II. Canada Years (1878-1883)
In 1878, Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain, persuaded Queen Victoria to appoint the Marquis of Lorne, her son-in-law, to serve as Governor General of Canada. Although the thought of being separated from her daughter was painful, the Queen realized that the appointment would be an honour and that both Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne would benefit from the experience. On November 14,1878, the couple left London for Liverpool, and the next day they sailed for Canada aboard the British ship Sarmatian.
Princess Louise Caroline Alberta
Deighton and Drunthrope, Lithographers; Scott and Fraser, Printers
Their crossing was difficult. The weather was so stormy that the ship's foresail and mainsail were lost during the voyage. When they arrived at the entrance to Halifax harbour, their signal for the assistance of a local pilot was not heard. Princess Louise's brother Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, was in Halifax at this time with his ship, the Black Prince. When the Sarmatian failed to appear on schedule, he put to sea hoping to locate her. However, his search was unsuccessful and he returned to Halifax. Finally, the Captain of the Sarmatian, knowing the risk, decided that he would try to enter the harbour without a pilot. He was successful and his ship dropped anchor on Saturday, November 23,1878. On Sunday morning, Princess Louise slipped ashore and attended church incognito. There, she gave thanks for a safe passage.
Halifax Welcomes the Marquis of Lorne and Princess Louise
From the Canadian Illustrated News
The Marquis of Lorne and Princess Louise were officially received on Monday, November 25,1878. Amidst cheers and ceremonial gunfire, they came ashore using her brother's launch. There, they were met by the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, and the interim Governor General, Sir Patrick MacDougall. They then proceeded to Nova Scotia's Legislative Assembly Chamber where the swearing-in ceremony took place. The Marquis of Lorne wore a black Windsor uniform with the Scottish Order of the Thistle across his breast. Princess Louise was dressed in a black bonnet and dress. Her face remained veiled during the ceremony. Following their Halifax welcome, the vice-regal couple travelled to their new home in Ottawa via the recently completed Inter-colonial Railway.
During her first few weeks in Canada, Priricess Louise left no doubts concerning her personal pluck. When a scarlet fever epidemic struck at Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor General, the servants refused to serve the sick. Princess Louise single-handedly took over the nursing duties. On another occasion, a guest commented concerning the outstanding quality of the oyster pates she had been served during a dinner at Rideau Hall. She was startled when informed by a member of the household staff that they had been prepared by Princess Louise herself.
The Governor General's Official Residence
From the Canadian Illustrated News
Lighting the gas lamps at Rideau Hall was a novel experience for Princess Louise. She simply rubbed her feet on the carpet, turned on the gas, and put her finger near the lamp. A spark would flash from her finger tip and behold, "there was light." Static electricity had done the job!
It is interesting to note that during her stay at Rideau Hall, Princess Louise decorated her bedroom door with a trompe l'oeil pattern of blossoming apple boughs. This door has been maintained in her memory.
The Marquis of Lorne and Princess Louise gave their first state ball on February 19, 1879. Nearly all Ministers of the Crown, Senators, and Members of Parliament, along with a large number of invited guests, were present. During the opening set of quadrilles, the Governor General danced with Lady Macdonald, and Princess Louise danced with the Prime Minister. As one would imagine, this ball was one of the highlights of Ottawa social life up to that time and for many years afterward.
Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, the Marquis of Lorne, and Princess Louise at the Opening of the Canadian Parliament in 1879
From the Canadian Illustrated News
"Snow parties" were the most popular social events held at Rideau Hall. Torches, Chinese lanterns, and bonfires were used to light up the grounds, and guests could curl, skate, or toboggan. The most spectacular of these diversions was tobogganing. The Governor General's slide was thirty-four metres high, and the descent was breathtaking. Perhaps as compensation for his lack of success at the skating rink, the Marquis of Lorne threw himself into tobogganing with abandon and encouraged his guests to do likewise.
During the summer months, the vice-regal couple resided at the Citadel in Quebec City. Although the Governor General felt that his French was deficient, Princess Louise was fluent. This knowledge was obviously a great asset. Having dances and entertaining officers from visiting British and French warships were two routine social activities at the Citadel. As well, Princess Louise loved to sketch the surrounding countryside. In the spring of 1882, the English publication Good Words featured six of her sketches of the environs.
Each summer, it was the Governor General's custom to go fishing on the Cascapedia River in Quebec where he eventually had a cottage built. The Restigouche River, which separates New Brunswick from Quebec, was another favourite haunt. In spite of the lack of amenities, Princess Louise accompanied her husband on these occasions and excelled at fishing. She sent home packed in ice one very large salmon that she caught. Queen Victoria had it stuffed and displayed in a case at Windsor Castle. These fishing trips also inspired more artwork and an operetta.
