Today, we come to one of the more famous of the early Governors General. Born as Albert Henry George Grey, he is better known simply as Earl Grey.
Born on Nov. 28, 1851 in London to General Sir Charles Grey and his wife Caroline, Earl Grey’s grandfather was the prime minister, while his father was the private secretary to Prince Albert and later Queen Victoria.
Educated at Harrow School and then Trinity College, Earl Grey had a strong interest in history and law.
Upon his graduation in 1873, he became the private secretary to Sir Henry Frere, who was a member of the Council of India. Grey would also tour with Prince Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, through India.
In 1877, Earl Grey married Alice Holford and together they would have five children together. One child, Lillian, would only live to the age of four. This would spark in Earl Grey the desire to reduce infant mortality, which he would continue in Canada. As Governor General, he would visit Canadian farms and discuss ways to keep the milk free from impurities as contaminated milk was a major cause of infant mortality.
As with many other early Governors General, Earl Grey was drawn to politics and in 1880 he would be elected to the British Parliament. As a Liberal, he was supportive of women’s suffrage and would write quote:
“There are no questions which receive so little attention, or which, in my opinion, so urgently call for the close and serious consideration of social reformers, as those affecting the condition of women.”
Earl Grey was also an imperialist and would co-found the Imperial Federation League which had the goal of turning the British Empire into an Imperial Federation.
In 1886, Earl Grey would lose his seat in Parliament and eight years later, he would succeed his uncle and officially become the Fourth Earl Grey. With that, he took his seat in the House of Lords.
Over the next two decades, Earl Grey would serve as a director of the British South Africa Company, and serve as the Administrator of Southern Rhodesia for a time until 1899 when he became the Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland.
On Oct. 4, 1904, Earl Grey replaced his own brother-in-law, Lord Minto, as the Governor General of Canada. For Earl Grey, this appointment was perfect as he had been left nearly penniless after several investments in South Africa had failed.
The previous Governor General, Lord Minto and the brother-in-law of Earl Grey, would question Earl Grey’s appointment to his wife privately, stating quote:
“I doubt Albert’s level-headedness and enormous amount of harm may be done here by an impetuous action and want of judgement.”
British politician would have the same worries, referencing Earl Grey’s habit of long, flowery speeches to his friend Goldwin Smith, who was the editor of Canadian Monthly, stating quote:
“Have we sent you sufficiently superb windbag to rule over you in Ottawa? I thought grimly of you as I read his flummery in The Times today. I hope Laurier will keep Grey’s claws clipped.”
Arriving in Canada, Earl Grey was coming to a country that was booming in terms of its economy, industry and the growth of immigration.
He was also arriving to a country that was deep into the temperance question. Many who supported prohibition were happy that Earl Grey was now the Governor General as he was a temperance reformer himself. The Winnipeg Tribune wrote quote:
“His Lordship, whatever may be his ideas about the ultimate fate of liquor, firmly believes that at present, the best way to cope with the evils of the traffic is to deal with the effects, rather than the cause.”
Overall, his arrival was greeted with enthusiasm. The Merrickville Star wrote quote:
“The new Governor General is no stranger to Canada and the Canadians. Twice at least he has visited the Dominion and as it happens, he is the brother-in-law of the very successful outgoing Governor, Lord Minto.”
In 1905, Earl Grey would grant Royal Assent to the Acts that would create Alberta and Saskatchewan. On Sept. 4, 1905, only three days after Alberta and Saskatchewan came into being, Earl Grey joined Sir Wilfrid Laurier in Regina for the proceedings to welcome the new provinces. They were greeted by a parade of school children, numbering 900 in total, with a large celebration held in Victoria Park. Grey would say at the event quote:
“I acknowledge on behalf of His Majesty the assurances of your unaltered loyalty to his crown and person, and your devotion to his beautiful and beloved queen. I have listened with great account of your development and with ready sympathy to the expression of your belief that your province is destined to become a happy and prosperous home to millions of Britons.”
On June 16, 1905, his title was designated as Governor General of Canada and Commander-in-Chief of the Dominion of Canada as the country looked to increase its independence from Britain.
On Aug. 29, 1906, he would visit Saskatoon, arriving to see another parade of schoolchildren and to be greeted by James Clinkskill, the first mayor of Saskatoon. Earl Grey would say that even though Saskatoon was only three years old, it struck him to be like an extremely lusty infant.
