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For other people named Donald Smith, see Donald Smith (disambiguation)
Donald Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal
Born Donald Alexander Smith
6 August 1820
Forres, Scotland
Died 21 January 1915 (aged 94)
Cause of death Heart disease, bronchial catarrh and heart failure
Resting place Highgate Cemetery
Residence 28 Grosvenor Square, London
Other names Sir Donald Alexander Smith
Citizenship Canada
Net worth $28,867,635
Spouse(s) Isabella Sophia Hardisty
Children Margaret Charlotte

Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, GCMG, GCVO, PC, DL (August 6, 1820 – January 21, 1914) was a Scottish-born Canadian fur trader, financier, railroad baron and politician. He was born in the Morayshire town of Forres to Alexander Smith, a saddler, and Barbera Stuart. On leaving school at the age of 16, Smith was apprenticed to become a lawyer in the town clerk's office. He left Scotland in 1838 for Canada where he obtained an apprenticeship from the Hudson's Bay Company and remained in the wildernesses of Labrador for nearly thirty years working in the fur trade. Smith was the chief commissioner for the company from 1870 until 1874 and eventually—after becoming its principal shareholder—was appointed as its governor from 1889 to 1914.

Smith's political career began in 1870 when he was elected as the Conservative member for Winnipeg in the Manitoba legislature. In 1871 he was elected to the Canadian House of Commons for the Selkirk constituency. In 1873 he removed his backing from his parliamentary leader Sir John MacDonald in the light of the Pacific Scandal which led to the defeat of the Conservatives.

His promotion of railway projects started with the St Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway but his official membership of the Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate was successfully opposed by MacDonald. Despite this, Smith's financial backing was crucial to the undertaking and in 1885 to mark the opening of the line he was given the privilege of driving the last spike. In 1887 he was president of the Bank of Montreal and became its honorary president in 1905.

Following his defeat in the Selkirk constituency in 1880 he won the Montreal West seat in 1887 which he retained until 1896 when he took up the post of Canadian high commissioner in London. He was knighted in 1886 and then elevated to the peerage in 1897. On his death in 1914 his daughter Margaret Charlotte inherited his peerage.


Early life

Smith was born in Forres, in Moray, Scotland, and briefly apprenticed to become a lawyer in the town clerk's office.

Hudson's Bay Company

He emigrated to Lower Canada in 1838 to work for the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), becoming a clerk for the organization in 1842. He was given administrative control over the seigneury of Mingan (in modern Labrador) in late 1843, where his innovative methods met with the disapproval of HBC governor Sir George Simpson. The Mingan post burned down in 1846, and Smith left for Montreal the following year. He returned in 1848, and remained in Labrador until the 1860s, administering the fur trade and salmon fishing within the region.

In 1862, Smith was promoted as the company's Chief Factor in charge of the Labrador district. He traveled to London in 1865, and made a favourable impression on the HBC's directors. In 1868, he was promoted to Commissioner of the Montreal department, managing the HBC's eastern operations. That same year, Smith joined with George Stephen, Richard Bladworth Angus, and Andrew Paton to establish the textile manufactory, Paton Manufacturing Company, in Sherbrooke.

In 1869, Smith was sent to the Red River Settlement in present day Manitoba by the Canadian government to negotiate with Louis Riel, leader of the Red River Rebellion. Smith's offers, including land recognition for the Métis, led to Riel calling a Council of 40 representatives for formal negotiations. Smith succeeded in gaining clemency for some prisoners within the region; he was not, however, able to prevent the execution of Thomas Scott by the provisional government.

Smith returned to Ottawa in early 1870, and was appointed President of the HBC's Council of the Northern Department (effectively becoming administrator of the Northwest Territories, including Manitoba).

Smith accompanied Col. Garnet Wolseley's military mission to Red River later in the year; following the end of the rebellion, Wolseley illegally appointed Smith as the Acting Governor of Assiniboia pending Lieutenant Governor Adams George Archibald's arrival in the province. Smith stayed in the region after 1870, and was responsible for negotiating the transfer of HBC land to the federal government (as well as coordinating the transfer of several specific land claims in the region). Archibald appointed Smith to his Executive Council on October 20, 1870, although this decision was subsequently overturned by the Canadian government, which ruled that Archibald had overstepped his legal authority.

Political career

In Manitoba's first general election, held on December 27, 1870, Smith was elected to the provincial legislature for the riding of Winnipeg and St. John, defeating long-time HBC nemesis John Christian Schultz by 71 votes to 63. Smith was a supporter of Archibald's consensus government, and opposed Schultz's ultra-loyalist Canadian Party; there was a riot among the Ontario soldiers stationed in Winnipeg following the announcement of Smith's victory.

Politicians were allowed to serve in both the provincial and federal parliaments in this period of Manitoba history, and Smith was elected to the Canadian House of Commons for the newly-formed riding of Selkirk in early 1871. He sat as an Independent Conservative, and initially supported the government of Sir John A. Macdonald. Easily re-elected in 1872, Smith was a strong defender of HBC interests in the House of Commons, and also spoke for issues concerning Manitoba and the Northwest. He helped create the Bank of Manitoba and the Manitoba Insurance Company during this period, assisted by banker Sir Hugh Allan.

In 1872 Smith was appointed in the first group of members of the Temporary North-West Council the first governing assembly of Northwest Territories. Smith was one of the few people who served on two provincial / territorial legislatures and the federal parliament at the same time.

Smith broke with Macdonald in 1873, after the Prime Minister had delayed reimbursement for Smith's earlier expenses in Red River. Smith voted to censure the government in a motion over the Pacific Scandal, and was thereby partly responsible for the government's defeat. Smith remained an Independent Conservative, but his relations with the official Conservative representatives were often strained in later years.

