daily Witness wrote quote:
“Lady Aberdeen has much more prominence than the average wife of the Governor General, and in fact, much more is written about her and her work than about her lordship.”
In 1893, she became the first president of the International Council of Women. She would also co-found the National Council of Women in Canada and established branches in her travels across Canada. Working with Adelaide Hoodless, she also founded the Women’s Institute.
She was the first sponsor of the Women’s Art Association of Canada, and created the May Court Club to encourage well-off women to pursue charity work. She would also establish the Victorian Order of Nurses to give women better training and higher salaries in rural and poor populated areas.
She was known for working constantly at anything that she was passionate about. One Vancouver woman would say quote:
She would also introduce the Golden Retriever to the country, which her father helped originate.
While some streets are named for her husband in Canada, Lady Aberdeen has many more honours. The Lady Aberdeen Bridge, the first bridge upstream to cross the Gatineau River was named for her after she fell through the ice in the river and was rescued by locals. Aberdeen Avenue is named for her in Hamilton, as is Aberdeen Street in Kingston. She was also named a National Historic Person with a plaque on Sussex Drive in Ottawa.
She was the first woman to receive an honorary degree in Canada, which she received in 1897.
She would write quote:
“The ceremony was a decided ordeal and I simply quaked.”
She was also the first woman to address the House of Commons, which she did in 1898. She thanked the Members of Parliament for their gift of Royal Doulton China, painted by 16 artists from the Women’s Art Association. Her speech was described by the Toronto Globe as quote:
“grand as a piece of oratory and her voice was simply thrilling. She brought tears to the eyes of all who were around her. I never saw an audience so captivated by a woman.”
After her death on April 18, 1939, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King would state quote:
“It is upwards of 45 years since Lord and Lady Aberdeen came to reside at Rideau Hall. The years during which Lord Aberdeen served as Governor General were years from which have grown these national services with which Lady Aberdeen’s name will always be associated…Personally, I have few happier memories than those of the few days I spent in Scotland immediately following the Coronation and the close of the Imperial Conference of 1937, during part of which time I was the guest of Lady Aberdeen.”
The Owen Sound Sun Times would write quote:
“Lady Aberdeen will not speak again. Her passing causes many a Canadian woman to pause and think of the gracious personality of this woman, who entered so keenly into Canadian problems and Canadian life while living at Rideau Hall.”
I will end this episode with a quote that the Kingston Whig-Standard printed upon the death of Hamilton, stating quote:
“To the older generation of Canadians he will be remembered rather for his kindly and wide human sympathies than in his formal capacity as the representative of the British Crown. Together with his wife, he was ready and eager at all times to assist in any worthy cause.”
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Governor General of Canada, Biographi, Wikipedia, Ottawa Daily Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Journal, Windsor Star, Montreal Daily Star, Vancouver Daily World, Macleans, Vancouver Province, Kingston Whig Standard,