Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Sir Oliver Mowat



Mowat, Sir Oliver (1820-1903), statesman, was born in Kingston, Upper Canada, the eldest son of John Mowat and Helen Levack, natives of Caithnessshire, Scotland. He was educated at private schools in Kingston, and in 1841 was called to the bar of Upper Canada (Q.C., 1856). In the general elections of 1857 he was returned as a Liberal for South Ontario in the Legislative Assembly of Canada; and in the short-lived Brown-Dorion administration of 1858 he occupied the position of provincial secretary. In 1863-4 he was postmaster-general in the Macdonald-Dorion government; and in the "Great Coalition" of June, 1864, he held the same portfolio. He attended the Quebec Conference as one of the delegates from Upper Canada ; but on November 14, 1864, he was appointed vice-chancellor of Upper Canada, and temporarily retired from politics.


His return to political life occurred in 1872, when Edward Blake resigned the premiership of Ontario. Blake advised the lieutenant-governor to call upon Mowat to form an administration, and Mowat, retiring from the bench, accepted the invitation. He was elected for North Oxford, and he continued to be prime minister and attorney-general of Ontario from 1872 to 1896, a period of office unparalleled in the history of British parliamentary government. During this period he played a foremost part in the fight for "provincial rights"; and his administration was marked by a gradual, but noteworthy, extension of the franchise. Though cautious and even conservative, he was actuated by high ideals; at the same time, he was a practical politician, and the description of "Christian statesman" which he once applied to himself was sometimes thrown back in his face. "The leopard does not change his spots," observed Goldwin Smith, with reference to Mowat, "even when he becomes a Christian statesman."


In 1896 Mowat was appointed to the Senate, where he became the government leader, and he was included in Laurier's "ministry of all the talents" as minister of justice. In 1897, however, he found that his new duties were too heavy for him, at his advanced age, and he retired to accept the lieutenant-governorship of Ontario. This post he occupied until his death on April 19, 1903.


He married in .1846 Jane, second daughter of John Ewart, of Toronto ; and by her he had three sons and four daughters. He was created a K.C.M.G. in 1892, and a G.C.M.G. in 1897.


See C. R. W. Biggar, Sir Oliver Mowat (2 vols., Toronto, 1905) ; W. S. Wallace, "Political History of Ontario", in A. Shortt and A. G. Doughty (eds.), Canada and its provinces, vol. xvii (Toronto, 1914) ; G. W. Ross, Getting into parliament and after (Toronto, 1913); C. Clarke, Sixty years in Upper Canada (Toronto, 1908). [A. Margaret Evans, Sir Oliver Mowat, 1992, 437p.]


Source : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. IV, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 400p., pp. 353-354.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College