The world was at war, and Canada was heading towards one of the most divisive and troubled times in its history. It was in that situation that Canada would receive a new Governor General after the departure of the Duke of Connaught.
This time, the Governor General was a man by the name of Victor Christian William Cavendish, the Ninth Duke of Devonshire. Throughout this episode, I will refer to him as Cavendish.
Born on May 31, 1868 in London to Lord Edward Cavendish and Emma Lascelles, Cavendish, like all the Governors General so far, grew up in luxury.
He would be educated at Eton College and then transferred to Cambridge on May 30, 1887.
At Cambridge, he would be initiated in the Isaac Newton University Lodge, and served part-time in the Derbyshire Yeomanry, where he became a second lieutenant in 1890. A decade later, he was promoted to Major.
In 1891, just before he graduated from Cambridge, his father died and Cavendish ran for a seat in the British Parliament. He would win his seat, becoming the youngest member of the House of Commons at the time.
On July 30, 1892, he would marry Lady Evelyn Petty-Fitzmaurice. If that name sounds familiar, its because her father, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, was also the Governor General of Canada from 1883 to 1888. Together, the couple would have seven children, the last of which died in 1987.
In his political career, which lasted 17 years, Cavendish served in a wide variety of portfolios including Treasurer of the Household and Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
After his uncle passed away in 1908, Cavendish became the new Duke of Devonshire and could no longer hold his seat in the House of Commons as he now had to have a seat in the House of Lords.
For the next eight years, he held various positions including Conservative Chief Whip, Government Chief Whip and Civil Lord of the Admiralty.
On Aug. 8, 1916, he was appointed as the new Governor General of Canada, coming to the country during a very chaotic time for the nation.
Cavendish had only found out that he was being considered for the post a few days before the Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916. He would write in his diary what his father-in-law, the former Governor General had said of the past, quote:
“A good many attractions but at the same time, many difficulties.”
Cavendish was actually the second choice for the position, after Prince Alexander of Teck but he was serving in France at the time and was unwilling to leave the front.
He gave some consideration to refusing the post but his father-in-law convinced him to take it. Cavendish’s wife would write to his aunt quote:
“I never dreamt Victor would accept and frankly was horrified when he went out to refuse and came home having accepted.”
Almost as soon as he was appointed, there was already controversy. This was because British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith put forward Cavendish as his recommendation as Governor General to King George V. Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden was not consulted at all over the matter, even though that was the practice at the time.
Borden, naturally, was insulted by this and it would impact the relationship between Cavendish and Borden at first
On Nov. 11, 1916, he was sworn in as the Governor General. Coming to Canada, the family had to ride on a British war ship due to the danger of German U-boats patrolling the ocean waters. Upon arriving in Halifax, there was no quote:
“thunder of fort and fleet”
In fact, the ship arrived silently in the harbour on a cloudy and chilly day. Even with the quiet arrival, the streets from the pier to the Provincial Building were lined with troops. A guard of honour of three officers and 100 soldiers escorted the family as the 66th Princess Louise Fusiliers band played for them.
Macleans would describe Cavendish, stating quote:
“He had the figure and appearance of a strong artisan, with the brevity and courtesy of a king and the jolly sense of fun of a Falstaff. He gave a great wheezy guffaw at all the right things and was possessed of endless wisdom.”
His first public appearance would be in Ottawa on Nov. 21, 1916 when he inspected an overseas battalion.
Despite how he was appointed, without consultation with Borden, the prime minister warmly greeted them at Rideau Hall once the Governor General and his family arrived.
Women’s suffrage was growing in popularity in the country, and socialist changes were happening in the Canadian Prairies. Along with all this, the country was deeply divided over the issue of conscription, with English Canada supporting it but French Canada firmly against it.
On the advice of Borden, Cavendish introduced conscription to the country. This would fracture the country and that division would last for decades, well into the 1990s and the Quebec separatist movement.
After the Halifax Explosion decimated Halifax on Dec. 6, 1917, Cavendish toured the shattered city. He would meet with the survivors of the explosion and the women of the Voluntary Aid Detachment.
Cavendish would send a thank you to President Woodrow Wilson for his help with the rescue efforts amid the Halifax Explosion. He would state quote:
“We recognize in it, and in the generous offers of assistance, to the stricken city of Halifax, which have been received from many quarters of the United States, a further proof of that community of feeling which unites the two people in a bond of mutual sympathy and interest.”
With his visit to Halifax, he and his wife were met by General Benson and Lt. Col. F. McKay, who escorted them to the devastated areas of Halifax and the various hospitals and shelters that had been set up. They also brought with them boxes of flowers that could be presented to the patients at various hospitals. Upon arriving at a ruined home in the centre of the ruins, they were emotionally impacted by the site of a child’s cot and a baby carriage. The Duchess would be moved to tears over the sight. At Camp Hill, Cavendish gave a five-year-old boy a large flower. The child was playing with a toy frog and asked if his frog could have a flower as well, and he was given a second flower. Cavendish and his wife would attempt to speak with and shake the hands of all the patients at the various hospitals they visited.
After Canada achieved a victory at Vimy Ridge, Cavendish used the victory to encourage reconciliation between French and English Canada, something he was mostly unsuccessful at.
He would spent much of his time helping various organizations in the war effort including the Canadian Patriotic Fund, the Canadian Red Cross and the Boy Scouts of Canada, of which he was chief scout.
Throughout his time as Governor General, Cavendish also did his best to consult with not only the Prime Minister, but the Official Opposition in the House of Commons.
Cavendish also took a strong interest in the lives of Canadians, and would travel the country. He focused heavily on the development of farming in Western Canada and would often attend agricultural fairs, while also discussing agricultural issues with farmers.
