Quebec History Marianopolis College

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


Alexander Tilloch Galt



[This biography was written in 1948. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]

Galt, Sir Alexander Tilloch (1817-1893), Canadian minister of finance (1858-62 and 1864-8), and Canadian high commissioner in London (1880-83), was born in Chelsea, London, on September 6, 1817, the youngest son of John Galt, the Scottish novelist. He came to Canada in 1835 as a clerk in the office of the British American Land Company at Sherbrooke, Lower Canada, and from 1844 to 1855 he was commissioner of the company. He became interested in railway development; and he was one of the Canadian promoters of the Grand Trunk Railway. In 1849 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Canada for Sherbrooke county as an independent member; but he resigned in 1850. He was returned for Sherbrooke town in 1853; and he continued to represent this constituency in the Assembly until 1867, and in the House of Commons until 1872. He came to be regarded as the leader of the English-speaking members from Lower Canada; and in 1858 he became minister of finance in the Cartier-Macdonald administration, joining the government on the condition that the federation of British North America was to be a plank in its platform. With George E. Cartier and John Ross, he went to England to urge Confederation on the British government, but without success. In 1862 he resigned office with his colleagues; but in 1864 he became again minister of finance, and he continued in this office until 1866. He was a delegate to the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864 and to the Westminster Conference of 1866; and he was one of the chief architects of the British North America Act. In 1867 he became the first finance minister of the Dominion; but in 1868 he retired from office because of a disagreement with Sir John Macdonald.

Galt never again held cabinet office. He severed his connection with political parties, pronounced himself a believer in the future independence of Canada, and in 1872 retired from parliament. In 1875 he was appointed a member of the Halifax Fisheries Commission, under the Treaty of Washington; and the next few years of his life were mainly devoted to diplomatic or semi-diplomatic work. In 1880 he was appointed the first Canadian high commissioner in London; and he held this post until 1883. His last ten years were devoted to the development of various enterprises he had launched in the Canadian North West; but after 1890 his health rapidly failed, and he died at Montreal on September 19, 1893.

He was twice married, (1) in 1848 to Elliott (d. 1850), daughter of John Torrance, of Montreal, and (2) in 1851 to her younger sister, Amy Gordon. By his first wife he had one son; and by his second wife two sons and eight daughters. He declined the C.B. (civil) in 1867, but was created a K.C.M.G. in 1869, and a G.C.M.G. in 1878. He was the author of several pamphlets: Canada , 1849 to 1859 (London and Quebec, 1860), The political situation (Montreal, 1875), Church and state ( Montreal, 1876), Civil liberty in Lower Canada (Montreal, 1876), The relations of the colonies to the Empire (London, 1881), and Future of the Dominion of Canada (London, 1881). [Prohibition. Great Speech of A. T. Galt, C.G.M.G., Campaign Tract No 2, 10p.; The Political Situation. A Letter to the Honorable James ferrier, Senator, by Sir A. T. Galt, K.C.M.G., Montreal, Bently, 1875, 10p.; A protest Against the Efforts now Being Made in Canada by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy to Put into Practice Among Her Majesty's protestant Subjects the Doctrine of the Syllabus and the Vatican, London, C. A. Macintosh, 1877, 12p. The Relations of the Colonies to the Empire: Present and Future. Two Addresses delivered in Edinburg and Greenock, 1883, pp. 391-408. Speech on the Proposed Union of the British North American Provinces, Delivered at Sherbrooke, C.E., by the Honorable A. T. Galt, 23 November 1864, 24p.]

See O. D. Skelton, The life and times of Sir A. T. Galt ( Toronto, 1920).

Source: W. Stewart WALLACE, "Alexander Tilloch Galt", in The Encyclopedia of Canada, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948,



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