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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter XXVI. Voices of Appreciation


His day came to a close. It had been long and eventful. Its beginning was not very bright and his experience had been a chequered one. Few men had been tested as he had. Although fifty years of his life had been passed in comparative obscurity, during which his powers of endurance had been subjected to the severest strain, the last forty-four years had been lived in the light of almost glaring publicity. From the year 1870, when he took such a conspicuous part in the North-West Settlement, until the end came in 1914, he had been in every sense of the word a public man. And he had occupied no mean position. He had been in the very front rank. He had been recognized on the floor of Parliament, in the realm of finance, in the world of railway development as a man of extraordinary powers. He had been sought after by some and had been denounced by others. But he had come through it all—the second part of his history as well as the first—without danger. On both stages he had played his part well and had proved himself to be not only a good and useful friend and servant of the company but of inestimable value to the Empire.

The last few years, fortunately, were passed in a position removed from controversy and competition. There the real, kindly, genial and helpful spirit of the man revealed itself and he won for himself hosts of admirers and friends on both sides of the Atlantic. The sun was setting but it was going down in a cloudless sky, in a blaze of light, the clouds all cleared away and the evening beautiful and calm. To the last he was fortunate. He had no long and painful sickness. In October, 1913, he left his home at Glencoe and came to London to take up his duties there. There was no thought of anything happening but he was struck down by an illness which proved to be fatal and on the 21st of January his spirit passed away. When the news of his death was flashed to the ends of the Empire he was universally mourned as a good man, a worthy citizen and a true patriot. Public men in generous terms made appropriate reference to the loss which the Empire had sustained. We quote a few of these eulogies as examples of many pronounced in the different Dominions of the King.

The Premier of the Dominion of Canada, R. L. Borden, spoke as follows:-"It is fitting, I am sure all members of both sides in this house will agree, that we should pay a tribute to the memory of the great Canadian who passed away yesterday. I speak of Lord Strathcona as a Canadian, because, although born across the sea, his life work was almost altogether carried on in this country. I do not know of any man who was inspired by a higher conception of duty than was Lord Strathcona.

"As the weight of years pressed upon him it was almost pathetic to see the devotion with which he insisted on performing even the minor duties of his position. In all the time I have known him, and that was in the later years of his life, I was struck with the fact that time did not seem to have dimmed the freshness of his spirit, the vigor of his will or his strength of purpose.

"I consider that it would be a fitting tribute of respect to his memory that this house should stand adjourned until to-morrow."

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, leader of the Opposition, in seconding the motion said:—"Since Sir John Macdonald's time I do not know that there has been any Canadian, who, on departing this life, has left behind him such a trail of sorrow as Lord Strathcona. He is mourned by His Majesty, whose personal friend he was, by the authorities of commerce and of finance in the commercial and financial metropolis of the world, by the poor of London, by the people of Scotland, the land of his birth, with whom he never cornpletley severed his connection, and in Canada, by all classes of the community. This universal sorrow is a tribute only bestowed upon men of strong personality and to this class he undoubted]y belonged.

"He came to Canada when he was only eighteen years of age, more than seventy-five years ago. At that time all his possessions were the sound practical education of a Scottish lad, and more than the full share of the characteristics of his race, keen business courage, caution and firmness never loud and assertive, never failing to stand strong as adamant against all reverses, and never spoiled even by the most phenomenal success. He came as a simple clerk to the Hudson Bay Company, and from that station he rose step by step until he became, after the death of Sir George Simpson, in 1860, at first in fact, and afterwards both in fact and name, the governor of that historic company, a position which he held to the last day of his life."

The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Right Hon. Lewis Harcourt, sent the following message from the British Government to the Governor-General of Canada:- I desire on the part of His Majesty's Government to convey through Your Royal Highness to the Government and the people of Canada, an expression of deep sympathy in the loss the Dominion has sustained by the death of Lord Strathcona, High Commissioner for Canada in London for the past seventeen years, a sympathy shared by his many friends in the United Kingdom and throughout the Empire. His name has been for many years a household word among us, embodying to all the thought of Canada and her marvellous progress as well as his own notable career, distinguished by large public usefulness and magnificent liberality, and his memory is assured of an honored and abiding place in the annals of the Dominion to which he devoted his faithful services to the end."

In the Canadian Senate, Hon. Mr. Lougheed, leader of the Government, spoke as follows:— "Coming to Canada at a period when men were living who had lived when Montealm and Wolfe fought on the Plains of Abraham, he began to carve for himself that wonderful career with which Canada to-day is so familiar. Subjecting himself to all the hardships and rigors, the privations and adventures common to the Hudson Bay Company outposts along the northern fringe of Canada, he surmounted every difficulty until he reached the highest position in the gift of that most remarkable company. Lord Strathcona's presence in London was an asset of inestimable value to Canada. His princely and lavish hospitality, his beneficence as a giver, his philanthropy in assisting and endowing great institutions in Canada and elsewhere, placed him in the forefront of the great philanthropists of the age."

Sir George Ross added his tribute to that of the leader:—"In such cases," he said, "we usually say 'we stand in the shadow of a great career.' To-day we do not stand in the shadow, but in the luminous light of the greatest career of any Canadian with whom most of us have been acquainted. Of the various qualities which distinguished Lord Strathcona, the first, to my mind, is the resolute purpose he showed from his earliest days to his latest hours."

These are a few of the public utterances of which Lord Strathcona was the subject. They could easily be multiplied a hundredfold. The man gripped the age in which he lived and made a distinct and vivid impression. The remarkable story of his life captured the imagination. his success, to quote the word of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, had been "phenomenal." He had won his way through a tanglewood of difficulties, out into the open, and he had done so without ostentation. He was endowed with great gifts but they were solid in quality rather than brilliant. The simplicity of the man, his quiet and gentle manner, the reticence which avoided display, the absence of the vulgar assertive, self-advertising spirit which, too often, shows itself in the newly rich—all this impressed itself on those who knew him best. And through all the eulogistic utterances which followed upon his decease there runs this note. Men dwelt upon this conspicuous feature in his character, its reserved power. There was no exaggeration, no wildness of speech or action, no flights of fancy, no outbreaks of passion. He observed the golden mean, was moderate in all things, a wise man, sound of judgment, temperate in speech and yet possessed of a great determination. No finer example can be found of the old-time maxim, "Where there is a will there is a way." He had a will and he made a way. The building of the Canadian Pacific Railway was an illustration of the conquering power of his will, He had the faith and tenacity of purpose which, if they could not "remove mountains," at least could build a railway over them. It was that in the man which impressed his fellows—the dogged, steady persistence with which he followed his object till he had gained it.

His external bearing was mild and quiet but it concealed a spirit of adamant. Having once undertaken anything, committed himself to it, lie was not to be turned from its accomplishment. With tireless energy, marvellous industry, careful audacity, he carried successfully through enterprises which others, of a more showy ability, had failed to complete. The dependability of the man, his conscientious and thorough performance of his duties, great or small, secured for him recognition and promotion from the officials of the Hudson Bay Company and afterwards from the great leaders in the political and financial world. And when men came to speak of him after he was dead, trying to appraise him at his true value and analyze his amazing success and discover the secret of his extraordinary rise there is a singular unanimity in their verdict. They all fasten upon this outstanding characteristic that whatever his hand found to do he did it with his might. He lost no time securing influence, pulling strings, enlisting doubtful help, but went straight at the thing to he done and did it. Such a man with such a history and such a method and such a grand result is a man of which Canadians may well be proud. And he is one, too, who can safely be put forward as an example and inspiration to the aspiring youth of the land.


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