Manitoba abolished the "dual mandate" in 1873, and Smith resigned from the provincial legislature in early 1874 (the first person to do so). In the Canadian general election of 1874, Smith defeated Liberal candidate Andrew G. B. Bannatyne by 329 votes to 225. The Manitoba Free Press, at the time, suggested that Smith had encouraged Bannatyne's candidacy to prevent more serious opposition from emerging.

In 1873, the HBC separated its fur trade and land sales operations, putting Smith in charge of the latter. Smith had developed an interest in railway expansion through his work with the HBC, and in 1875 was among the incorporators of the Manitoba Western Railway. He was also a partner in the Red River Transportation Company, which gained control over the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad in March 1878. His business ventures increasingly dominated his labours, and he formally resigned as land commissioner in early 1879 (though remaining a leading figure in the HBC's Canadian operations).

Smith faced a serious electoral challenge from former Manitoba Lieutenant Governor Alexander Morris in the general election of 1878. Aided on this occasion by the Manitoba Free Press, Smith defeated Morris by 555 votes to 546; local Conservative organizers protested the result, and it was overturned two years later. On September 10, 1880, Smith was defeated by former Winnipeg Mayor Thomas Scott, 735 votes to 577.

Corporate leader

In May 1879, Smith became a director in the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company, having control over 20% of its shares. He was subsequently a leading figure in the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway, although he was not appointed as a director of the organization until 1883 because of his lingering animosity with Sir John A. Macdonald (who had again become Prime Minister in 1878). He remained on the board of executives for several years, although he was by-passed for the company's presidency in 1888, in favour of William Cornelius Van Horne.

Smith became extremely wealthy through his investments, and was involved in a myriad of Canadian and American corporations in the later part of the 19th century. He was appointed to the board of the Bank of Montreal in 1872, became its Vice-President in 1882, and was promoted to the Presidency in 1887.

Smith was also involved in the newspaper industry during this period. His attempt to take over the Toronto Globe in 1882 was unsuccessful, though he took effective control of the Manitoba Free Press from William Fisher Luxton in 1893. In 1889, he was the principal shareholder of the Hudson's Bay Company and was elected as its 26th governor, holding this position until his death in 1914.

Later political career

Smith was re-elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1887, in the Quebec riding of Montreal West, and once again sat as an "Independent Conservative". He was re-elected in the election of 1891, defeating his only opponent (one James Cochrane) 4586 votes to 880. Smith remained interested in Manitoba politics, and attempted (without success) to broker a compromise between Thomas Greenway and the federal government during the Manitoba school crisis of the 1890s.

High Commissioner

Prime Minister Sir Mackenzie Bowell wanted Smith to succeed him in 1896, but Smith refused. The position of Prime Minister instead went to Sir Charles Tupper, who appointed Smith as High Commissioner to London, England on April 24, 1896.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier retained Smith as High Commissioner following the Liberal election victory of 1896, although his powers were somewhat undercut. He was created The Right Honourable Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, of Glencoe in the County of Argyll and of Mount Royal in the Province of Quebec and Dominion of Canada, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, in 1897. He cooperated with Manitoba Liberal Clifford Sifton in opening the Canadian prairies to eastern-European immigration. He raised Lord Strathcona's Horse, a private unit of Canadian soldiers, during the Second Boer War, and became one of the leading supporters of British imperialism within London. He was involved in the creation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, of which he became the chairman in 1909. Lord Strathcona subsequently used his influence to make the company a major supplier of the Royal Navy.


Strathcona was a leading philanthropist in his later years, donating large sums of money to various organizations in Britain, Canada and elsewhere. His largest donations were made with George Stephen, donating the money to build the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal that opened its doors in 1893. Strathcona also made a major donation to McGill University in Montreal, where he helped establish a school for women in 1884. He was named Chancellor of McGill in 1888, and held the largely ceremonial post until his death. He also bequeathed funds to the Sheffield Scientific School for a science and engineering building and to support two professorships in engineering. He had been awarded an honorary degree from Yale in 1892. In 1910, Sir Donald Alexander Smith deposited in trust with the Dominion Government the sum of $500,000, bearing annual interest of 4%, to develop citizenship and patriotism in the Royal Canadian Army Cadets movement through physical training, rifle shooting, and military drill. He is remembered today with the Lord Strathcona Medal.

Lord Strathcona died in 1914. His seventy-five year tenure with the Hudson's Bay Company remains a record.


Lord Strathcona is commemorated in Manitoba by the Rural Municipality of Strathcona and by three streets in Winnipeg: Donald Street and Smith Street in the downtown core, and Strathcona Street in the city's West End.[1] In Alberta he is commemorated by the Calgary neighbourhood of Strathcona Park[2] and by the Edmonton neighbourhood of Strathcona.

External links


  1. ^ Donald Alexander Smith at the Manitoba Historical Society. Accessed November 30, 2009.
  2. ^ Scottish Place Names in Calgary. Accessed November 30, 2009.


Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
Member of Parliament from Selkirk
Succeeded by
Thomas Scott
Preceded by
Matthew Hamilton Gault
Member of Parliament from Montreal West
Succeeded by
The electoral district was abolished in 1892
Business positions
Preceded by
C. F. Smithers
President of the Bank of Montreal
Succeeded by
George Alexander Drummond
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Charles Tupper
Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
George Halsey Perley
Academic offices
Preceded by
James Ferrier
Chancellor of McGill University
Succeeded by
William Christopher Macdonald
Preceded by
Marquess of Huntly
Rector of the University of Aberdeen
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal
Succeeded by
Margaret Charlotte Howard


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