Georges Vanier: Wikis


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His Excellency Major-General The Right Honourable
 Georges-Philéas Vanier
 PC, DSO, MC*, CD, BA Loy, LLB Lav, LLD(hc) Tor

Vanier as an officer in the 22nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1918.

In office
15 September 1959 – 5 March 1967
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker
Lester B. Pearson
Preceded by Vincent Massey
Succeeded by Roland Michener

Born 23 April 1888(1888-04-23)
Montreal, Quebec
Died 5 March 1967 (aged 78)
Ottawa, Ontario
Spouse(s) Pauline Vanier
Profession Officer, Diplomat
Religion Roman Catholic

Major-General Georges-Philéas Vanier PC DSO MC* CD (23 April 1888 – 5 March 1967) was a Canadian soldier and diplomat who, until his death, served as the Governor General of Canada. He was appointed as such by Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, on the recommendation of then Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, to replace Vincent Massey as viceroy. The official announcement of the appointment was made on 1 August 1959,[1] and Vanier's investiture as the 19th Governor General since Canadian Confederation took place on 15 September 1959.[1]

Vanier was born and educated in Quebec, and, after earning a university degree in law, served in the Canadian army during the First World War; on the European battlefields he lost a limb, but was commended for his actions with a number of decorations from the King. Subsequently, Vanier returned to Canada and remained in the military until the early 1930s, when he was posted to diplomatic missions in Europe. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Vanier once again became active in the military, commanding troops on the home front, until the cessation of hostilities in 1945, whereupon he returned to diplomatic circles. He was appointed as the Canadian viceroy in September 1959, and proved to be a popular governor general, with his war record earning respect from the majority of Canadians;[2] though, as a Quebecer, he was met with hostility by Quebec separatists.

Though he expressed to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson his willingness to continue to serve through the Canadian Centennial year, on 5 March 1967, Vanier, who had suffered with health problems throughout his viceregal tenure, died while still serving as the Queen's representative. He thus became the second person to do so, after John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir, in 1940.


Early life and youth

Vanier was born in Montreal to an Irish mother and a French-Norman father, who raised Vanier to be bilingual. After graduating from high school, he attended Loyola College, receiving in 1906 a Bachelor of Arts degree in church devotional fellowship,[3][4] and then went on to earn in 1911 his Bachelor of Laws degree from the Montreal campus of the Université Laval.[3] Vanier was called to the Quebec Bar that year,[5] and, though he took up the practice of law,[6] he considered entering the Catholic priesthood. But, with the outbreak of the First World War, he decided that offering his service to king and country should take priority and thereafter enlisted in the Canadian army. Vanier took on a prominent role in recruiting others, eventually helping to organise in 1915 the French Canadian 22nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, of which he was commissioned as an officer, and which later, in 1920, became the Royal 22e Régiment.[1]

After Vanier received in 1916, for his efforts, the Military Cross, he continued fighting in the trenches. In late 1918, he led an attack at Chérisy, and was shot in the chest and both legs,[2] resulting in the loss of his right leg. His recovery was lengthy, though he spent it in France, refusing to be evacuated while his fellow soldiers remained fighting.[4] With the cessations of hostilities, however, Vanier, for his bravery, was again awarded the Military Cross and given the 1914-15 Star, along with being appointed to the Distinguished Service Order. He thereafter returned to Montreal and once more found employment practicing law. On 29 September 1921, he married Pauline Archer, and the couple had five children,[1] one of whom was Jean Vanier.

Diplomatic career

General Vanier (seated, right), with William Lyon Mackenzie King (seated, centre), and other members of the Canadian delegation dispatched to the UK to discuss war planning, 1941.

In 1921, Vanier was appointed as aide-de-camp to Julian Byng, Viscount Byng of Vimy – who was then serving as governor general – until he was promoted to the rank of lieutant colonel, and, in 1925, he took over command of the Royal 22e Régiment at La Citadelle. Vanier occupied that position for only one year, before again becoming aide-de-camp for Byng's viceregal successor, Freeman Freeman-Thomas, Marquess of Willingdon.[1]

In 1928, Vanier was appointed to Canada's military delegation for disarmament to the League of Nations. Only two years later, he was named secretary to the High Commission of Canada in London, remaining at that post for nearly a decade – approximately half of which he spent serving none other than the man who would eventually immediately precede him as governor general of Canada, Vincent Massey. It was also during that period, in the tumultuous year of 1936, that King George V died, and his son, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, acceded and then abidcated in favour of his younger brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York. On 12 May 1937, Vanier, along with his son, Jean, watched from the roof of Canada House the coronation parade of their new king, George VI.[7] In the procession below, Vanier would have seen one of the future govenrors general of Canada, Harold Alexander, who was then the Personal Aide-de-Camp to the King.[8]

In 1939, Vanier was elevated to the position of George's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to France.[9] However, with the outbreak of Second World War and the Nazi occupation of France in 1940, Vanier and his wife fled to the United Kingdom, and then back to Canada in 1941, where he was commissioned as commander of the military district of Quebec, and began an early policy of bilingualism in the army.[1] The next year Vanier was promoted to the rank of major general, and then made the Canadian Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia, as well as the representative of the Canadian government to the Free French and later the Conseil National de la Résistance,[9] all of which were governments in exile. Throughout this time, Vanier attempted to convey to officials in Canada the seriousness of the situation in Europe, especially regarding refugees from the Nazi regime. To the frustration of the Vaniers, these efforts were met predominantly with indifference and even anger, and Vanier's letters to the Prime Minister at the time, William Lyon Mackenzie King, failed to induce a change in Canada's immigration policies.[6]

Following the fall of Vichy France in 1944 to the Allied Forces, Vanier's was posted as Canada's first ambassador to France.[9] While serving in that role, as well as acting as Canada's representative to the United Nations,[1] he toured in 1945 the just liberated Buchenwald concentration camp, and, on a return trip to Canada, delivered via the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation a speech expressing his shame over Canada's inaction, saying: "How deaf we were then, to cruelty and the cries of pain which came to our ears, grim forerunners of the mass torture and murders which were to follow." Back in Paris, he and his wife continued to help the refugees who arrived at the embassy, arranging for them food and temporary shelter. The couple, with the assistance of numerous others, eventually pushed the government of Canada to revise the regulations of immigration, and more than 186,000 European refugees settled in Canada between 1947 and 1953.[6]

It was in 1953 that Vanier retired from diplomatic service and returned to Montreal, though he and his wife continued social work there. Vanier simultaneously sat as a director of the Bank of Montreal, the Credit Foncier Franco-Canadien, and the Standard Life Assurance Company, and served on the Canada Council for the Arts.[1]

Governor generalship

Vanier was the first French Canadian governor general of Canada. Following on that of Vincent Massey, an Anglophone, the appointment of Vanier established the tradition of rotating between French and English speaking persons, and Vanier's bilingualism was an asset in his mandate of fostering Canadian unity. Vanier's tenure was marked by economic problems plaguing the country, and a succession of minority governments, but the greatest threats to Confederation came from the rise of the Quiet Revolution, Quebec nationalism, and the Quebec sovereignty movement, including the terrorist actions of the Front de libération du Québec; indeed, as a Québécois representing the Canadian monarch, and someone who promoted federalism, he was perceived by many Quebec separatists to be a traitor to his people. Amongst most other circles in the country, however, he was lauded as a distinguished viceroy.[1][6]


As Governor General-Designate

The appointment of Vanier as governor general was announced on 1 August 1959 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, during a meeting of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada at which Queen Elizabeth II was present,[2] and, by commission under the royal sign-manual and signet, approved of Vanier as her representative. In spite of the challenges of poor health and political unrest in Canada, the Major-General said of his commission to represent the Queen: "If God wants me to do this job, He will give me the strength to do it."[1]

As Vanier was a staunch Liberal Party supporter, and the ministers of the Crown were all at that time Progressive Conservatives, the announcement of the Major-General's appointment received surprised reaction from Ottawa insiders and the media. The Prime Minister, then John Diefenbaker, however, felt that more Francophone representation was needed in Canada's government; in his memoires, Diefenbaker said he had considered a non-Canadian for the post, and attributed his decision to put forward Vanier for appointment to a chance meeting with the Major-General.

