In the days when Canada was becoming a nation, it took courage to be a governor-general. Durham, Sydenham, and Bagot were the governors between 1838 and 1843, and the led to their deaths. On March 29, 1843, Sir Charles Metcalfe took over the unenviable task.
Metcalfe had been born in India and was the governor of the huge district of Delhi by the time he was twenty-six years old. Among his achievements were the abolition of the slave trade and of the custom of burning wives on their husbands’ funeral pyres.
Metcalfe was sent to Jamaica where there was danger of a rebellion, and then on to Canada where the had been rebellions in 1837-1838. When he arrived, Kingston was the capital of recently united Upper and Lower Canada. The government soon moved to Montreal which was able to offer more accommodation. Montreal then had 40,000 people!
Although Metcalfe was a reformer in India, he was not in favour of the reform movement in Canada that was trying to win responsible government. He complained that his ministers, instead of doing what he wished, were trying to force him to do what they wanted.
Baldwin and Lafontaine, leaders of the Liberal or Reform government, resigned, and Metcalfe was forced to govern almost alone. In September 1844, he called a general election and campaigned himself. He branded the Reformers as “disloyal” to Britain, and won the election by a small majority. Ironically, one of the new members was a young lawyer from Kingston, Ontario, John A. Macdonald. Although he was elected as one of Metcalfe’s supporters, he was destined to take the lead in bringing about nationhood for Canada.
Metcalfe was the fourth successive governor to lose his life through disease. He returned to Britain in 1845 and died soon after.
“You may rest assured … those who support me, I will support.” – Sir Charles Metcalfe, to Sir Alexander Galt
- The “Delhie” Book and a Picnic atop the Qutb! (adatewithdelhi.wordpress.com)