After Lord and Lady Aberdeen left Canada, a man who had experience in Canada and actively campaigned to be Governor General would take on the mantle of the vice-regal position.
His name was Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, the Fourth Earl of Minto. In this episode, I will simply refer to him as Lord Minto.
Born in London to William Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound and his wife Emma on July 9, 1845, Lord Minto would earn his education at Trinity College at Cambridge after attending the college from 1864 to 1867.
In 1867, he would join the Scots Guards as a Lieutenant, serving until 1870. Two years later, he joined the Roxburghshire Mounted Rifle Volunteer Corps as a captain.
He would also work as a newspaper correspondent with the corps during this time and would see action in Afghanistan, Spain and Russia. He was also involved in sports. Described as a short, fit man, he would spend several years participating in rowing, racing and hunting, often competing under the name of Mr. Rolly.
In 1876, while riding his horse, he fell badly and broke his neck. He would recover and a few years later, Sir James Paget, a famous surgeon would say quote:
“You are one of the most extraordinary persons who have broken their necks and recovered.”
By 1882, he had reached the rank of Major.
In 1883, he would travel to Canada for the first time when he was made the military secretary for the Marquess of Lansdowne during his time as Governor General of Canada from 1883 to 1885. The two men had been friends for years and had attended school together. That year, he would also marry Lady Mary Caroline Gray on July 28. She was the sister of Lord Grey, who I will talk about in the next episode of this series. Together, the couple would have five children.
While in Canada with his family, he would become active in raising a Canadian volunteer force to serve with the British Army in the Sudan in 1884.
During the North West Resistance, he would serve as the Chief of Staff to General Middleton.
In Canada, the couple’s daughter Eileen was born and was nicknamed La Petite Canadienne by Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald.
He was then offered the command of the North West Mounted Police but turned it down to return to Britain so he could pursue a political career.
Upon his leaving Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald was reported to have said quote:
“I shall not live to see it, but some day Canada will welcome you back as Governor General.”
Unfortunately, his political aspirations went nowhere so he went back to his military roots and started to promote a volunteer army in Britain.
In 1888, he was promoted to colonel and took over the command of the South of Scotland Brigade.
In 1889, he resigned his commission and officially became the Earl of Minto in 1891.
When Lord Aberdeen’s time as Governor General of Canada was coming to an end, Lord Minto began to actively campaign for the position. He would write to Lord Wolseley at the British War Office quote:
George Stephen, a former president of the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1881 to 1888, would recommend Lord Minto for the position.
On Nov. 12, 1898, he officially became the 8th Governor General of Canada. Arriving at midnight, he would speak to the public at an official ceremony the following day. He would state quote:
“It is very encouraging to me to receive such hearty words of welcome on assuming the duties and responsibilities of my high office and it is very pleasant to me to feel that any small service I may have rendered to Canada in the past have not been forgotten.”
After the political upheavals that came after the death of Sir John A. Macdonald in 1891, Lord Minto enjoyed a period of stability in Canada that was marked by a strong nationalism that was growing among Canadians. At the same time, the economy was booming and a massive amount of immigrants were arriving in the country.
Unlike previous Governors General, Lord Minto had a strict sense of protocol and a narrow social circle. As a result, there was a limited number of guests who were invited to official occasions at Rideau Hall.
A common theme of Governors General at this time, as we have seen, is that they did not like Rideau Hall. Lord Minto found it to be inadequate for the governor general and he offered for the National Gallery of Canada to have its location there instead. He would have the Minto Wing built on the east end of Rideau Hall to provide accommodation for his children. The wing would be damaged by fire in 1904.
On Dec. 1, 1898, Lord Minto was made the honorary Lt. Colonel of the Governor General’s Foot Guards. This began the tradition of appointing Governors General as the honorary colonels of the guards that continues to this day.
During this time, from 1899 to 1902, the Second Boer War proved to be a major issue for Canadians and the government. While English Canadians favoured participating in the conflict, French Canadians were opposed to it. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier would allow a volunteer contingent of 7,000 Canadians, equipped at their own expense, to participate in the conflict. Lord Minto would organize the Canadian Patriotic Fund to help care for the Canadian veterans of the war and their dependents.
The Ottawa Citizen reported quote:
“In response to the suggestion from His Excellency Lord Minto, subscriptions flowed in from every city, town and hamlet in the Dominion, and even from Canadians in the United States, England and other countries.”
Around this time, he would also lend his support to Guglielmo Marconi’s experiments with wireless telegraphy in Canada, as well as the Arctic voyages to establish Canadian sovereignty of Captain Joseph Bernier.
The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, who would later become King George V and Queen Mary, visited Canada in 1900 and travelled with Lord and Lady Minto to Western Canada and up to the Klondike.
During the Royal tour, they would visit Banff where they took part in a shooting party. The Windsor Star reported quote:
Lord Minto would write of seeing the Klondike, calling it a wonderful experience and stating quote:
“There seems to have been an idea that we would hold ourselves aloof and refuse generally to meet all classes or interchange ideas. We have done our best to see everyone and do everything that time allowed.”
Lord Minto would urge reforms to the systems of liquor licensing and royalties on gold dust, while increasing investment in Yukon infrastructure. He would say quote:
“The Dominion Government seemed to have looked upon the Yukon as a source of revenue, as a place to make as much as they could, and have used the proceeds largely for political corruption instead of the development of the country.”
