Lawyer, judge, Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba (1872-1877).
Born in Perth, Upper Canada on 17 March 1826, son of Hon. William Morris of the Legislative Council of Canada, he studied in Scotland at Madras College and University of Glasgow. He became fluent in French, then studied law in Kingston under John A. Macdonald (and in company with Oliver Mowat). He then continued at McGill University where he was the first graduate in Arts. He was called to the Bar of Upper Canada in 1851. Later that year he was admitted to the Lower Canada Bar, and in 1872 was admitted to the Manitoba Bar. He married Margaret Cline of Cornwall, Canada West in 1851.
Morris was an early Canadian imperialist, publishing Canada and its Resources in 1855, and in his 1858 lecture “Nova Britannia: or, British North America, its extent and future” he predicted Confederation and transcontinental railroad expansion. He was an early advocate of the annexation of Hudson’s Bay Company territories (see The Hudson’s Bay and Pacific Territories, 1859) and naturally as Conservative MLA and MP from Lanark from 1861 to 1872 was a leading Father of Confederation. He served as minister of inland revenue from 1869 to 1872. When he retired from federal politics in 1872 due to ill health, he specifically requested to be sent to Manitoba as a judge, where “the work would be light” and he “could be of use.”
In July 1872, he was appointed as the first Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba, and acted as administrator of Manitoba and the North-West Territories when Adams Archibald departed in October 1872. He once described his court as a “bear garden” where he had “a conflict of authorities & practices -- the old Assiniboia ideas -- the Ontario & the Quebec, en lutte.” He regarded it as fortunate that the legislature had adopted English practice and English law. He “quietly enforced both” until appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the province and the North-West Territories in December 1872, a position that he held for five years. As lieutenant-governor of Manitoba, he continued Archibald’s insistence on responsible government and supported the foundation of the University of Manitoba.
As Lieutenant-Governor of the Territories to 1876 he advocated the establishment of a police force and negotiated Treaties Three to Six with the Indians. His administration in Manitoba failed, however, to preserve Métis lands in that province, and he himself was an active investor and speculator. After he stepped down as lieutenant-governor he attempted to enter Manitoba politics by running in the 1878 federal election, losing by nine votes to Donald A. Smith. He later ran unsuccessfully in 1878 in a by-election for the East Toronto seat in the Ontario legislature, although a year later he defeated Oliver Mowat in that same riding.
In 1880 he published a book entitled The Treaties of Canada with The Indians of the North-West. He was in ill health for many years before his death. He was president of the Montreal St. Andrew’s Society, governor of McGill College, and trustee of Queen’s College.
He died on 28 October 1889. He is commemorated by the Rural Municipality of Morris, Town of Morris, and Morris Avenue in Selkirk. Morris’s papers as Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor are in the Archives of Manitoba.
“The lieutenant-governorship in Manitoba, 1870-1882” by F. A. Milligan, MA dissertation, University of Manitoba, 1948.
Alexander Morris, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XI, 608-615.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 27 August 2023
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