Almost every time I give a tour of the hotel, people always ask me “just who was Lord Elgin?” This usually happens, just as we are standing in front of his bust that is displayed in our lobby.
Often, I respond that many consider him one of the most important Governor Generals in Canadian History.
There is a still a Lord Elgin today. His name is Andrew Bruce, 11th Earl of Elgin, 15th Earl of Kincardine and he lives on his estate in Scotland. The hotel is named after his Great Grandfather, James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine and Governor General of the Province of Canada from 1847 to 1854.
It was under this Lord Elgin that responsible government came to Canada. He was the first Governor General to allow the local, elected legislature to govern while he adopted a largely symbolic role. This was the model for all subsequent Governor Generals and this act alone should put him at the top of the greatest GG list.
Another reason he should be consider one of the top GG is because he also granted royal assent to the Rebellion Losses Bill in 1849 even though he personally had misgivings. This bill caused riots between the French and English in Montreal and later Bytown, (future Ottawa). Instead of calling out the militia to put down the riots, Lord Elgin allowed the local civil authorities to respond. By avoiding what surely would have become a blood-bath, Lord Elgin actions allowed calmer heads to prevail. Many historians believe using the army to put down the riots would have led to the riots spreading and potentially turning into a rebellion. Sometimes it takes more courage to walk away than to fight. And maybe this act of discretion saved the future Canada.
Finally, a very big threat to the very existence of Canada was a push by Canadian based merchants, many of American descent, to join the United States as it was the closest and biggest market for their goods. In 1854, Lord Elgin negotiated a Reciprocity Treaty (free trade treaty) that removed the need for Canada to join the United States to ensure access to that market. With easy and open access guaranteed, the impetus to join the US was removed. Had it not been for this treaty, the economic push to join the US would probably been unstoppable.
Senior Sales Manager, Associations & Unions