As we progress into the 20th century, the role of the Governor General would continue to change. We are also getting closer to the Canadian-born Governors General.
Today, we are looking at Prince Arthur, the seventh child and third son of Queen Victoria, who would become the first member of the Royal Family to serve as Governor General of Canada.
Throughout this episode, even though he is known mostly as the Duke of Connaught, I will refer to him as Arthur.
Arthur was born on May 1, 1850 in Buckingham Palace. Throughout his childhood, he was often considered to be the favourite child of Queen Victoria.
As a young man, he developed an interest in the military and that would lead him to attend the Royal Military College in 1866. Commissioned as a lieutenant with the Corps of Royal Engineers on June 18, 1868, he would subsequently serve in the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the Rifle Brigade. During his time in the military, he would serve in Ireland, Egypt, India South Africa and Canada.
In Canada, he was an officer with the Montreal detachment of the Rifle Brigade where he helped defend Canada during the Fenian Raids.
He would write upon arriving in Montreal quote:
“Most anxious am I to consider for the time being Montreal as my home, and to lose no opportunity of becoming full acquainted with its institutions, its people, and its commerce.”
As a member of the Royal Family, he would also be an emissary for the Queen and would spend two months in Canada touring. He would travel throughout the country, and visit Washington D.C. in January 1870 where he met with President Ulysses S. Grant. As a prince, he would often attend balls, garden parties and he became the first member of the Royal Family to attend the opening of Parliament during this time. On Oct. 1, 1869, he was given the title of Chief of the Six Nations at the Grand River Reserve in Ontario and the name Kavakoudge, which meant sun flying from east to west under the guidance of the Great Spirit.
The honour was part of a large ceremony, consisted of about 500 Indigenous chiefs, men, women and children. Arthur had asked for the honour, which had been granted by the chiefs.
The Brantford newspaper wrote quote:
“It is an old custom of among the Indians to feast upon a buffalo provided by newly made Chiefs but as buffalos are somewhat scarce in the Indian territory, the largest ox to be found is generally taken in its place and the meat is eaten is imagined to be the real buffalo meat.”
The Brantford newspaper continued, stating quote:
“Prince Arthur was very proud of being a Six Nations’ Chief and he would feel pleased to see them enjoy themselves. All were welcome to the feast.”
Paulin Johnson, the celebrated Indigenous poet, was at the ceremony and would write years later quote:
“Young Arthur was delighted. Royal lads are pretty much like all other boys. The unique ceremony would be a break in the endless round of state receptions, banquets and addresses.”
Around this time, Lady Lisgar, wife of the current Governor General Lord Lisgar, wrote a letter to Queen Victoria, expressing her hope that Arthur would one day become Governor General.
He didn’t just have fun, he was there to do a job with the military and Arthur did just that. On May 25, 1870, he fought against the Fenians during the Battle of Eccles Hill.
Arthur was having a dinner party when he heard that the Fenians were approaching. The Montreal Star wrote quote:
“The Prince, hearing that his regiment was under orders to leave for the front, immediately took leave of his host and hostess and proceeded to Point St. Charles. It is said that when the news first reached his hears, he, in a tone of voice which fully bore out the words, muttered ‘Hang the Fenians’ and who will say the suggestion was not a good one?’”
The battle saw 680 Fenian militia and one cannon, attack 600 members of the 60th Canadian Battalion. Arthur was put in charge of 110 men from the Royal Artillery and 250 volunteers from Montreal. The battle would be a victory for the Canadians who lost no one, but the Fenians suffered two dead, 18 wounded. For his service in the battle, he was presented the Fenian Medal. He would write of the battle quote:
“We opened fire and they rapidly broke up.”
On May 24, 1874, the birthday of his mother, he would become the Duke of Connaught. Five years later, he would marry Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia at Windsor Castle. Together, they would have three children. The marriage would be a happy one, but Arthur would also maintain a relationship with Lady Leslie, the sister of Jeannie Churchill, the mother of Sir Winston Churchill.
Arthur would continue in his military career for the next two decades, eventually rising to the rank of General. He had hoped to become the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, a post held previously by his brother Prince George. But this would not happen. In 1882, he became the last member of the Royal Family to lead a major battle formation, which he did at the Battle of Tell-al-Kebir in Egypt.
