This Week in History


Canada's Governors General

For the week of Monday February 25, 2002

The office of Governor General changed forever on February 28, 1952. Vincent Massey, a senior public servant, became the Queen's representative in Canada — the first Canadian to hold this essential constitutional post. Occupying a position at the heart of public life, Governors General have made lasting contributions to Canadian society.

The Marquess of Lorne's painting of Lake St. Charles, Quebec City

The Marquess of Lorne's painting of
Lake St. Charles, Quebec City

© Library and Archives Canada / C-111807

Since Confederation, many Governors General have devoted themselves to supporting Canadian arts and culture. Lord Dufferin (1872-78), helped preserve the old fortifications around Québec, a city now recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Marquess of Lorne (1878-83) supported the establishment of Canada's Royal Academy of Arts and the National Gallery. Our most prestigious honour for literature, the Governor General's Literary Awards, was introduced by Lord Tweedsmuir (1935-40), a famous writer himself. Massey's (1952-59) promotion of a national arts festival eventually resulted in the creation of the National Arts Centre. Ramon Hnatyshyn (1990-95) instituted the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.

Tobogganing at Rideau Hall, 1880

Tobogganing at Rideau Hall, 1880
© Canadian Illustrated News, Vol. XXI, no. 11, p. 168
Reproduced from the Library and Archives
Canada's Web site

Canada's sporting community also benefited from the patronage of our Governors General. Some of the most best-known awards in Canadian sport today — the Stanley, Grey and Vanier Cups — are named after Governors General. Both Lady Byng, wife of Lord Byng (1921-26) and Jeanne Sauvé (1984-90), Canada's first female Governor General, created awards to honour athletes who demonstrate good sportsmanship. Lord and Lady Minto (1898-1904) founded the Minto Skating Club, home to many famous figure skaters. And Roland Michener (1967-74), an avid athlete, was an early supporter of Health Canada's "ParticipACTION" fitness program. 

Governor General Vincent Massey

Governor General Vincent Massey
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-144172

Throughout Canada's history, Governors General and their spouses touched the country's citizens in many ways. All travelled extensively: the Marquess of Lorne and the Marquess of Lansdowne (1883-88) even toured western Canada before the Canadian Pacific railway was complete! Lady Aberdeen, wife of Lord Aberdeen (1893-98), established the Victorian Order of Nurses, which to this day provides home care for the ill. During the First World War, Prince Arthur's (1911-16) wife, the Duchess of Connaught, sent Christmas cards and maple sugar to every Canadian serving overseas. Georges Vanier (1959-67) and his wife Pauline, both noted humanitarians, established the Vanier Institute of the Family to promote Canadian families' well-being.

Governors General Lord Monck, the Marquess of Dufferin, Vincent Massey, Georges Vanier and Vice-Regal consort Lady Aberdeen, are persons of national historic significance. Rideau Hall and the Québec Citadel, the Governor General's official residences, are National Historic Sites of Canada.

For more information on the constitutional role of the Governor General, visit the Governor General's Web site.

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