Online Encyclopedia

BARON DONALD ALEXANDER SMITH STRATHCO...

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 1001 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
BARON DONALD ALEXANDER SMITH STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL (1820- ), Canadian statesman and financier, was born at Forres, Scotland, on the 6th of August 1820, the second son of Alexander Smith (d. 185o), a Highland merchant. His mother, Barbara Stewart, of Abernethy, was the sister of John Stewart (d. 1847), a famous fur trader in the Canadian North-West, who gave his name to Stewart Lake and Stewart river. Through him Donald Smith was appointed in 1838 a junior clerk in the Hudson's Bay Company, which at that time controlled the greater part of what is now the Dominion of Canada. Smith was sent to Labrador, and stationed at Hamilton Inlet. For thirteen years he roughed it there, mastering the work of the fur trade, introducing various improvements into the conditions of life, being the first to prove that potatoes and other vegetables could be grown with success on that bleak coast, and varying his business routine with much reading and letter-writing. Then he was for ten years on Hudson Bay, rising in the company's service to be a chief trader and then a chief factor. In 1868 he was appointed to the post of resident governor, with headquarters at Montreal. In the next year Louis Riel's (q.v.) rebellion broke out on the Red river, caused chiefly by the transfer of territorial rights from the company to the Dominion of Canada, and in December Smith was sent by the Canadian government with wide powers as special commissioner to endeavour- to cheek the rebellion, and to report " on the best mode of quieting and removing such discontent and dissatisfaction." On arriving at Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) he advised the government that it would be necessary to send troops; in the meanwhile he kept cool in face of a very ugly situation, and it was largely owing to his tact and diplomacy that the lives of the numerous prisoners were saved, that Riel's position was gradually undermined and that the relief expedition under Colonel (afterwards Lord) Wolseley had no fighting to do. Apart from the rebellion, there was difficulty with the company's traders. The company's control over the North-West was to be surrendered to Canada for £300,000, certain grants of lands and certain trading privileges, and the traders on the spot feared that in the distribution of the money their rights might not be guarded, but Smith succeeded in persuading them to trust him to secure their share, and asserted their claims so effectually that £107,000 was paid to them. During these complications in the North-West he occupied for a time the position of acting governor: in December 1870. on thefirst election to the legislative assembly of the new province of Manitoba, he was returned for Winnipeg; and in March x871, after a very bitter contest, he was elected as one of the four Manitoba representatives to the Dominion House of Commons, as member for Selkirk. The reorganization of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1871—involving the loss of its administrative functions and its restriction to questions of trade only—made it necessary to appoint a chief commissioner for the North-West, and in 1871 Smith received the appointment when in London, after his championship of the claims of the local traders. At Ottawa he at once became the spokesman of the new territories, though for a time subject to the suspicion of those who thought that the company had done too little to assist the Canadian government against Riel, and he was frequently attacked in parliament and out of it on various charges. In 1872 he became one of the original members of the first North-West council under the act providing for the government of the territories by the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba and a council of eleven. It was at this time that the construction of the Canadian Pacific railway became a practical question. The terms of the entrance of British Columbia into the Dominion in 1871 included a stipulation for the immediate beginning of a railway from the Pacific towards the Rocky Mountains, and from a point to be selected east of the Rockies towards the Pacific; this line, connecting the Pacific seaboard with eastern Canada, was to be completed within ten years from the date of union. After a controversy on the merits of private or government construction, in 1872 a charter was given by Sir John Macdonald's government to a company, with Sir Hugh Allan at its head, for the construction of the line, with a subsidy in land grants and money, but in 1873 disclosures of corrupt practices in relation to this charter (the so-called Pacific Scandal) led to the fall of the government, and the company was soon afterwards dissolved. In the great debate which ended in the resignation of the government, one of the chief causes of its downfall was a moderate but powerful speech by Smith, which led to a temporary estrangement between him and Macdonald. The Liberal government which came into power early in 1874 reverted, though timidly, to the policy of government ownership. Meanwhile Donald Smith, together with his cousin Mr George Stephen (afterwards Lord Mountstephen), and other Canadian and American financiers, had bought out the Dutch bondholders of the insolvent St Paul & Pacific railway, an American line, which by 1873 had been completed from St Paul to Breckenridge, but which lacked funds to proceed farther. After long negotiations the new owners persuaded the government of Manitoba to build a line from Winnipeg to Pembina on the American frontier. This done, in 1879 the partners formed the St Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company, and by continuing the line from Breckenridge to Pembina united Manitoba with the south and west. In 1878 the Liberal party was defeated, and Sir John Macdonald returned to office with the support of Smith, who had been driven to rejoin the Conservatives by the over-cautious railway policy of the Liberals. In 188o the new government made a contract for building the railway with a syndicate of which Stephen was the chief director, and in which Smith, from the first largely interested, came more and more to the front. Both were prominent directors of the Bank of Montreal, and employed its resources in the work without hesitation. Smith also embarked in the work the whole of his private fortune, and it was his dogged perseverance which more than anything else enabled the company to bring its work to a successful conclusion. The contract allowed ten years for the completion of the line, but such energy was shown that on the 7th of November 1885, at Craigellachie in the Rocky Mountains, Donald Smith drove home the last spike of the first Canadian transcontinental railway. In 1882 he left parliament, but re-turned to it in 1887, and represented Montreal West till 1896, when he was appointed to succeed Sir Charles Tupper in London as high commissioner for Canada. In that year he was made G.C.M.G.; in 1897 he was raised to the peerage and in 1909 made G.C.V.O. In 1889 he became governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. On the 21st of March 1896 he was appointed government commissicner to Manitoba and the Territories to endeavour to lessen the bitterness in the discussion as to Roman Catholic rights in the public schools, and the compromise of 1897 followed the lines which he suggested (see CANADA). In January 1900, during the war in South Africa, he raised, equipped and presented to the British government a regiment of irregular cavalry 600 strong. Strathcona's Horse, as it was called, was recruited in the Canadian West, and did good service during the war. Though this was perhaps the most striking of the many services which his great wealth enabled him to do for Canada and the British Empire, he left no side of Canadian life untouched. With his cousin, Lord Mountstephen, he founded and endowed the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, and both in Canada and in Scotland gave largely and wisely to university work. He was the backbone of the emigration policy which from 1896 on did much to increase the population and the prosperity of Canada. He helped in the improvement of the waterways of the Canadian West, and in placing steamers on them, and gave much assistance to the proposed All Red Route of British-owned steamers, encircling the world. From the first he was a member of the Pacific Cable Board, controlling the cable laid in 1902 by the combined governments of Great Britain, Canada and Australia. No man did more to tighten the ties which bind Canada to the British Empire. The Life by Beckles Willson contains some useful information. The Histories of the Hudson's Bay Company by Beckles Willson, Rev. George Bryce and Miss Agnes C. Laut tell his early struggles. Sir Wilfrid Laurier (2 vols.), by J. S. Willison, describes the financial dealings between the Canadian government and the Canadian Pacific railway. His parliamentary speeches are in the Canadian Hansard. (W. L. G.)
End of Article: BARON DONALD ALEXANDER SMITH STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL (1820- )
[back]
STRATHCLYDE
[next]
HUGH HENRY ROSE STRATHNAIRN

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.