Adams George Archibald, First Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 25, 1968-69 season
I invite you to consider His Honour, Adams George Archibald, with reference particularly to the two years he spent in Manitoba, 1870 to 1872. By way of introduction, I refresh your memory both as to his prior political life and his subsequent career in the service of our country.
He was a Nova Scotia Father of Confederation, born in Truro in 1814. He practised law and at 37, was elected as a Liberal member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. Within five years he became Solicitor-General and four years later, in 1860, became Attorney General. Later he became leader of the Opposition to Dr. Tupper's Government, but did not oppose Tupper's support of the idea of Confederation.
A delegate to the Charlottetown Conference on Maritime Union of 1864 and later the Greater Quebec Conference, he journeyed to London to work out the final terms of the Canadian Confederation of 1867. In the first Federal Cabinet he became Sir John A. Macdonald's Secretary of State for the Provinces. He resigned in 1868 after being defeated at the polls in that first General Election when the electors of Nova Scotia defeated every proponent of Confederation save only Tupper himself. The next year he did secure election to the House of Commons and sat there until he resigned in 1870 to accept the appointments of Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories, including as it did then the present Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
On his retirement two years later from these offices he returned to Nova Scotia where he was appointed a Judge in Equity and a few days later to the Office of Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia on the death of His Honour, Joseph Howe. He remained Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia for ten years, retiring in 1883. For his service in Manitoba he was honoured by the Queen who made him a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George and for his subsequent services in Nova Scotia he was elevated to a Knight Commander of that Order. In 1884 he was chosen to be Chairman of the Board of Governors of Dalhousie College and University. He became President of the Nova Scotia Historical Society in 1886. Two years later (he was then 74) an age some think sufficient to seek retirement from active politics, he was re-elected to the House of Commons, regaining the same seat he had left almost 20 years earlier to come to Manitoba.
So to recapitulate: he was a lawyer, member of the Nova Scotia Assembly, Solicitor-General, Attorney-General, Advocate-General of the Court of Vice-Admiralty, a delegate to the Charlottetown Conference, the Quebec Conference, the London Conference, a Father of Confederation, Canada's First Secretary of State for the Provinces, a member of the House of Commons, Manitoba's first Lieutenant-Governor, the first Lieutenant-Governor of the North West Territories including what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta, a Judge of the Court of Equity in Nova Scotia, Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George, Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, for 10 years -two full terms, Chairman of Dalhousie University, President of the Nova Scotia Historical Society and finally, again an elected member of the House of Commons, a list of responsibilities, honours, dignities and accomplishments that indicate the measure of the man.
Manitoba in 1870
But it is in the discharge of those responsibilities during his Manitoba years that I invite your attention tonight. To set the scene we ought to remind ourselves of Manitoba's geographical location with respect to the more settled parts of Canada and North America 100 years ago. It was some 800 miles west of Upper Canada with no easy means of movement of people or goods back and forth; some 500 miles north of the larger centre of St. Paul with the most convenient means of movement by river frozen half the year; some 1,000 miles east of the Rockies, an almost impenetrable barrier between the prairies and the settled parts of the west coast.
There was no telegraphic communication with any part of the outside world. There was no regular communication by mail except by courier or by messenger to the United States Post Office south of the international boundary. Such was its geographical remoteness. Consider its social isolation and its rough frontier society. Perhaps it is incorrect to call it a frontier society as the term "frontier" implies that it is the edge of a civilized area, there being nerve endings on the "frontier" that stretch back in lines of communication to the heartland. In that sense this was no frontier as there were no real tentacles reaching back for support to anywhere on any regular route and quick basis.
This was a relatively small and isolated community, uncertain and fearful of what the future might hold and very ready to assume the worst and to place the most unfavorable interpretation on the rumours, gossip, hearsay and speculation circulated by the ill informed.
