Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
by Rev. J. W. Pedley


Lord StrathconaFrom the remote fastnesses of Labrador to the office of High Commissioner for Canada at London is a long journey in human achievement. From rough intimacy with Indian trappers and half-breeds to familiar companionship with the political and social leaders of an Imperial capital is a wonderful experience. But Lord Strathcona bore himself as naturally in London as in the wilderness, he had a quiet but proud simplicity that was his secure fortress in all circumstances. He had reserve, but no arrogance. He had all the self-confidence which belongs to the breed from which he sprang, but he had also an infinite discretion in temper and outlook. All his career reveals the exact balance of caution and courage which was the signal test of fitness for service in the Hudson's Bay Company and for dealing with primitive men in primitive conditions.

There are many outstanding peaks in the life of Lord Strathcona. He was greatly instrumental in checking insurrection at Fort Garry. He dared to oppose Sir John Macdonald, with whom he was associated in reconciling the Red River half-breeds to the authority of Canada, and by a deliberate but guarded statement on the floor of Parliament forced the Conservative leader to resign office. He regained the confidence of Sir John Macdonald, gave a reciprocal confidence, and powerfully assisted in organizing the syndicate which constructed the Canadian Pacific Railway. In the crisis of the enterprise he and George Stephen pledged their private fortunes to maintain its credit. He and Stephen insisted that the company must build along the
north shore of Lake Superior and fulfil to the letter the contract with the country. He sought to settle the quarrel between Manitoba and the Dominion over separate Schools, and in the endeavor had the sympathetic confidence both of Sir Charles Tupper and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. In the office of high Commissioner he was as freely trusted by Liberal as by Conservative Administrations. He was the munificent patron of McGill University. He was President of the Bank of Montreal and Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. He organized and transported a troop of Western horse to South Africa. These are the peaks, but between are many works that he builded and many monuments to his power and genius.

Lord Strathcona never gave rashly, but he gave generously. He did not pledge his word readily, but it never was broken. He was shrewd and even crafty in negotiation. There was more of smoothness in his voice than there was in his manner of dealing. He got his own share of credit for the success of enterprises in which he was engaged. He was, perhaps, not so fine a spirit as Lord Mountstephen, for he had more of personal ambition than his old associate in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Perhaps Mr. R. B. Angus, of whom we hear little, was as sagacious in council and as resolute of purpose. Supporting the group was Van home, of dauntless spirit and splendid optimism. But it is unnecessary to assess the honor that falls to each, as it would be idle to deny the supreme qualities of Lord Strathcona. These were exhibited over a wide range of activities, and he never, was shamed by any company in which he stood. Through all no spot rests upon his personal honor; no mean ingratitude disfigures his life. Few such men appear in any country, and what he was and what he did are a cherished possession of Canada and the Empire.

Lord Stratheona was not a good speaker. But he had authority, and he had power. As there was seldom any flavor of partisanship in his speeches, he was one of the few men who had the ear of the whole house when he spoke. He could, however, be angry and even bitter, and this is not surprising to those who recall the long and desperate assault that was made upon the builders of the Canadian Pacific and the insidious methods employed in the London money market to destroy the railway's credit. The great enterprise which we now alternately praise and blame had a long season of adversity in a stagnant Canada. Very often the whisper ran that bankruptcy was impending. In those times it was not easy for Lord Strathcona and his associates to take censure with smiling faces and to go on with stout hearts in a desperate struggle. But if the fight was hard the reward was adequate.

For nearly twenty years we had no knowledge of Lord Strathcona's attitude towards political controversies in Canada. In London he was the servant of the Canadian people. It is not recalled that he ever spoke a word which excited partisan attack in this country. This was not merely the result of discretion. As has been said, he was not easy in the mould of the partisan. He believed that the destiny of Canada could be trusted to either party, and that devotion to the Empire was the common passion of the Canadian people. Old members of the Press Gallery will remember how approachable he was and the fine courtesy with which he listened and answered with apparent frankness but in gentle words that revealed nothing. This courtesy he kept to the end, as a multitude of Canadians know who enjoyed his attention and his hospitality in London. In assertion of the duty and loyalty of Canada to the Empire he was always fearless; in all else he was wise, tolerant and discreet throughout all his long and faithful service as High Commissioner. For the office he has established ideal traditions, but who can fill his place with such honor to Canada and snob advantage to the Empire?


The life of Lord Strathcona should be of special interest to Canadians because it is intimately bound up with a most eventful period of Canadian history. Beginning at a time when the rebellion of '37 had been overcome it had to do with the experiment of government in the union of Upper and Lower Canada, the consummation of Confederation, the acquisition and opening up of the North-west, the troubles with the half- breeds under Riel, the solution of transportation problems and the adaptation of the Dominion to the Imperial concept. Lord Salisbury said that to know the Nile is to know Egypt. In a sense to know the life of Lord Strathcona is to know Canada.

It is only fair to say that in attempting this task I had no idea of producing a biography, in the technical sense of that term, that is an exact and detailed account of the life of its subject. I have not attempted anything in the way of original research and have been at no great pains to verify every statement made. I have simply made use of material available to all and have tried to set forth in a popular style the well- known facts of this great Canadian's life. I have made free use of, and am indebted to, the works of Beckles Willson, Dr. Bryce, Prof. Tracy, W. R. Richmond and many others. I have endeavored to portray those events and sketch that progress of 'Canada with which Lord Strathcona was closely identified. My only qualifications for this task were a deep interest in the subject and a residence in Canada since Confederation. I have endeavored to exhibit the salient features of a remarkable character and to show how in this new country he had found an opportunity for their exercise. If I have succeeded in showing to the young manhood of this country an example which they might well follow I am content. If I have failed the fault is mine. The subject itself is worthy.

J. W. P.

May 1, 1914.


Chapter I. The Lure of the West
Chapter II. The Hudson Bay Company
Chapter III. Life in the Wilderness for Thirty Years
Chapter IV. New Problems of the North-West
Chapter V. The Role of Peacemaker
Chapter VI. Mr. Smith's Account of Scott's Death
Chapter VII. The Red River Expedition
Chapter VIII. Member of Parliament and Chief Commissioner
Chapter IX. First Appearance in Parliament
Chapter X. Riel the Rebel
Chapter XI. Governments and Railways
Chapter XII. A Large Order
Chapter XIII. The Canadian Pacific Railway
Chapter XIV. Trials of Strength
Chapter XV. Personal Opponents
Chapter XVI. Out of Politics
Chapter XVII. Old Age Activities
Chapter XVIII. New Interests and Further Responsibilities
Chapter XIX. High Commissioner
Chapter XX. The Strathcona Horse
Chapter XXI. The Deceased Wife's Sister Bill
Chapter XXII. Canada from 1838 to 1914
Chapter XXIII. Practical Maxims
Chapter XXIV. The Last Reception
Chapter XXV. An Honored Burial
Chapter XXVI. Voices of Appreciation

Return to Canadian Scottish History  |  Return to our Online Books Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus