Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
August 2004

Biographies of Prominent Quebec and Canadian

Historical Figures

Goldwin Smith




Damien-Claude Bélanger

Department of History

McGill University

Historian and journalist, was born at Reading, England. He was educated at Eaton and at Magdalen College, Oxford. From 1858 to 1866 he was regius professor of modern history at Oxford University. In 1868 he accepted the professorship of English and constitutional history at the newly formed Cornell University of Ithaca, New York. Three years later, Smith settled in Toronto and became active in the fledgling Canada First movement. However, he would later become convinced that the new nation was a political, economic and cultural failure and drift towards a passive form of annexationism. In the decades that followed his arrival in Canada he played a key role in the development of several Canadian journals, including the Canadian Monthly, the Nation and the Week, and wrote and published the Bystander, a small but influential journal of political and social commentary. Though Goldwin Smith had not been a major figure in British liberal circles, he was considered the most prominent Canadian thinker of his time. Indeed, he was one of only a handful of nineteenth century Canadian authors whose work was read abroad and whose influence could be felt in Anglo-American intellectual circles. Written while Canada was undergoing deep political and economic difficulties, his brilliant but highly controversial Canada and the Canadian Question (1891) argued that the Canadian nation was a geographic, ethnic, economic, and political absurdity whose ultimate destiny lay in political union with the United States. Widely read and criticized, it was perhaps the most important and influential essay written in nineteenth-century Canada.

[Consult the biography of Goldwin Smith in the Encyclopedia section of the site.]





© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College