Macleans would describe Arthur’s focus on the military in 1911, stating quote:
“He will worry himself into fidgets over the shoes worn by a regiment. Time and again he has invaded a garrison in India to see whether the bayonets are clean. He is known by sight to thousands of private soldiers in the British Army from Egypt all the way to India. His tours of inspection are never perfunctory. He has tasted the food, tested the medicine and even carried the items of the private soldier in performance of his perpetual inspection.”
While Arthur was not popular with officers, privates liked him as he put great importance on their health.
In 1890, the Duke and Duchess came to Canada and took a cross-country trip on the Canadian Pacific Railway, becoming the first members of the Royal Family to cross Canada on the railroad.
On June 26, 1902, he would become a field marshal and served as the Commander-in-Chief of Ireland from 1900 to 1904.
On March 6, 1911, Arthur was appointed as the Governor General of Canada. His brother-in-law, the Duke of Argyll, had served in the position as well.
Macleans would write of Arthur quote:
“He has at all times shunned the crowd. He has brought up three children in complete seclusion. He avoids with an almost morbid dread anything calculated to render him the focus of the public eye.”
Edmonton News-Plaindealer also praised Arthur, calling him a man of highest character, very painstaking and very just. It would continue stating quote:
“Like most quiet men of effective character, the Duke of Connaught is a careful thinking and some of his epigrams show a profound grasp of human philosophy over a wide range of subjects.”
Many Canadians were not only happy that a member of the Royal Family was coming to stay in Canada, but that it was Arthur, who was so familiar with the country. The North Vancouver Express wrote quote:
“The Duke’s connection with Canada is a long and pleasant one. Forty years ago, when a young man of 20, the Duke came to Canada and served as a soldier through the Fenian Raid. Since then, the Duke has several times returned to Canada, each time enhancing not only his own, but his family’s popularity.”
On Oct. 13, 1911, he was sworn in as Governor General of Canada, becoming the first member of the Royal Family to do so. The arrival of Arthur was a major event in Quebec City. Guns shot a royal salute for the prince and Arthur was greeted by Sir Charles Fitzgerald, the acting Governor General. A guard of honour was present, and a band played music as British flags flew around the entire area.
Arthur would state in his first speech as Governor General, quote:
“I thank you for which the hearty and loyal welcome, which in the name of the province of Quebec you have extended to the Duchess and myself. Your province, rich in historical memories, is usually the first to welcome the new Governor General and bid him Godspeed at the end of his tenure of office. Thus his first and last impressions of Canada are fraught with that atmosphere of prosperity and progress which characterizes your beautiful land.”
Soon after arriving, Arthur would open Parliament, wearing his full field marshal’s uniform.
When Arthur became Governor General, the young men who played football on the grounds around Rideau Hall suddenly lost their area to play, which had been established by Earl Grey. Arthur did not realize that this was the case, and when he found out he personally spoke with the men and told them they could use the ground and that he would like to see a game around Thanksgiving of that year.
The Ottawa Citizen reported quote:
“He expressed a desire to see how the Canadian rugby game was played stating that he was an old football player himself.”
Coming to Canada, Arthur brought with him his wife and their youngest daughter. Arthur quickly found himself to be very popular with Canadians and they would travel throughout the country during their time in Canada. This included a stop at the 1912 Calgary Stampede. At the Stampede, Arthur and his daughter were treated to a large display of cowboys, the Indigenous and a parade.
The Ottawa Journal would write years later quote:
“The Duke of Connaught toured Canada from coast to coast. In a month after his arrival in Ottawa, the duke paid visits to nearby cities including Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Hamilton. In the early summer of 1912, he toured western Ontario, part of Quebec and then went to Winnipeg.”
Four days a week, Arthur would work at his office at Parliament Hill and hold private receptions with dignitaries and other members of various political parties.
He would also serve as a member in good standing of the Toronto Press Club.
Sir John Willison, would say of Arthur while introducing him to the Toronto Canadian Club, quote:
“In all his elations with the Canadian people the Governor General had borne himself with the quiet dignity of a Prince, the broad sympathy of a democrat and the fine courtesy of an English gentleman.”