During their stay in Canada, Princess Louise accompanied her husband on several of his longer trips. During these trips, her strong interest in women's education and related charities was evident. Every benevolent institution that was made known to her received a personal visit. One of these was The Haven in Hamilton, Ontario, which provided for the care of discharged female prisoners. Her compassion for the unfortunate endeared her to many Canadians.
Albertans will be disappointed to note that Princess Louise was unable to accompany her husband during the fall of 1881 when he visited the area which is now the Province of Alberta. 8 She was convalescing in England following a serious sleigh accident in Ottawa.9As a consequence of their strong cultural interests, the couple exerted a considerable influence on related matters. The Marquis of Lorne was primarily a writer and poet while Princess Louise, as noted earlier, liked to draw and paint. An example of her work, "View From Vancouver Island with Mount Baker in the Distance," has been included in this book on the opposite page. Most Western Canadians are familiar with the subject of this print. In 1880, the Marquis of Lorne and Princess Louise were both instrumental in founding the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts. They also chose the group of works to be displayed at the Academy's first art exhibition. These works later formed the nucleus of the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. In 1882, the Governor General founded the Royal Society of Canada, a literary and scientific academy which is still important today.
"View from Vancouver Island with Mount Baker in the Distance"
From the Marquis of Lorne's Our Railway to the Pacific
In 1882, after much prodding by the Marquis of Lorne and consultation with Parliament, the Prime Minister announced that the districts of the Northwest Territories would be named Athabasca, Assiniboine, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.10 "Louise" was considered for the latter but "the Princess, who was devoted to the memory of her father preferred that the name which she had inherited from him should be given." 11 It should be noted here that at later dates, a beautiful mountain lake, a nearby hamlet, a steam-boat, and a mountain, all located in the Province of Alberta, were named after the Princess as well.
The best known site that is named after Princess Louise is Lake Louise. Lake Louise is located at the foot of Victoria Mountain in Banff National Park approximately 185 kilometres west of Calgary. This lake was discovered in 1882 by Tom Wilson and was named Lake Louise in 1884. The "Gem of the Rockies," as it is sometimes called, is renowned for its quiet beauty and is one of Canada's best-known tourist attractions.
Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta
Photograph by John Sutton, Edmonton
The hamlet located a few miles from Lake Louise also bears the same name. It has a population of approximately 140 persons and provides support services for the local tourist industry. It was named Lake Louise in 1916.
Mount Alberta was also named after Princess Louise. It is located approximately ten kilometres west of the Banff-Jasper highway, ninety-seven kilometres south of Jasper. It is 3,619 metres high and was named Mount Alberta in 1889.
Mount Alberta in Jasper National Park, Alberta
Photograph by Glen Boles, Calgary
And finally, during the fall and winter of 1883-84, two steamboats were built at Medicine Hat by the North Western Coal and Navigation Company (the Galt coal company). One of these was named the Alberta. This sternwheeler was thirty metres long, six metres wide and her engines developed approximately thirty horsepower. Although she was originally built to push coal barges, the Alberta was also used to support the federal government's military campaign during the North West Rebellion of 1885.
The Alberta Under Construction at Medicine Hat
Courtesy of the Glenbow Archives, Calgary
Unfortunately, on the evening of February 14, 1880, Princess Louise was involved in a very serious accident. On the way from Rideau Hall to a reception in the Senate Chamber, her sleigh overturned and the frightened horses dragged Princess Louise, the Governor General, and two attendants approximately 366 metres along the roadway. The Marquis of Lorne wrote afterwards that Princess Louise "has been much hurt, and it is a wonder that her skull was not fractured. The muscles of the neck, shoulder, and back are much strained and the lobe of one ear was cut in two. As we pounded along, I expected the sides of the carriage to give way every moment, when we should probably have been all killed."12 As one might expect, the long-term effects of this accident were serious and Princess Louise suffered from them for many years afterward. None of the other occupants of the sleigh was seriously injured.
In addition to her sleigh accident, Princess Louise experienced two other near-tragedies during her stay in Canada. In 1880, three months after her sleigh accident, the Governor General's train nearly collided with the Montreal-Ottawa express at Montebello, Quebec. In 1882, Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne were returning to Quebec via the St. Lawrence River when their yacht collided with a schooner. The bow flag-staff, under which Princess Louise was standing, broke off and fell. She was saved from serious injury when the Marquis of Lorne warded off the blow.
