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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter XIX. High Commissioner


The duties of this office, as set forth in the Constitution, are as follows:

1. To act as the resident agent of the Dominion in the United Kingdom and in that capacity to execute such powers and perform such duties as may from time to time be conferred upon or be assigned to him by the Governor-General-in-Council.

2. To take charge of and supervise the Emigration officers and agencies in the United Kingdom under the Minister of Agriculture.

3. To carry out such instructions as he may from time to time receive from the Governor-General respecting the commercial, financial and general interests of the Dominion in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. The salary to be $10,000 per annum.

Mount Stephen

Such is the formal statement of the duties attaching to this position. But that is simply the frame work. The value of the office depends upon the kind of man who is chosen to fill it. To this position Sir Donald Smith was appointed during the brief regime of Sir Charles Tupper. When Sir Wilfrid Laurier succeeded as Premier the appointment was continued, as it was desirable that the office should be independent of party polities. Up to the time of his death Sir Donald was the Canadian High Commissioner and there could not have been a better. For the remarkable thing about him was the intense personal interest he manifested in the discharge of his duties. He was an ardent lover of the Old Country and a devoted supporter of the imperial ideal, but even that was made subordinate to his affection for Canada. In all matters pertaining to the Dominion he spared no pains to advance her interests. Perhaps no man living was more optimistic in regard to the future of the land in which he had spent his life. And he was able to do far more than the ordinary man because of his experience, which had extended over, practically, the whole period of the Dominion's existence. He was intimately acquainted with all the leaders in all departments of Canadian life. He knew by actual personal observation the needs of the new country and, more than that, he had that quality of statesmanship which enabled him to devise the methods and work out the channels of development. At the same time he was persona grata to the people of the Old Land. His high office in the Hudson Bay Company brought him into contact with the public men of Great Britain, while his record in financial matters gave him a reputation in the world of business and money. His enormous wealth made it possible for him to sustain his position, not only with dignity, but with a large and generous expenditure—so that in the social world, which in the Old Country counts for so much, he was able to meet all demands and his entertainments and hospitality were on a lavish scale. It has been well said of him that: "It is not exceeding the bonds of simple exactitude to say that Lord Strathcona has proved, merely from a commercial and manufacturing standpoint, the most valuable High Commissioner Canada has ever had. His reports are marvels of conciseness and plain, practical, common sense. None of his predecessors were able to bring to a task the trained judgment and ripened experience of Lord Strathcona, or to command that attention in commercial circles to which his financial eminence entitles him." Another writer says: "Splendid as have been his benefaction, their demand on our gratitude has been eclipsed by the personal devotion by Lord Strathcona of his time, his talents, his influence, his social prestige, to whatever gave promise of fostering the development, the prosperity, and the well-being of Canada and Canadians." From the very beginning he was a pronounced success. He entered upon his duties with such enthusiasm, gave to them such indefatigable industry, threw himself, so to speak, with such energy and zeal into his new work, that he raised it from a comparatively Iow place to the highest post in the gift of the Dominion Government.

During this period Lord Aberdeen's term of office as Governor-General of Canada came to a close. There were those who would have liked to see a Canadian occupy the vacant position and had no hesitation in nominating Sir Donald Smith to the office. It was felt that the home Government in this way could recognize in a conspicuous fashion the importance of this rapidly growing Canadian colony. But Lord Strathcona himself strenuously opposed the movement. He refused to permit his name to be suggested as a candidate for the high office. It is a remarkable thing that, while as a lad, one of the motives impelling him to leave his native country, had been the desire to go to a land where there would be no "Lairds" to rule over the people, yet he returned to it with a devotion to the aristocratic idea which was insistent. He was an Imperialist of the Imperialists and would countenance nothing that might seem to lessen the prestige of the Imperial Parliament. He was opposed to the appointment of any Canadian. Such is the power of sentiment. He had spent the greater part of his life far away from anything connected with the upper classes. He had been identified with a great Company which paid respect only to merit, so that he had risen from the lowest grade to the position of Governor. But when he stepped out of that sphere into the realm of politics he could not break with the traditions of his ancestry, and held fast to the idea of the respect due to the upper classes. The Governor-General, as representing the monarch, should be chosen from those who were members of the highest ranks. In 1897 Sir Donald became a peer of the realm and was to be known henceforth as Lord Strathcona. His full title was Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal of Glencoe, Argyleshire and Montreal, Canada. The Herald's College produced a new coat-of-arms which was very interesting as suggesting the romantic career of the new Baron. The following is a technical description: Arms—gules on a fesse argent between a demi-lion rampant in chief or and a canoe of the host with four men paddling proper. In the bow a flag of the second, flowing to the dexter, inserted with the letters N.W. Sable in base. A hammer surmounted by a nail in saltire of the last. Crest on a mount vert, a beaver eating into a maple tree proper. Then follows the motto, "Perseverance." Credit must be given to the designer of this striking heraldry device, which is really a brief record of the life of Strathcona. Here we see the sable and beaver typifying the Hudson Bay Co.; the paddlers in the canoe represent the mode of travel on the great water ways of the new world in the early days; X. W. stands for North-West, the scene of his adventurous career; the hammer and nail signify the completion of the Canadian Pacific road, the new peer having with his own hand driven the last spike.


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