After the tour was over, Minto recommended that Thomas Shaughnessy, who was the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, be given a knighthood. Sir Wilfrid Laurier was against this idea as he did not like Shaughnessy. Lord Minto put the recommendation in anyways. This bothered Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who would draft a new policy that stated any Canadian up for knighthood had to be approved by the Prime Minister before the list was sent to London.
While Lord Minto was seen as stiff and a stickler for protocol, he could often surprise people around him. On April 26, 1900, during the Ottawa-Hull fire, he helped fight the fire with the firefighters and even dug bodies out of the rubble the next day.
On Dec. 6, 1901, Lord Minto held a skating party on the Ottawa River. During the party, Bessie Blair, the daughter of Andrew George Blair, the former premier of New Brunswick, fell through the ice. Henry Albert Harper would dive into rescue her but sadly lost his life in the process, as would Bessie. His last words were apparently quote:
“What else can I do?”
The Calgary Herald reported quote:
“The remains of H.A. Harper, the young man who lost his life in an attempt to save Miss Blair, was discovered under the ice about 10 feet from the spot where he went into the water…Lord Minto arrived on the scene a few minutes after the bodies were found.”
Harper was the best friend of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the future prime minister of Canada.
King would write in his book The Secret of Heroism quote:
“the man I loved as I have loved no other man, my father and brother alone exempted.”
The loss of his friend deeply impacted King who became the head of a government committee tasked with finding a way to honour his friend’s sacrifice. In 1905, a statue of Sir Galahad was commissioned outside of Parliament to honour Harper. It is the only statue not portraying a politician or monarch at the main entrance. In 1909, before King’s first speech in the House of Commons in a career that would last nearly 40 years, he laid ten white roses at the base of the statue.
Lord Minto would travel extensively through Canada, as other Governors General had. He would visit the battlegrounds he had served at during the North West Resistance, and he would tour with the North West Mounted Police throughout Western Canada.
He would refer to the Canadian West as quote:
“The land of illimitable possibilities.”
He was also friends with US President Theodore Roosevelt and shared his passion for creating national parks.
Throughout his time as Governor General, Lord Minto was supported by his wife, who was described as intelligent and gracious and fluent in French. In Ottawa, she would serve as the honorary president of the Victorian Order of Nurses, the National Council of Women of Canada and the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire. She would also raise money, thousands of dollars, to organize cottage hospitals in western Canadian towns.
He was committed to the preservation of history and heritage, and that would lead to the creation of the National Archives of Canada. He would also support the government’s decision to purchase the Plains of Abraham in 1903. His love of history also meant he refused to sign a privy council order that authorized the construction of a road through part of the wall of the Quebec Citadel.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier would state of Lord Minto, quote:
“He took his duties to heart.”
Like previous Governors General, Lord Minto was also a lover of sports. He would found the Minto Skating Club in 1903. That club continues to operate to this day and it has produced some of Canada’s most famous figure skaters including Barbara Ann Scott. Figure skaters with the club have included a Olympic gold medalist, two silver medalist, a bronze medalist, and quite randomly and oddly, a future Nazi war criminal.
Lord Minto would also create the Minto Cup, which was awarded to the champion senior men’s lacrosse team of Canada and is now awarded to the junior men’s champion.
Lord Minto also pushed to see more history taught in Canadian schools, and he would establish the first anti-tuberculosis foundation in Canadian history.
By 1901, there were rumours that Lord Minto would be retiring and not finishing his term as Governor General. The Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer wrote quote:
“The Chronicle, which claims to be well posted as to the facts, says that Lord Minto disagreed with his ministers not only in respect to the honors to be awarded to Canadians to signalize the Royal visit, but also in connection with the awarding of commissions to Canadians for service in South Africa.”
In the end, he would not vacate his position until Dec. 10, 1904, when Lord Minto’s time as Governor General ended. He would write in his journal quote:
A portrait of Lord Minto would be commissioned, consisting of him in his hunting costume, hat in hand. The portrait would adorn the walls of the Montreal Hunt.
The Montreal Star would write of him years later quote:
“Throughout his term of office as Governor General, Lord Minto commanded the high regards of all classes of the Canadian people. There were many reasons his popularity, at the top of which came his common sense, his sincerity, and, of course, that devotion to duty.”
He had the hope of building a residence at the Canadian Rockies but that would be put to the back burner when he was sent to a new location in the British Empire.
From 1905 to 1910, Lord Minto served as the Viceroy and Governor General of India.
Around this time, he would speak of Canada once again. He would state quote:
“I predict a great future for the western continent. It is a land of incalculable riches. North West Canada today offers some of the greatest opportunities in the world.”
He would pass away on March 1, 1914.
Prime Minister Robert Borden would say of him at his death quote:
“The news of Lord Minto’s death will be received with profound regret by his friends in Canada. He served the Empire faithfully and well, both as a soldier and as a diplomat. His associations with the Dominion, both in early and later life, won him a well deserved place in the affections and respect of the Canadian people, whose deepest sympathy will be extended to Lady Minto and her family.”
In Canada, Lord Minto has been honoured extensively. Several streets are named for him, as is the SS Minto that sailed on the Arrow Lakes. Minto City in British Columbia was named for him, as is Mount Minto, Minto, Ontario and Minto, New Brunswick. In 1900 and 1902, he and Lady Minto appeared on the Canadian four-dollar bill.
Information from Biographi, Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Governor General of Canada, Montreal Star, Ottawa Citizen, Winnipeg Free Press Farmer, Windsor Star, Edmonton Journal,