Although most authorities agree that the administration of the Marquis of Lorne as Governor General was generally successful, there has been some criticism of Princess Louise's conduct during that period of time. The chief cause of this criticism was her absences from Canada during her husband's term of service. 13 Many citizens felt that she went away because she disliked Canadians. A number of sources indicate that she found the winters very trying and that she preferred to be out of the country at that time.
There is no evidence to support the argument that Princess Louise disliked Canadians. On the contrary, the facts indicate that she got along well with most citizens. Her poor health following the sleigh accident in Ottawa combined with the adverse effect of Canadian winter weather is the most credible explanation. Although she always made light of her personal problems in this regard, all of the evidence indicates that she suffered considerably from both.
The Fenian threat was another contributing cause. 14 During 1882, the Fenians made several threats against the Governor General and Princess Louise. One plan was to kidnap the Princess and hold her hostage for the lives of Irish militants who were under sentence in Britain. This threat worsened to the extent that immediately following their visit to British Columbia, Princess Louise left Canada for the safety of Bermuda in the company of two bodyguards.
Others felt that the Princess had not forgotten the severe criticism of the Governor General during the early part of his administration. Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald had made a statement in Parliament that led some people to believe that the Governor General had overridden Canadian authority by referring a problem to Britain. Although the Prime Minister later clarified the situation, a great deal of damage had already been done. 15
The vice-regal couple also suffered from some poor counsel during their stay in Canada. One example was the Governor General's political secretary and household manager. His lack of appreciation for the Canadian "personality" resulted in a number of incidents that reflected badly on both the Governor General and Princess Louise. On one occasion, he evicted three newspaper reporters from the Governor General's train, thereby contributing to the alienation of the press. He also mishandled matters immediately following Princess Louise's sleigh accident. 16
Another factor was Princess Louise's aversion to receptions. Her low regard for small talk caused her to cancel some of her public engagements. Of course, this action offended many people.
Finally, the press felt that Princess Louise was too private. Consequently, many Canadian newspapers joined the anti-royalist publications in Britain and the United States in their criticism of the Princess. Readers should note that Princess Louise always disliked publicity. Apparently, she even disliked having her photograph taken. On one occasion later in her life, she commented: "Oh, why; oh, why, do people want to know about me?"
In spite of these criticisms, J.E. Collins noted in his book Canada Under the Administration of Lorne: "Those who come into contact with the princess, never weary of telling that she was a true and noble woman, always desirous of doing well for her kind, eager in giving assistance to every project of art and education, not less than her husband generally interested in the progress of the people." 17 And, in 1907, in an article concerning the wives of Governor Generals, H.V. Ross stated that Lady Dufferin and Princess Louise were the most popular and goes on to say that although she was reserved and entertained modestly, Princess Louise was probably the more popular of the two. He notes that Princess Louise was active to a greater degree, in those areas that contribute to nation building.18 The writer of this book has concluded that popularity is a very subjective thing.
By the end of the Marquis of Lorne's administration, Princess Louise's critics had become accustomed to her, and her behavior was no longer a serious issue. Following the completion of his term as Governor General, the Marquis of Lorne stayed in Canada until his successor, Lord Lansdowne, was installed. Then, amidst the cheers of thousands of Canadians, he and Princess Louise boarded the Sardinian and sailed from Quebec City to Britain on October 27, 1883.
9. More information concerning this accident will follow.
10. By authority of Privy Council Order in Council #982/1882 dated May 8, 1882
11. W. Stewart MacNutt, Days of Lorne: Impressions of a Governor General, Westport, Connecticut. Greenwood Press, 1955, p. 97.
12. David Duff, The Life of H.R.H. Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Duchess of Argyll, Bath: Cedric Chivers Ltd., 1971, p.181.
13. Princess Louise was absent approximately two and one-half of the five years that the Marquis of Lorne was Governor General of Canada.
14. The Fenians were a secret society which was founded in the United States to assist the Irish independence movement. Threatening British authority in Canada was one part of their overall strategy.
15. The specific political issue was the "Letellier Affair." Recently returned federal Conservatives wished to have Quebec's Liberal Lieutenant-Governor expelled from office. As Lieutenant-Governors are appointed by the Crown, the Governor General was immediately involved.
16. MacNutt, Days of Lorne, pp. 210 and 216.
17. J.E. Collins, Canada Under the Administration of Lorne, Toronto: Rose Publishing Company, 1884, p.331.
18. H.V. Ross, "Vicereines of Canada," Canadian Magazine, Vol 29, July, 1907, p. 228.