Many of you will remember that tight little paragraph in Begg's and Nursey's little gem of the time - Ten Years in Winnipeg:
And as if geographical distance and social isolation were not enough consider too the political immaturity of the community. A settlement of some 12,000 persons plus a shifting Indian population, without representative institutions or any form of responsible government, dependent upon, but generally dissatisfied with the rule of the Hudson's Bay Company which they suspected had more interest in trade and profits than in their good and welfare. A community whose security rested for some months in the hands of a self-styled provisional government mostly of French half-breeds, partially supported by the English half-breeds and unenthusiastically but somewhat impotently acquiesced in by a large part of the rest of the settlement.
It retrospect we see it was on the threshold of great growth. Yet in 1870 an impartial observer, blind to the great promise of the future, might well agree with the gloomy prophecy of Bishop Strachan, Rector of York and later of Toronto, who wrote to his fellow Scot, Lord Selkirk, prior to his settlement at Red River, saying:
This then was the position of the settlement and this was the man, Archibald, charged with the responsibility of bringing it peace, order and good government. Sir John A. Macdonald had written to him: "In your infant society it is necessary that the Lieutenant-Governor should be a paternal despot." I suggest that Sir John meant that he must assume power to decide and lead but not to exercise such power arbitrarily, capriciously or by whim but more in the manner of a wise father guiding his dependent children through infancy to their maturity.
The special instructions sent to him on August 4, 1870 for his guidance were somewhat more formal and discrete. Three of them are typical:
I repeat the key phrase relating to civil government "which it will be your duty to organize." This was his task and this his main concern and this his greatest contribution to our province.
He arrived on September 2, 1870 via the Winnipeg River, up the Red, and was greeted by Donald A. Smith who had acted as temporary governor for only a few days. The previous Governor MacTavish, having been glad enough to be rid of the job, exclaimed: "For God's sake have any form of government which will restore peace and order." Smith is supposed to have greeted Archibald with the words: "I yield up my responsibilities with pleasure." To which Archibald made reply: "I really do not anticipate much pleasure on my account."
His first disappointment must have been his inability to find the promised stretch of the first Trans-Canada Highway from the NorthWest corner of the Lake of the Woods to St. Boniface. It just was not there. In his first letter to Ottawa, dated September 3, 1870, he wrote:
In this same letter he strikes a more modern note in his concern for the untrustworthiness of the mails:
His first Levee on the 6th was attended by what he called:
In order to accommodate the people of French origin in St. Boniface and to receive their Address of Welcome, he crossed the river on the following day and he writes: "A large number of persons were then presented to me who had been unable to be present at the Levee." We suspect that the inability of some to attend the Levee the previous day was that they were afraid to cross to Fort Garry for fear of reprisals in view of their past activities. The possibility of such retaliatory and violent treatment concerned Archibald during much of his time in Manitoba.
One of his first projects was to take the census. Under the terms of the Manitoba Act, 1,400,000 acres were appropriated for the benefit of the families of the half-breed residents. The Lieutenant-Governor was to divide the same among the children of the half-breed heads of families. To do so required knowledge of their number. The census was also needed for the division of the province into twenty-four electoral districts for the anticipated provincial election, the Act specifying the division to be made: due regard being had to existing local divisions and population.
He appointed two enumerators for each area, one French-speaking, the other English-speaking. "The English enumerator," he wrote, "will be a check on the Frenchman in the French parishes, and the French enumerator on the Englishman in the English parishes." The results he felt were satisfactory. The count of the two enumerators did not balance exactly but was close enough for Archibald to report to Ottawa that the little difference was "enough to prove that they did not act in concert and not enough to disturb confidence in the general result."
The population reckoned as of July 16, 1870 by the English was 11,953; by the French 11,945. With adjustments, he concluded that the total population was 11,960. By religion there were 5,720 Protestants; 6,240 Catholics. The count by race was: 5,720 French half-breeds; 4,080 English half-breeds; 1,600 white and 560 Indian householders. He did not count any Indians in tents as householders. In taking this stand he differed somewhat from that later Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories, the Honourable Edgar Dewdney, who wrote to Sir John A. Macdonald: "A man who lives in a tepee should not be considered a householder unless he is a Conservative."
