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Donald Alexander Smith

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Donald Alexander Smith (1820-1914)

1915 Obituary [1]

THE RIGHT HON. DONALD ALEXANDER SMITH, BARON STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL, G.C.M.G., P.C., LLD., D.L., died at his London residence, 28 Grosvenor Square, on the 21st January, 1914, at the advanced age of 93.

Born at Forres, Elgin, on the 6th August, 1820 (on his own authority, although it is believed that this understates his age by some 2 years), he was the second son of a Highland merchant, and was educated at the local grammar school.

In 1838 he entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, and, as a youthful factor at a lonely trading-post in Ungava, began the long career which was to lead to distinguished honours and personal renown, as well as to confer lasting benefits on the Dominion of Canada and the Empire. By energy and ability he rose, step by step, to be chief factor; later he became Deputy-Governor and Chief Commissioner in Montreal ; and in 1869 he was elected Governor of the great Company which he had served over 30 years. In that year the rights of the Hudson’s Bay Company were transferred to the Canadian Government; and in the subsequent Red River Rebellion, Donald Smith, then Acting-Governor in the North-West, was one of the three Commissioners sent to treat with the rebels, and received the thanks of the Governor-General in Council for his labours. He played a leading part in the reorganization of the Hudson’s Bay Company as a trading corporation, and in 1871 was appointed Chief Commissioner in the North-West. He took an active share in the political life of the new Dominion, representing various constituencies in Provincial Assemblies and the Dominion Parliament from 1870 to 1896, when he was appointed High Commissioner in London.

Probably his most important service to the Dominion, as well as to engineering enterprise, was the inception and successful completion, due largely to his energetic and courageous direction, of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He took the keenest interest in the matter from the outset, when, on the incorporation of British Columbia in the Dominion in 1871, it was stipulated that a transcontinental railway should be constructed. In 1880, having secured financial support, he obtained the Government contract, and formed, with others, a company for the construction of the line. With such energy was the work prosecuted that, in the face of unparalleled difficulties, the line was completed in November, 1885, when Mr. Smith drove the last spike connecting the Pacific and eastern sections. For his services, he was made K.C.M.G. in 1886; the rank of G.C.M.G. was granted 10 years later; and in 1897 he was raised to the peerage under the style of Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal.

In other directions his services to Canada and the Empire were no less important. His gifts to McGill University, Montreal, of which he was at one time Chancellor, were very large ; and he founded the Donalda College for Women, the Royal Victoria Hospital (with Lord Mount-Stephen), and the Royal Victoria College for Women, as well as supporting other charitable and educational work in Canada. During the South African War he raised and equipped “Strathcona’s Horse”; and he also endowed a trust for encouraging physical and military training in Canadian public schools. Among his later interests were the Pacific cable scheme and fast steamship connection between England and Canada.

Early in life he married Isabella, daughter of Mr. Richard Hardisty, who predeceased him, leaving one daughter. Lord Strathcona was elected an Honorary Member of The Institution on the 10th January, 1905.

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