This Week in History

"A Larger Part in the World of History"

For the week of Monday July 23, 2018.

On July 25 1898, Gilbert John Murray-Kynynmond Elliot, Viscount Melgund and 4th Earl of Minto, became governor general of Canada.

The Earl of Minto in 1899
Library Archives Canada MIKAN no. 3333793

Born in 1845 to a politically-prominent family in London, England, Gilbert Elliot became Viscount Melgund in 1859. He excelled in athletics while studying at Eton and Trinity Colleges, and joined the Scots Fusilier Guards in 1867. Seeking entry into British imperial administration, Elliot came to Canada in 1883, and served as military secretary to Lord Lansdowne, the governor general, until 1885. In this role, he helped to organize a contingent of Canadian voyageurs taking part in the Nile Expedition, a failed British mission to rescue British General Charles Gordon from Khartoum, Sudan, in 1884. He was also chief of staff to Major General F. D. Middleton, who commanded the North-West Field Force sent to suppress the North-West Rebellion of 1885.

Returning to Britain, Elliot succeeded his father as the Earl of Minto in 1891, but he said he wanted to play “a larger part in the world of history” than his seat in the House of Lords would allow. In 1898, he heard that Governor General Lord Aberdeen was nearing retirement. He campaigned for the position, using his connections within government to influence the colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain. Elliot was not his first choice. However, he won the appointment and made the transatlantic journey to Canada later that year.

The Lord and Lady Minto Skating on the Ottawa River in 1901
Library Archives Canada MIKAN no. 3386266

Elliot (Earl of Minto) was governor general from 1898 to 1904. During his time in office, he was outspoken in his views about Canada’s relationship with Britain, criticizing the Canadian government’s defence policies, and especially its equivocal response to the South African War in 1899. He also advocated for the construction of a national archive and founded Ottawa’s Minto Skating Club in 1904, which has produced some of Canada’s best skaters, including Olympic champion Barbara Ann Scott. After leaving Canada, Elliot was Viceroy to India from 1905 to 1910. He died four years later in Scotland

Rideau Hall, the Ottawa residence of the governor general since 1865, is a designated national historic site.

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