As Governor General

Upon taking up residence at Rideau Hall, Vanier asked that a bilingual sign be placed at the main gates to the royal and viceroyal residence, and that a chapel for offering Mass be constructed somewhere on the property,[2] two requests that reflected two dominant forces in Vanier's life: religion and unity. When he was in residence, Vanier would pray twice daily in the chapel that was eventually fit into the palace's second floor,[2] and, at a time when the Canadian federation was under threat from separatists factions in Quebec, Vanier delivered numerous speeches, in both French and English, and infused with words praising the co-habitation of Anglophone and Francophone Canadians; in one of the last orations he gave, he said: "The road of unity is the road of love: love of one's country and faith in its future will give new direction and purpose to our lives, lift us above our domestic quarrels, and unite us in dedication to the common good... I pray God that we may all go forward hand in hand. We can't run the risk of this great country falling into pieces."[1] Words like these, though, earned Vanier the ire of Quebec nationalists, as demonstrated when, on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day in 1964, he found himself the target of such people in Montreal, who held placards reading "Vanier vendu" ("Vanier sold out") and "Vanier fou de la Reine" ("Vanier Queen's jester").[10]

Despite his poor health, and his doctor's warnings about strain, Vanier travelled across Canada, gaining the affection of Canadians. As part of his official duties, Vanier, along with the Queen, attended the inauguration of the Saint Lawrence Seaway on 26 June 1959, and in June 1965 was made Chief Big Eagle of the Blackfoot tribe in Calgary. He was also active in encouraging children to achieve, using his role as Chief Scout of Canada to this end, and his and his wife's concern for family life drew them to founding in 1964 the Canadian Conference of the Family, which eventually became the Vanier Institute of the Family. As the representative of the head of state, Vanier hosted a list of official guests, including US President John Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy; the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie; David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister of Israel; the Shah of Iran; and General Charles de Gaulle, President of France.[1]


By 1966, though his itinerary remained unreduced, Vanier's strength was failing. On 4 March 1967, before watching a Canadiens game on television at Rideau Hall, Vanier had conversed with his prime minister at the time, Lester B. Pearson, and had expressed to him that he was willing to continue beyond the traditional and approximate five year stint of most governors general to see out the centennial year. Given Vanier's physical state, Pearson was hesitant to advise the Queen to act along those lines, but his worry was short lived, as the following day, after hearing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receiving Holy Communion in the chapel, the Governor General died. With Robert Taschereau, Chief Justice of Canada, acting as Administrator of the Government, more than 15,000 messages of sympathy were received at Rideau Hall.[6]

Following a state funeral at the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica on 8 March 1967, the Major-General was buried at La Citadelle's commemorative chapel on 5 May of the same year. Though Vanier had earlier hosted the French President at Government House, neither de Gaulle nor any representative was sent to attend the funeral, which was read by Canadian diplomatic officials as a hint that there had been a change in Canada–France relations, and instigated the chain of events that would culminate in de Gaulle's "Vive le Québec libre" speech in Montreal later that year.[1]


When, in 1999, Maclean's compiled a list of the 100 most influential Canadians of all time, Vanier was placed by the editors at position number one.[2] His time in the Office of the Governor General saw the creation of a number of awards that reflected the Major-General's interests. He was an avid fan of sport, and, though his favourite was hockey, and specifically the Montreal Canadiens, Vanier instigated in 1965 the Governor General's Fencing Award, and the Vanier Cup for the university football championship in the Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union. To recognise excellence in more bureaucratic endeavours, Vanier initiated in 1962 the Vanier Medal of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, and in 1967 the Vanier Awards for Outstanding Young Canadians, awarded to deserving individuals in the Canadian Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Titles, styles, honours, and arms


Viceregal styles of
Georges Vanier
Crest of the Governor-General of Canada.svg
Reference style His Excellency The Right Honourable
Son Excellence le très honorable
Spoken style Your Excellency
Votre Excellence
Alternative style Sir
  • 23 April 1888 – 1915: Mister Georges Vanier
  • 1915 – 1924: Commander Georges Vanier
  • 1924 – 1942: Lieutenant-Colonel Georges Vanier
  • 1942 – 22 November 1944: Major-General Georges Vanier
  • 22 November 1944 – 31 December 1953: His Excellency Major-General Georges Vanier, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to France
  • 31 December 1953 – 15 September 1959: Major-General Georges Vanier
  • 15 September 1959 – 5 March 1967: His Excellency Major-General The Right Honourable Georges Vanier, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada

Vanier's style and title as governor general was, in full, and in English: His Excellency Major-General The Right Honourable Georges-Philéas Vanier, Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada, and in French: Son Excellence général de division le très honorable Georges-Philéas Vanier, compagnon de l'ordre du service distingué, gouverneur général et commandant en chef du Canada. It should be noted that, for Vanier, Commander-in-Chief was strictly a title, and not a position that he held; the actual commander-in-chief (who can also be, and is, called such) is perpetually the monarch of Canada.[11]


Canada Alberta
  • Chief Big Eagle

Military ranks


Ribbon bars of Georges Vanier
NOLH Streamer.JPG
Foreign honours

Honorary military appointments

Honorary degrees

Honorific eponyms

Geographic locations



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Governor General > Former Governors General > General The Right Honourable Georges Philias Vanier". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 12 March 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g DeSouza, Raymond (5 March 2007), "An extraordinary life", National Post,, retrieved 14 March 2009 
  3. ^ a b c d e "The Royal Canadian Legion West Vancouver (BC/Yukon) Branch 60 > History on Stamps > Miscellaneous Stamps > Georges Philias Vanier, Governor-General, 1959-1967". The Royal Canadian Legion West Vancouver (BC/Yukon) Branch 60. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Cowley, George (1998). "Georges Vanier". Canada's Christian Heritage. Retrieved 13 March 2009. 
  5. ^ Monet, Jacques, "The Canadian Encyclopedia", in Marsh, James Harley, Biography > Governors General of Canada > Vanier, Georges-Philéas, Toronto: Historica Foundation of Canada,, retrieved 16 March 2009 
  6. ^ a b c d e "Pauline & Georges P. Vanier and Jewish Refugees". Vanier College. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  7. ^ Renzetti, Elizabeth (26 December 2008), "'Vulnerability brings us together'", The Globe and Mail,, retrieved 17 March 2009 
  8. ^ London Gazette: no. 34264, p. 1657, 13 March 1937. Retrieved on 18 June 2008.
  9. ^ a b c Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. "About the Department > Canadian Heads of Posts Abroad from 1880 > Vanier, Brig. George Philias (Career)". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 15 March 2009. 
  10. ^ Hubbard, R.H. (1977). Rideau Hall. Montreal and London: McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 233. ISBN 978-0773503106. 
  11. ^ Victoria (29 March 1867), Constitution Act, 1867, III.15, Westminster: Queen's Printer,, retrieved 15 January 2009 
  12. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Honours > Insignia Worn by the Governor General". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 27 February 2009. 
  13. ^ Canadian Bureau for International Education (27 February 2008). "International education gets a boost in federal budget". Press release. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  14. ^ "Vanier Award". Institute of Public Administration of Canada. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  15. ^ "The Royal Canadian Legion Br. 472 Georges Vanier". R.C. Legion R.C. Hawkesbury Branch. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  16. ^ "Georges Vanier Catholic School". Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board. Retrieved 15 March 2009. 
  17. ^ "York University > Vanier College". York University. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  18. ^ Library and Archives Canada. "Alan B. Beddoe fonds". Retrieved 7 March 2010. 
  19. ^ a b "Arms of Past and Present Canadian Governors General > VANIER, Rt. Hon. Georges Philias, PC, MC, DSO, CD". Royal Heraldry Society of Canada. Retrieved 15 March 2009. 

External links

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
New title
Canadian Ambassador Extraordinary
and Plenipotentiary to France

22 November 1944 – 31 December 1953
Succeeded by
Jean Désy
Preceded by
New title
Canadian Representative to the
Government of France in Exile

30 November 1942 – 22 November 1944
Succeeded by
Title abolished
Preceded by
New title
Canadian Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary
to the Governments of
Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands,
Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia in Exile

5 November 1942 – 2 September 1944
23 September 1944 for Yugoslavia
Succeeded by
Title abolished
Preceded by
Philippe Roy
Canadian Envoy Extraordinary
and Minister Plenipotentiary to France

12 December 1938 – 14 September 1940
Succeeded by
Title abolished


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