He now had the information needed to settle upon the boundaries of the twenty-four Provincial Electoral Districts "due regard being had to existing local divisions and population." And he had the numerical information to assist in a fair allotment of half-breed lands.
Organizing the Government
Meanwhile it was necessary that he organize some form of interim government. The population was fairly evenly divided in numbers between the French and English speaking, and it seemed sensible to begin in a way which would not antagonize either. He sought a representative from each reasonably acceptable to the other. He found Alfred Boyd, a prosperous merchant, well liked by the English half-breeds. His clinching qualification was "while highly esteemed by the English party he is not obnoxious to the French." Archibald appointed him Provincial Secretary. And as Provincial Treasurer he chose a recent arrival from Quebec, Marc Amable Gerard, a Notary and former Mayor of Varennes, Quebec. He was new and respected and so not estranged from the English.
It was the Lieutenant-Governor's responsibility (cited from his official instructions)
The new Provincial Treasurer was set to work to prepare a digest of the existing law of Assiniboia. The code when completed was encompassed within seventeen pages. By contrast, the last revision of the Manitoba Statutes contained 5,453 pages and the index an additional 748 pages, some indication of our great leap forward into modern times.
The Lieutenant-Governor set the boundaries of the twenty-four electoral districts with the assistance not only of his Provincial Secretary and Treasurer but as well with the help of Monsignor Tache. In reporting progress to Ottawa he does not mention Tache's part, taking the responsibility upon himself. To have neglected such reference was not so much an act of arrogating as his own the ideas and experience of Tache, but was an act of political wisdom. Regardless of how equitable Tache's proposed division might have been, being Tache's, others might think it prejudiced. Not only that, but the Lieutenant-Governor would be criticized for his dependence upon Roman Catholic advice if he did not indicate a separate but equal dependency on Protestant advice.
Establishment of Community Goodwill
Archibald's most difficult task was to restore a semblance of good feeling in a divided population. The French involved in the provisional government expected amnesty. Some English were still angry and wanted revenge. Archibald reported:
The wisdom of Solomon would have been unequal to finding an acceptable solution except that the one Archibald adopted avoided a confrontation and let time heal the wounds and temper the public emotions. The English of the parishes of St. Andrew, St. Peter, St. James, Kildonan, Headingly and Winnipeg petitioned him:
In reply he had his Provincial Secretary make a most polite but pointed reply (wisely choosing for the task the English-speaking part of the government). Peace must be maintained by peace officers not soldiers. Moreover, though invited to do so, not one man had come forward from the parishes represented by the petition, to act as a peace officer (at wages greater than paid to peace officers in Eastern Canada).
Their first act, therefore, was to attempt to give vigor to civil authority by the organization of a police force:
The postal arrangements were somewhat primitive. Practically the business of the Post Office was to carry the mail from Fort Garry to Pembina and mail it there. For this purpose the Postmaster here sold United States stamps. To mail a letter to Ottawa the American postage stamp would be purchased here and put on the letter which was then given to the Postmaster with one penny sterling for each half ounce, being the local charge from Winnipeg to Pembina. The carrier would then carry it to Pembina and would mail it there. It would then be carried by the United States Postal Service as if it were a letter originating in the United States, as of course in some ways it was because it had not a Canadian but an United States postage stamp on it. As if this were not bad enough Archibald suspected that the United States Postmaster at Pembina tampered with the mails. He wrote to Ottawa:
There was also mail from St. Andrews (down the Red River) and between Winnipeg and Portage (up the Assiniboine). Archibald faced the first Manitoba postal strike when both mail carriers refused to carry on at their then existing wage. He called for tenders and allowed the increased wage to the St. Andrew's carrier. But because the tender for the Portage mail was double the former figure, he felt he could not authorize such a large increase and "that the mail must be allowed to drop until ... some tender is made more nearly approximating the old cost."
