Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
March 2006

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


George Brown


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[This biography was written in 1886. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]

Brown, Hon. George.—The late Hon. George Brown was born at Edinburgh, Scotland, on the 29th of November, 1818. He was the eldest son of Peter Brown, by Miss Mackenzie, only daughter of George Mackenzie, of The Cottage, Stornoway, in the Island of Lewes. Young George, who was an ambitious, energetic, and out-spoken lad, attended the High School of his native city ; but he was not satisfied with that institu­tion, and, at his own request, was placed in the Southern Academy of Edinburgh. After he had left this institution, he assisted his father in business, and showed much proficiency in his calling. Through the misconduct of an agent, however, Peter Brown became involved in difficulties, and after a futile attempt to extricate himself he emigrated, in 1838, to America, George accompanying him. In New York Mr. Brown, senior, became a contributor to. The Albion, and in 1842, having much literary equipment, and a strong in­clination for letters, he established The British Chronicle. Mr. Brown, senior, was editor, and his son George was the publisher and general manager. In 1843 George made a visit to Canada, with the view of extending the circulation of his father's paper. Reaching Upper Canada, he was not slow to grasp the situation of political affairs, and to see that there was a. capital opening for brain, courage, and en­ergy. As a result of all these observations, and of inducements held out by Reformers, the Globe was established as a weekly newspaper, and made its appearance on the 5th of March, 1844. The paper had two qualities which compelled attention and assured success from the beginning—force and earnestness. The blows were given with the force of sledge-hammers, and what the articles lacked in tact or finesse they supplied in truth and honest utterance, and in manly vigour. Of course the Tories were disgusted with Mr. Brown, and some Re-formers at the first gave him only a tardy support. The memory of another forcible, impulsive Scotchman, had not passed from their minds, and they thought they saw a second Mackenzie in George Brown ; but of different metal and abler calibre was this powerful young Scot, now managing the Globe. He first entered Parliament for the County of Haldimand, in 1852, de­feating William Lyon Mackenzie, who had returned from exile two years before. As soon as he took his place in the House he made his great force as a speaker at once felt ; and thereafter, till the close of his able career, he did not cease to be formid­able. He favoured all the great reforms of the time ; the abolition of the Clergy Reserves, State Churchism, and Seigniorial Tenure. He likewise advocated Representation by Population with persistent energy, and was once called upon to form a government by Sir Edmund W. Head. He con­sented, and the Brown-Dorion administra­tion came into existence ; but it lasted only three days, when the Conservatives, with-out the trouble of an election, by the expedient known as the double-shuffle, resumed their offices. He entered the Coalition government, formed for the purpose of carrying confederation, but after a time re-signed. He was called to the Senate on the 16th of December, 1873. During his ab­sence in Edinburgh, in 1862, he married Annie, daughter of Thomas Nelson, the well known publisher. On the 25th of March, 1880, he was shot in the leg by a discharged employé, named Bennet. No one supposed at first that the wound was dangerous ; but, after a few days, alarming symptoms set in, and the career of this most brilliant and upright statesman was brought to a close on the 9th of May following, in the sixty-second year of his age. He left a wife and two daughters ; both of the latter, by their success in the higher institutions of learning giving proof that they inherit much of the talent of their illustrious father. During Mr. Brown's day he was the most active and powerful figure in our politics ; but his path of duty was too straight, and his principles were too just and too inflexible to allow him to achieve those “triumphs of power” which fall rather to the share of mere "politicians," and men of expediency. In every great reform movement in this country, since the days of Mackenzie till the confederation, he was the leading spirit. All the “privileges” which had been entrenched in our new country, he fought with a relentless and able hand ; and he had the proud satisfaction of seeing each in their turn give way before his persistent opposition. For years he bore the banner of the party who demanded representation by population, but the interest of Sir John A. Macdonald lay in the French household, and this great principle was denied, till it became settled under the scheme of a general confederation of the provinces. Some hostile and poorly informed writers have declared that Mr. Brown's leading star was Ambition and not Duty ; but had this been so he never would have consented to the party modus vivendi through which confederation was accomplished. He sunk every personal pretension and claim that this great end might be attained ; but once the wheels of the new order began to turn, he opened all his thunder upon men whom he believed to be corrupt and incapable. There is not a stain of any sort, upon the political or the private name of the Honourable George Brown. It was fitting that the memory of a man so illustrious in his coun­try's history should not be lightly held by the people. Therefore a subscription was opened up by admirers of the deceased statesman, for the erection in some public place of a monument and statue to his mem­ory. The work was awarded to C. B. Burch, A.R.A., London, England, and on the 25th of November, 1884, the statue was unveiled in Queen's Park, Toronto, where it now stands. A large concourse of persons, of both political parties, was present at the unveiling ceremony, and an address, reviewing the life work of the departed statesman was delivered by the Hon. Oliver Mowat.

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Source: Geo. Maclean ROSE, "George Brown", in A Cyclopedia of Canadian Biography: Being Chiefly Men of the Time. A Collection of Persons Distinguished in Professional and Political Life; Leaders in the Commerce and Industry of Canada, and Successful Pioneers, Toronto, Rose Publishing Company, 1886, 807p., pp. 416-417.

© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College