In his speeches, he would often speak of Canada being a world leader in agriculture and agricultural research. At a banquet at the Canada Club in 1916, he would say quote:
“Imperial statesmen will have to provide a system by which the great self-governing dominions of the Empire will be able to work out their own destinies in the light of what were their responsibilities to the Empire as a whole.”
Cavendish was a lover of the arts and would often host theatre performances at Rideau Hall, and he would frequently visit the National Gallery.
Unlike other Governors General, he was not interested in sports and preferred shooting to anything involving skating, hockey or football.
He would receive an honorary degree from McGill University in 1916, during his first tour of Quebec. He would say during his speech quote:
“Whatever the cost to this generation we are determined it shall be carried on until such a peace is secured that future generations may be proud and grateful of the part we are taking in it.”
On Nov. 3, 1917, his daughter Maud became the first daughter of the Governor General to be married in Ottawa when she married Harold Macmillan, an aide-de-camp of Cavendish. The reception would take place at Rideau Hall.
It was also in 1917 that Cavendish presided over the modest ceremonies in Ottawa to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Confederation, which he described as quote:
“quite dignified and appropriate to the occasion in wartime.”
On Nov. 5, 1917, Cavendish would visit the former home of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, where the first transmission of the human voice happened in 1874. The two men spoke as a memorial was unveiled to honour the home’s place in history.
In 1918, Cavendish travelled to Washington to meet President Woodrow Wilson. That year, he participated in no fewer than 70 public functions across Canada. This included on June 29 when he reviewed a United States infantry battalion that was in the process of heading overseas.
At one point while in Peace River, Alberta at a banquet, Cavendish was finishing the first course when a man came up to him and whispered in his ear, quote:
“Hang on to your fork duke, there’s pie coming up.”
Cavendish, who was always a jovial man, laughed and kept a firm grip on his fork.
In 1919, the Governor General hosted Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, during his tour of Canada.
In 1920, Borden was exhausted from serving as prime minister throughout the entire war and he was looking to resign. He wanted to choose a successor but did not know how to choose as his caucus was highly fractured due to the conscription crisis. Cavendish would write on July 1, 1920 that Borden had asked each faction in his party should choose a first and second choice for who would be the next leader. Cavendish would state in his diary that Sir William Thomas White receive the most votes. White was too exhausted himself from being Minister of Finance and would refuse the position. On July 7, Borden came to Rideau Hall to see Cavendish and he brought with him Arthur Meighen. The next day, at Cavendish’s office on Parliament Hill, Meighen became the new prime minister of Canada.
Both Cavendish and Meighen got along well and had worked closely through the past few years.
Cavendish’s time as Governor General would come to an end on Aug. 2, 1921.
As is seen with the other Governors General, he was very sad to be leaving Ottawa. He would write quote:
“It was really horrid and I could hardly help breaking down. Very unhappy to see the end of Ottawa.”
Interestingly, Cavendish was the last Governor General to maintain an entirely British household during his stay in Canada. He was also the last Governor General to be appointed without consultation with the Canadian government.
During his time in Canada, Cavendish would donate the Devonshire Cup, which is given to the champion of the Canadian Seniors Golf Association.
While Borden and Cavendish got off to a rough start initially, by the end of his tenure the two would be friends. Borden would say of Cavendish quote:
“No Governor General has come with a more comprehensive grasp of public questions as they touch not only this country and the United Kingdom, but the whole Empire.”
Borden would actually try to push for Cavendish to have another term as Governor General but he was told that this was impossible.
On Aug. 3, 1921, Cavendish would say of Canada that it had a bright future, and the brightest prospect of any country not affected by bad trade that other parts of the world were dealing with.
For the next few years, Cavendish worked for the League of Nations, and then became the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
In that position, he opposed Lord Delemere, who wanted self-government for the white settlers in Kenya. Cavendish would campaign to protect the interests of the Africans who lived there. He would write the Devonshire White Paper in 1923, which is the reason Kenya did not develop into an apartheid state like was seen in South Africa.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he was welcoming of all races. In June 1924, he was speaking in London stating that Canada did not want Slavic or Eastern European immigrants. He would state quote:
“What Canada wants, is English, Norwegian and Scottish people.”
He would add they made the best immigrants and that Canada should have a selective immigration policy.
On April 12, 1925, Cavendish suffered a severe stroke that would change him. His biographer wrote he was changed from quote:
“a calm, impassive and patient man into at best, a morose invalid and at worst a ferocious bully.”
The Ottawa Journal reported of the stroke quote:
“The Duke spent a good night, however, and his condition today was declared to be satisfactory.”
He would stop speaking directly to his wife, instead relaying messages by means of her secretary.
Cavendish would pass away on May 6, 1938.
The Ottawa Citizen wrote of him quote:
“He was a big, stolid man, a lover of country life, an admirer of the days when men rode like gentlemen in coaches rather than like crashing cads in foul stinking motorcars.”
The Windsor Star would state quote:
“His Grace was not a colorful individual. The qualities he possessed were those of sincerity, friendliness and a deep devotion to duty…Canada will remember the Duke as an unassuming, sincere man who devoted himself to aiding the dominion in the carrying out of its war responsibilities, and as one who was interested in all philanthropic works, radiating friendliness to people of all classes.”
Vincent Massey, the man who would become Canada’s first Canadian-born Governor General, would say of the death of Cavendish, quote:
“Canadians will learn of the death of the Duke of Devonshire with the greatest regret. His governor generalship of the Dominion coincided with the latter days of the war and the early days of peace, when Canada turned her energies from the conflict to the great task of civil re-establishment.”
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, Biographi, Library and Archives Canada, Wikipedia, Winnipeg Free Press Farmer, Ottawa Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal, Victoria Daily Times, Halifax Evening Mail, Kingston British Whig,