Like other Governors General, he and his wife were not a fan of Rideau Hall. The Duchess would write it resembled quote:
“A gymnasium flanked by a riding school with a very poor little church connecting the two.”
The First World War would break out while Arthur was in Canada as Governor General. While he was serving as the Colonel-in-Chief of the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment, he remained in Canada throughout the war.
Throughout the war, Arthur was active in the war effort, encouraging military training and readiness of Canadian troops, charities and conducting hospital visits. His wife, the Duchess of Connaught would work with St. John Ambulance, the Red Cross and many other organizations in Canada. His daughter, Princess Patricia, would lend her name and support to the new Canadian regiment, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
Connaught was often critical of the wartime leadership of Canada. He remained friends with Robert Borden but privately he would state he was a weak wartime leader. Connaught would also try to have Sir Sam Hughes dismissed from his post as the Minister of Militia. I looked at the life of Hughes on Canada’s Great War and he was a real piece of work.
As a man who had spent his life in the military, Arthur relished the role of the soldier. Throughout the war, he would wear his field marshal’s uniform and would address troops at barracks and training grounds, often without the guidance of his ministers.
For Sir Robert Borden, he was not pleased with this as he felt Arthur was overstepping himself as Governor General. Borden would say of Arthur that he quote:
“laboured under the handicap of his position as a member of the Royal Family and never realized his limitations as Governor General.”
His time as Governor General would come on Nov. 11, 1916, two years to the day before the end of the war.
After leaving Canada, one of his trips was to France where he visited with the Canadian troops on the front lines in the trenches.
In 1916, just before his departure, Arthur would lay down the same cornerstone that his older brother, the late King Edward VII, had set down on Sept. 1, 1860 at the Parliament Buildings. The buildings had suffered a terrible fire the previous year and was under construction at the time.
He would say in a speech at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto quote:
“It is with the greatest regret of both the Duchess and my daughter and myself that we are leaving the Canadian shore. I should not like you to think that I am a relatively new Canadian. In coming back, I came to a country which I knew fairly well and which had already shown to me the greatest kindness.”
After the war, Arthur would commission a stained glass window at Bartholomew’s Church in Ottawa to honour the fallen soldiers of Canada.
Sadly, his wife had been ill living in Canada and she would pass away in March 1917. In the months after her death, Arthur was described as others as looking weary and old with service.
For the remainder of his life, the Duke would mostly just attend public engagements, and travel throughout the British Empire.
When the Second World War started, he returned to military service and was seen as a grandfatherly figure for the new recruits.
On Jan. 16, 1942, at the age of 91, he would die at Bagshot Park. One of his last duties happened only two weeks before his death when he inspected two regiments of the Canadian army at Aldershot.
Prime Minister Mackenzie King would write quote:
“The morning was broken into by word of the death of the Duke of Connaught, and necessity of hurriedly writing a small tribute for the evening papers and getting off the necessary telegrams to the King and Princess Patricia.”
King in his public statement would say quote:
“Through the term of office the Duke of Connaught as Governor General was as long ago as the years 1911 to 1916, his devotion to the duties of his office while in Canada, and the friendly interest which he took at the time in Canadians and in Canadian activities, won for His Royal Highness not only the lasting respect but the affection of the Canadian people.”
The Kingston Whig Standard would state of Arthur quote:
There have been few of Canada’s Governors General who held such a large place in the memories of Canadians after their term of office expired as did the Duke of Connaught. This was partly because he was an excellent viceroy and highly popular with Canadians during the years while he was at Ottawa and partly because he appeared to have as happy memories of Canada and as much affection for Canadians as Canadians had for him.”
In Canada, a neighbourhood in Calgary is named for him, as is a street in Montreal and a community square in Charlottetown. Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay, was also named for him, as is the Connaught Railway Tunnel under the Selkirk Mountains.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, Wikipedia, Montreal Star, Edmonton News-Plaindealer, North Vancouver Express, Ottawa Citizen, Library and Archives Canada, Victoria Times Colonist, Kingston Whig Standard
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