Earl Grey was also heavily involved in the politics of the day. Macleans would write in 1911 quote:
“He is often in consultation with the First Minister and other members of Cabinet, discussing important affairs of state, public policy, or diplomatic relations, and offering suggestions and counsels to his advisors. Above all things, Earl Grey is no mere figurehead. Cabinet Ministers, as perhaps no one else, well know this.”
Of course, this was not always greeted with enthusiasm. Macleans, in another article in 1911, stated quote:
“His instinct for putting his finger into quiet places to see if they are hot, is still active. We have reason to believe that His Excellency has not always been as reserved as the Master of Parliament could have wished. It has been said that he has been a trifle hasty in offering advice and suggestions and requests, in high quarters where interference is resented.”
Throughout his time as Governor General, Earl Grey travelled extensively. He would journey throughout the nation, as well as the Dominion of Newfoundland which would not join Canada for another four-and-a-half decades.
In 1908, he would celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec. He could speak French fluently and was generally well liked in Quebec but Earl Grey’s plans to celebrate the founding of Quebec tended to focus more on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, than the founding of the city by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. It was because of Earl Grey that the Plains of Abraham would become a National Park. Various newspapers would latch onto this, with the London Telegraph giving $500. The paper would write quote:
“The scheme aims at consecrating and preserving forever the battlefields on the heights, equally commemorating the triumphs, the reverses, the heroism and the reconciliation of two races.”
While Earl Grey did try to bring together English and French speaking elites in Canada, he tended to have little understanding with his dealings with French Canadians and he had the belief that English was superior.
On Aug. 15, 1905, while in Quebec City to unveil a monument to those who fought in the Boer War, Earl Grey mentioned Admiral Nelson’s victory over Napoleon, but added that it was not a struggle between French and English, but between the principles of liberty, of freedom and of self-government, as opposed to those of despotism, militarism and centralized tyranny.
As Governor General, Earl Grey looked to enact social reform. He would support prison reforms, electoral reform and he encouraged Sir Wilfrid Laurier to support his idea of the Imperial Federation but Laurier was not interested in it.
Earl Grey would present banners of England’s patron saint, Saint George, to Canadian schools so he could make schools more imperial minded.
Earl Grey’s idea to create a railway hotel in Ottawa was something Laurier was much more interested in, leading to the creation of the Chateau Laurier in 1912.
On June 9, 1910, Earl Grey would prove to be a bit of a hero as well. It was on that day when a horse came racing down the street. Earl Grey, who was known to be an excellent horseman, rushed forward and seized the bridle so that the horse could be brought to a standstill. The Vancouver Province wrote quote:
“The street was crowded at the time and Earl Grey certainly averted what might have been a serious accident to someone.”
Earl Grey also ventured to change the view of Canada in England. He would take a trip in the summer of 1910 to show that Canada was not a frozen north. He would spend a month journeying through the Hudson Bay country area. The Windsor Star reported quote:
“More than any other man, he will accomplish this by his spectacular trip through the wild northland, arrangements for which will be completed in about a week. The party will be a little larger than was anticipated, probably 12 in all.”
The trip would take Earl Grey from Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay, through the Hudson straits and then on to St. John’s, Newfoundland. It would include a canoe trip from Norway House to Fort Nelson. He would then inspect the Hudson Bay harbours, and then sail on the ship named for him to Quebec, with the stop in St. John’s.
His visit to Newfoundland was something Earl Grey very much enjoyed. He would praise the weather as warm and sunny, and the scenery, adding that he would like to purchase a place in the Bay of Islands as a summer recreation resort for the Governor General of Canada.
During the trip he also visited Prince Edward Island and met Lucy Maud Montgomery. She would write in her journal quote:
“Earl Grey shook hands with me and began at once to talk about Anne of Green Gables and the pleasure it had given him.”
Upon his return to Ottawa, Earl Grey would state that the trip was delightful and much like a continuous picnic. Only one incident was reported when the cousin of Earl Grey, Charles, sprained a tendon in his leg when his canoe struck a hole in the bottom.
In all, the trip ran for 8,000 kilometres and would run from July 29 to the beginning of September.
One year later, plans were made for a trip to the Arctic Ocean, running down the Peace and Mackenzie Rivers. He would then be met by the HMCS Rainbow, which would take him to Vancouver. Unfortunately, with the Duke of Connaught coming to Canada, there was not time for him to make the trip and it would be abandoned.
Grey was also opposed to the Chinese Head Tax and when he was invited to British Columbia he turned it down because of the exclusionary measures being implemented by Premier Richard McBride.