Ultimately, through the good offices of the postmasters general of Canada and the United States, he secured a closed mail, one that would not be opened at Pembina. To indicate the great importance of the security of the mails to his government, apart altogether from its importance to the convenience of business and the public, we may remember that the election writs despatched by Ottawa for Manitoba's first federal election never arrived and duplicates had to be sent to make it legal. Archibald wrote: "I am led to fear that one of the mail bags must have been lost." Then later on he adds:
The International Boundary
The Province's line of supply was through the United States and the route to Pembina was the chief artery for the importation of goods apart from the fall shipment via Hudson's Bay. Archibald had reason to fear that some elements at Pembina and south of the international boundary might prevent the importation of essential commodities. So he sent a company of the First Ontario Volunteers to the Hudson Bay Post at Pembina.
Some twenty years previously Captain Pope, under instructions of the United States Government to fix the boundary where the 49th parallel crossed the Red River, put in a marker some quarter-mile south of the Hudson Bay Fort. So it was assumed that the troops quartered in the Fort would be on the Canadian side of the boundary.
Ten years later the people of Pembina erected another post one mile north of the first post. So, if that marked the correct line, the Hudson Bay Fort would be within the United States. This later post was never taken very seriously as it was put in for a special practical purpose. A man from the Red River settlement built a house close to the "Pope's Marker" and used it as a base to smuggle liquor into Pembina, a location convenient to both exporter and importers but too easily accessible to suit the good people of Pembina. It was to strike a blow at those liquor dealings that the more northerly post was erected and aptly dubbed "Whiskey Post."
In 1869 the United States engineers re-surveyed the area and split the difference between the two posts but leaving the Hudson Bay Fort south of the boundary in the United States. Archibald was faced with a dilemma, either to withdraw the soldiers for the winter or quarter them in the Hudson Bay Post. But was this latter proper in view of the uncertainty as to whether it was in the United States or Canadian territory? Back and forth streamed the dispatches with the result that the President of the United States agreed to take no objection to the occupation of the Old Fort until the line was finally established. A joint survey was agreed upon, but the United States Deputy Secretary of State noted that it had no money for the survey. He hoped to get an appropriation from Congress next season, and expressed the hope that Her Majesty's Government would take similar steps so that the boundary could be fixed with certainty.
Smallpox and the Quarantines
Archibald's ingenuity was perhaps never better put to test than when he faced the challenge of keeping smallpox out of Manitoba. The disease was raging in the western prairies, part of the North-West Territories. Indians were especially susceptible and they suffered so dreadfully that it had a special terror for them. He decided that his best hope of preventing its spread to Manitoba was to quarantine the whole province so as to isolate it from that area in the west where the disease was rampant. But to isolate Manitoba by a Manitoba Government order would not be sufficient to save the province as no Manitoba law was effective beyond its boundaries and the disease had to be stopped before it reached the border. His tactics were simple and illustrative of his resourcefulness. As the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba he could do little but as the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories he could use the Legislative authority of the Governor and Council of Rupert's Land and the North-West Territories. As such he appointed three members of the Executive and Legislative Councils for Rupert's Land and the North-West Territories and then enacted an ordinance on October 22, 1870 which operated within the affected area isolating Manitoba and a deep buffer strip around the Province. Those articles of commerce and clothing which might carry the infection were prohibited from passing eastwards of the south branch of the Saskatchewan River - a long way from the provincial border. Everything went smoothly. He sent out officers to enforce the law and smallpox did not enter Manitoba.
The success of his plan was equalled only by the illegality of his act. Under the Rupert's Land Act of 1869 he had no power to appoint the councillors or to do what he did. In the whole Province of Manitoba there was not a single copy of the Act. His own library had not arrived. Necessity forced him to recollect its terms and he acted on his memory which proved faulty:
By the end of 1871, only sixteen months after his arrival, he made a list of his accomplishments for the Manitoban, a newspaper which had given him its support:
The other paper, Le Metis, (also friendly to the Lieutenant Governor) but ignorant that he himself had compiled the list, commented "he has been given credit for everything but the sunshine and the flow of the rivers."
