What we should celebrate in 2012 is 60th anniversary of first Canadian citizen as Governor General of Canada

Dec 14th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Governor General Vincent Massey, in his office at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, February 20, 1957.

So … we have just learned that “Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall will be touring Canada as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations marking her 60 years on the British throne,” this coming May 2012.

For many Canadians (and we confess we are among them), this is just yet another example of the Harper government’s “abject colonialism,” that the distinguished Canadian historian J.L. Granatstein complained about this past summer.

There is in fact a 60th anniversary that non-abject-colonial Canadians could reasonably be celebrating in 2012. But it isn’t the current British monarch’s accession to the British throne “on 6th February 1952.” It is the appointment of the first Canadian citizen to serve as “Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada” on February 28, 1952.

Junior Varsity Girls Volleyball Team 2009-2010, Vincent Massey Collegiate, Winnipeg.

The Canadian citizen who filled this appointment was Charles Vincent Massey (1887–1967).  He remained Governor General of Canada until September 15, 1959. And as explained on the current GG website (click on “The Right Honourable Vincent Massey”): “With Vincent Massey’s appointment as Governor General, a new tradition began — he was the first Canadian appointed to the post, and from that day the Governor General has always been a Canadian citizen.”

The evolution of the tradition preceding all this has been explained by the former Canadian MP and constitutional law student Edward McWhinney, in a 2009 article in the Canadian Parliamentary Review: “Until the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the Governor General remained an Imperial Official, chosen by the British Government and responsible to it … By the 1930s, post-Statute of Westminster, the choice of the Governor General seems effectively to have been made by Ottawa; and since the 1950s, both the process and also the actual choice have become wholly Canadian (save for the formal appointment, after the event, by the Queen).”

Terry Fox run at Vincent Massey School, Calgary, 2010.

The last British aristocrat to serve under the pre-1931 arrangement was The Viscount Willingdon — who “was in 1926 appointed as Canadian governor general by the King, on the recommendation of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Stanley Baldwin.” He was replaced by the Earl of Bessborough — who “was in 1931 appointed as governor general by George V, on the recommendation of Prime Minister of Canada Richard Bennett.” For the next decade and a half, apparently, Canadian prime ministers continued to recommend British aristocrats as Canadian governor generals. The last governor general appointed under this transitional arrangement was The Viscount Alexander — who “was in 1946 appointed as governor general by George VI, king of Canada, on the recommendation of Prime Minister of Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King.”

A great many things might be said about the first Canadian citizen to fill the office. The Winnipeg wit Larry Zolf, eg, once quipped that Vincent Massey was the first Canadian governor general who was not a British aristocrat, and the last who looked like he was! For us today, it may be more intriguing that there are now at least 10 Canadian non-university educational institutions named after him: Vincent Massey Collegiate, Montreal, Quebec ; Vincent Massey Public School, Ottawa, Canada ; Vincent Massey Public School, Bowmanville/Clarington, Ontario ; Vincent Massey Child Care Centre, Etobicoke/Toronto, Ontario ; Vincent Massey Day Care & Nursery School, Toronto, Ontario ; Vincent Massey Secondary School, Windsor, Ontario ; Vincent Massey High School, Brandon, Manitoba ; Vincent Massey Collegiate/L’Institut Collégial de Vincent Massey, Winnipeg, Manitoba ; Vincent Massey School, Calgary, Alberta ; and Vincent Massey School, Medicine Hat, Alberta.

New pavilion at Vincent Massey Park in Ottawa, Spring 2011.

In any case, in the spirit of the current holiday season, we would like to humbly submit a democratic Occupy Charles and Camilla proposal. While all those abject colonial partisans of the Harper government’s bizarre attachment to the 19th century relic of the British monarchy in Canada are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the current British monarch’s accession to the throne next year, we who believe in the ultimate future of a “free and democratic” Canadian republic — in keeping with the principles of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — should celebrate the 60th anniversary of the appointment of the first Canadian citizen to serve as “Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada,” on February 28, 1952.

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