On August 20th, 1900, local Nanaimo newspaper headlines read: “Lord and Lady Minto paid official visit to city.” These two significant individuals were Canada’s then Governor General, Sir Gilbert John Murray Kynynmond Elliot, 4th Earl of Minto, and his new wife, Lady Mary Caroline Grey.
When Lord Minto came to Canada as Governor General, he came equipped with the knowledge born of a life full of adventure and diverse experiences. Born in London in 1845 and educated at Eton College, at Cambridge University, he enlisted in the Scots Fusilier Guards in his early twenties, and with them he served in both the Russo-Turkish War (1877) and the Afghan War (1879). When he was named Governor General of Canada, Lord Minto had already spent a number of years in the country during the North West Rebellion, when he had acted as Aide-de-camp for General Middleton. He then acted as Governor General of Canada from 1898 to 1904.
Minto’s role as Governor General coincided with a momentous period of Canadian history. He was in office at the time of the death of Queen Victoria, an event that ended the nearly 40-year “Victorian” period during which that monarch had reigned. This was the time when Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first francophone Prime Minister, was in power. Laurier praised Minto, saying that the earl truly “took his duties to heart.” During this period, Canada was also enjoying great economic growth.
While he was Governor General, Minto demonstrated commitment to furthering arts, culture, education, and healthcare endeavours in Canada, and he has left a few lasting mementos of his time in this role. Notably, he established Canada’s first anti-tuberculosis foundation, at a time when tuberculosis was running rampant in a crisis that was threatening Canada’s healthcare system. Along with his wife, Lord Minto also founded the Minto Skating Club in 1904, an organization that has gone on to produce numerous famous figure skaters, including Melville Rogers, Lynn Nightingale, Isabelle Duchesnay, and Chantal Lefebvre. Passionate about the preservation of cultural heritage, Lord Minto was also partly responsible for the foundation of the National Archives of Canada.
It is little surprising, then, that when Lord and Lady Minto visited Nanaimo in August of 1900, they received quite a welcome from the town’s inhabitants, who came out to see these notable characters.