Towards the end of that year he sent in his resignation feeling that there was little else he could do in view of the great political uproar that took place when the Ontario public heard he had gone over to St. Boniface and actually shaken the hand of Louis Riel. When the Fenians had threatened to attack the province and had marshalled their ranks south of the border, Archibald, with no accurate knowledge of their strength and with no absolute certainty as to the reaction of the French speaking residents of the Province (though he expected their loyal support) issued a call for men. A company of French Manitobans was organized to repel the Fenians and Archibald was invited to St. Boniface to inspect them. He was not told who they were and the fact that Riel was one of their number was not disclosed to him. He wished them all well and shook hands with them including Riel. Sir John A. Macdonald was greatly disturbed because of the excitement this act generated in Ontario. Archibald explained his action:
In writing to him privately, Sir John A. Macdonald said:
When news of his retirement was released some of the populace held large bonfires to celebrate the occasion. He was burned in effigy. He was called a contemptible and discredited man and the Free Press Weekly called him: "Mr. Slumbering Traitor Archibald," and charged him with being an accessory to murder after the fact, adding, as it claimed, in the escape of the red-handed murderer Riel.
So Archibald left Manitoba, pleasing some and disappointing others. Begg's and Nursey's book published seven years later said:
What then is a fair assessment of this remarkable man? He kept the peace - an uneasy peace, but still peace. He exercised balanced political judgement in keeping that peace. He sensed the volatile nature of the public feeling and deliberately avoided a confrontation with either French or English groups. But by so doing he estranged both to some degree, more particularly the English who believed if he was not always with them he was against them. He was a great pragmatist. Necessity ruled his life in Manitoba, and when called to justify his actions he relied on that magnificent answer that justifies any political action - the alternative was worse.
His position as our first Lieutenant-Governor required political action which exposed him to political criticism. In effect he was the fountainhead of governmental power or at least its representative in Manitoba. He could not give his advisers "that full exercise of their powers which in the older provinces have been wisely claimed and freely exercised" until he had advisers who had the confidence of the populace. Initially he had to appoint his own advisers to set the functions of the State in motion.
The Office of Lieutenant-Governor and its predecessor's office in eastern provinces had evolved over many decades. The power of the Governor as representative of the Crown had by acquiescence been limited and restricted as responsible government by elected representatives displaced the Governor as the effective source of power. The Governor, later Lieutenant-Governor, became more and more a formal representation of the figurehead of power. Manitoba had been given in the Manitoba Act the same governmental powers, rights and privileges as had the older provinces. While it had been given the rights it did not then have the machinery, either legislative machinery or political machinery to exercise those rights. Archibald's task was to provide responsible government. His written instructions were in direct conflict with his verbal instructions. Sir John A. Macdonald knowing of the impossibility of effecting responsible government in Manitoba by legislation alone, lacking as it did the institutions necessary for its support, told Archibald that in the infant state of Manitoba's society he must be a "paternal despot." By contrast Archibald's written instructions required him to give his advisers the same due as did the other Lieutenant-Governors in other provinces and to maintain an attitude of "dignified impartiality."
In the beginning and at the beginning this was impossible. Necessity required that he be his own Premier and his own Legislative Council.
In effect he was the Government of the day until he could establish the machinery and institutions, political, legislative and administrative, necessary for the proper functioning of responsible government. Until that infant state of Manitoba society had matured to the extent that fear did not disrupt its social organization, necessity required that he be the organizer and administrator. As such he was necessarily exposed to the political criticism of that relatively small but vocal part of the Manitoba population who were prepared to run their own affairs, who had been promised the right to run their own affairs, and who believed themselves fit to run their own affairs.
I know of no statue, column, plaque, inscription or any other memorial to Archibald within the Province of Manitoba, a neglect which I hope may soon be remedied by a grateful province. I would hope that somewhere on that memorial may be inscribed the prophetic words of his first public address to the people of Manitoba:
Page revised: 22 May 2010