Governor General’s 1893 visit was a very big event

The British men who served as governor general of Canada in the era before Canadians re­ceived the appointment are largely forgotten today.
The name of Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, Lord Stanley of Preston, who served from 1888 to 1893, would be unfamiliar to all but a handful were it not for the hockey trophy bearing his name that he donated for the Canadian championship team.
In his day, Lord Stanley had a much higher profile in Can­ada. Through his actions, he firmly established the political neutrality of his post, refusing to become embroiled in parti­san issues. He also travelled widely, and took a great interest in everything in Canada.
Early in 1893 Lord Stanley embarked on one of his tours. This one took him through southern Ontario, and included a major stop in Guelph. He travelled with a small staff in a private railway car that was attached to regular trains.
Lord Stanley’s car arrived in Guelph on the morning train from Toronto on Jan. 6, 1893. A small crowd gathered at Rockwood, cheering him when the train stopped there, and there were scattered spectators along the railway line to Guelph hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
At Guelph, city employees had dragged out some bleach­ers to the station to seat the crowd, and hundreds more peo­ple, most from the Royal City but many from elsewhere in Wellington County, cheered him as he stepped off his car, to be greeted by Mayor George Sleeman and President Mills of the Ontario Agricultural Col­lege.
Wellington South’s MP, James Innes, had accompanied Lord Stanley from Toronto, and introduced him to the various dignitaries present, most of whom delivered brief speeches.
Guelph’s council had a full day planned, but Lord Stanley put the plans off schedule almost at once as he stopped to shake hands with members of the crowd and chat with them. Robust and energetic at the age of 51, he seemed genuinely pleased to meet everyone.
City officials eventually got him to his carriage. He led a parade up Woolwich Street to Trafalgar Square, then back­track­ed to the Agricul­tural College.
Lord Stanley, a farmer him­self, told college officials that he regretted not having more time at the college. He took particular interest in the dairy and experimental activities, and insisted on going through all the barns. Eventually, at 1:30pm, the group arrived at the dining hall for an ample meal. More speeches followed. Lord Stanley expressed regret that it was winter and he could not inspect the fields and ex­perimental plots. He told those present that he had known of the college before he came to Canada, and he praised Cana­dian agriculturists for their innovations.
British farmers, he regret­ted, had a bias against new methods. The OAC curriculum, he noted, featured a good blend of experimental work, theory, and practical methods.  
Mayor Sleeman drew the proceedings to a quick close at 3pm. The group then rode to the Central School, for a dis­play of gymnastics by the girls and a drill by the cadets.
The assembly hall was packed with people.
Staff and students had spent hours decorating the building inside and out with flags, evergreen bows, and bunting.
At the conclusion of the drill, His Excellency rose to address the students, praising their skills and encouraging them in their studies. It was his main speech of the day.
Al­though the majority of people present were adults, he directed his remarks specifically at the students. He told them he would write to Queen Victoria, describing his reception at their school.
Before concluding, Lord Stanley told the students that he would grant them a full day holiday, to help them remember the occasion and his message to them.
Principal Young, no doubt by prior arrangement with Lord Stanley, rose and an­nounced that the holiday would be the following Saturday.
The Governor General stood up and interrupted him, stat­ing that would not do at all because Saturday was not a school day. The holiday would be the following Monday. That produced wild cheers from the youngsters.
Before leaving the school, Lord Stanley was greeted by members of the school board and most of the teaching staff. Then it was off on a brief tour of the residential portion of the city as far as London Road, and back to Yarmouth Street for an inspection of the Raymond Sew­ing Machine plant. Charles Raymond and plant super­intendent C.F. Pettiford guided Lord Stanley through the factory, which employed about 175 at the time. Raymond proudly stated that 60 sewing machines had been shipped to England that very morning.
Then it was off to the Bell Piano factory, after a 10-minute impromptu stop at the Victoria Rink on Baker Street.
Three rinks of surprised curlers hap­pily interrupted their matches to greet Lord Stanley, who was a curler himself.
After touring the Bell plant on Carden Street, the tour strolled to the city hall for a civic reception. The building had been decorated elaborately for the occasion, particularly the upstairs council chamber, which was festooned with bunt­ing and borrowed tropical plants. Officers of the 11th Field Regiment formed an honour guard.
A city hall employee inad­vertently locked the front door, and that prevented members of the public from entering the building.
After a time, Mayor Sleeman became alarmed that no members of the public had come in, and he went down­stairs to investigate. Lord Stan­ley was quite upset that people who had wished to meet him had not been able to do so, and he consulted with his staff to see if a return trip might be possible.
From city hall the party moved on to the Priory Club, a men’s organization that includ­ed most of the elite of Guelph. Lord Stanley, still fresh after the hectic day, warmly greeted and chatted with the members for a half hour before returning to his railway car, which was then coupled to a westbound train.
A small crowd was on hand, and there was another brief round of speeches from Mayor Sleeman and other offi­cials. Lord Stanley responded, stating his delight with the day and the preparations made for him.
Lord Stanley arrived in Ber­lin, as Kitchener was then called, later that night. He re­mained in his car until morn­ing, when a civic reception greeted him at the station to begin another day that would exhaust most people.
The tour continued to Stratford for a day, then Goderich. There was a brief stop at Seaforth on the way to Petrolia and Sarnia. Then it was on to London, Chatham, Windsor, Woodstock, and a final stop at Brantford on Jan. 13 and 14, where a crowd of over 1,000 cheered Lord Stan­ley at the Central School. Every one of those days was as hectic as the one in Guelph.
Lord Stanley deserves to be remembered for more than his hockey trophy. He helped de­fine the role of the Governor General in Canada, removing the position from partisan pol­itics.
During visits to towns such as Guelph he strove to en­courage respect for and pride in Canada’s institutions and tradi­tions, and to foster a Canadian identity separate from the Unit­ed States and the United King­dom. A couple of months after the Guelph visit, Lord Stanley left Canada in order to assume the title of the Earl of Derby, following the death of an older brother.
He died in 1908, at the age of 67.

Stephen Thorning