Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Who got to be governor general?

In most Canadian historical writing not by Sandra Gwyn or Barbara Messamore, the governors-general from before the 1950s drop in like aliens -- completely outside our universe when they arrive, and when they leave too. They dutifully talked with prime ministers, donated trophies, toured the nation, and left their names attached to schools and subway stations. Who were these guys?
The description of Lord Stanley may well serve for them all: 'he was fat, lethargic, honourable, not too bright, uxorious, without high seriousness but absolutely straight
Most of them came for the money:
Very few genuinely gifted grandees ever took these jobs on out of choice or out of ambition.... To aristocrats in straightened circumstances, these proconsular postings were quite exceptionally attractive; indeed, they were just about the most lucrative appointments in the British government's gift. ... They were ideal jobs for second-rate statesmen and backwoods aristocrats.
Dufferin (1872-78) and Lansdowne (1883-88) "were more charming than weighty," and Minto (1898-1904) "would probably never have risen to the high offices he held except in a country where some deference is still paid to the claims of birth and position." 

Oh, Canada.

(Quotations all from David Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, which continues to inform and entertain me. Toronto subway signage images from wikipedia and

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