This Week in History


Birth of Sir John George Bourinot

For the week of Monday October 24, 2011

 On October 24, ca.1837, Sir John George Bourinot was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Though he loved his home in Nova Scotia, Bourinot spent most of his life in Ontario; first studying at Trinity University in Toronto and later becoming an influential figure on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Recognized as a Canadian journalist, historian, and civil servant, Bourinot is best remembered for his unparalleled expertise in Parliamentary Procedure and Constitutional Law.

Sir John George Bourinot
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-027119
When he first began working in Parliament, Bourinot was appointed to write the reports for the Senate debates. He gradually began working his way up in the system and served as assistant clerk for several years. In 1880, Bourinot became clerk of the House of Commons and served in this position until his death in 1902. His duties included taking minutes of the proceedings, certifying bills and orders, and advising the Speaker on matters of procedure. Bourinot’s extensive knowledge of parliamentary procedure led him to write the work for which he is best-known: Parliamentary Procedure and Practice... in the Dominion of Canada (1894). His life-long fascination with Canadian politics inspired him to write many other works, including How Canada is Governed (1895), which was used as a textbook in several provinces.

In addition to his role in the House of Commons, Bourinot was one of the founders of the Royal Society of Canada and served as its secretary, vice-president and president throughout his life. Some have credited Bourinot as being a man ahead of his time since he was advocating as early as 1881 for the creation of a national library, which would not be established until 1952. He believed there should be a national university and, even more significantly, he was also an ardent advocate for women’s education in a time when the right of women to higher education was only beginning to be acknowledged.

Sir John George Bourinot’s Ottawa residence
© Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-027136

While achieving many noteworthy distinctions, Sir John George Bourinot was designated a National Historic Person in 1938 for his influential roles as clerk of the House of Commons (1880-1902) and as founder of the Royal Society of Canada. Bourinot was certainly a life-long supporter of learning and his efforts contributed greatly to the learning opportunities of others.

Help us celebrate our centennial! Visit this month’s theme section on Learning Experiences!  Also, October is Women’s History Month! For more information on women’s education in particular, please visit A Pioneer of Women's University Education in the This Week in History archives.

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