After the Russo-Japanese War, Grey would become concerned about the Japanese and he would work with the federal government to find an alternative to the head tax. Even with this, he was appalled by the 1907 anti-Asian riots in Vancouver and he would arrange for Prince Fushimi Sadanaru of Japan to come to Canada on an official visit.
It was also because of Grey that Canada would take its first foray into creating its own navy, apart from the Royal Navy. He urged both Canada and Britain to let Canada take over the west and east coast naval bases. He was so intertwined with the idea of a Canadian Navy that the Naval Service Act of 1910 became known as Grey’s Bill.
Earl Grey would say at one point quote:
“The naval programme of the Dominion may possibly be objected to by some in Quebec, and perhaps other provinces are opposed to participation in the naval defence of the Empire. For the moment that is true, but I honestly believe that it is for the moment only.”
Macleans would write in 1911, quote:
“The establishment of the Canadian Navy is associated with Earl Grey. He undoubtedly used his influence to bring the Government to adopt a policy that would, in his opinion, be worthy of the Empire.”
Lord Grey was a supporter of the Canadian arts and would create the Grey Competition for Music and Drama.
Macleans would describe Earl Grey in 1911, stating quote:
“His concern in all things is not merely pilot and perfunctory. It is deep rooted. Personally, Earl Grey is a genial, kindly, unassuming man, with sufficient reserve of dignity to never forget his exalted station, for he rightly entertains high ideas of his office.”
He was also a lover of sports, as so many Governors General were. He would ski, snowshoe, curl, play golf, cricket and lawn bowling. He also loved fishing, billiards and bridge. His support of Canadian football would lead to him creating the Grey Cup, to be awarded to the winner of the Senior Amateur Football Championship of Canada. Today, the Grey Cup is presented to the champion of the Canadian Football League.
Originally, Earl Grey had planned to donate a trophy for the senior amateur championship but Sir Montague Allan donated the Allan Cup before he could do that. Earl Grey then ordered the trophy for the football champion only two weeks before the first championship game.
The first Grey Cup would be held on Dec. 4, 1909 between the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and the Parkdale Canoe Club. It would be won by the University of Toronto. The trophy was not ready for the game, and the club would not receive the trophy until March 1910.
In 1907, he watched as the Dawson City Nuggets played the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup after journeying 8,000 kilometres by dog sled, foot, boat and train. I talked about that legendary series on my other podcast Pucks and Cups.
He also saw potential for Ottawa and Canada. In the first issue of Macleans, he stated quote:
“I am treading on soil which, before the end of the present century, will carry the capital city of a nation of 80 million.”
He was a bit off on the population mark.
On Oct. 13, 1911, his time as Governor General came to an end, as did the Liberal rule of Canada after 15 years with Robert Borden becoming prime minister. The day he left, he saw that the men on the steamer The Earl Grey were having trouble stretching out a gangway from one steamer to another. Earl Grey was heard to yell “Never mind it boys” and he then jumped on the ship and assisted the Lady Grey in getting on the ship as well.
Laurier would say of Earl Grey quote:
“He gave his whole heart, his whole soul, and his whole life to Canada.”
Macleans would write quote:
“He leaves Canada with more virtues than were attributed to him by even the most sanguine of writers upon his arrival. Canadians have found enough error in him to convince them that after all he was really human, which is a much greater virtue than perfection.”
Earl Grey’s time as governor general was the longest of any Governor General since Confederation, and his term as Governor General was extended by one year in 1911, allowing him to serve for six years. This was made at the request of the King, who felt that the influence of Earl Grey on Canada was a good thing.
After leaving Canada, Earl Grey became the president of the Royal Commonwealth Society. He would also spend his time working on social causes including helping to improve the slums of London, and improve the status of the worker in the country.
On Aug. 29, 1917, he would pass away at the age of 65.
The Vancouver Daily World would say of him quote:
“The late Earl was a generous patron of the arts and sciences. He donated many trophies and has left behind him in Canada much by which he will be remembered for years to come.”
In 1963, he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Elsewhere in Canada, he is honoured with three schools named for him, as well as Earl Grey, Saskatchewan, Mount Earl Grey and the Earl Grey Pass in British Columbia.
Information from Governor General of Canada, Canadian Encyclopedia, Biographi, Wikipedia, Macleans, Library and Archives Canada, Winnipeg Tribune, Merrickville Star, London Telegraph, Windsor Star, Ottawa Journal, Earl Grey, Montreal Star, Vancouver Province,