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Georges Vanier

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George Philias Vanier

Vanier (in uniform) with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and other members of a delegation to plan the war effort in World War II (Great Britain, 1941)

Georges Philias Vanier PC DSO MC (born April 23, 1888 in Montreal; † March 5, 1967 in Ottawa) was a Canadian major general, diplomat, as well as the first French-speaking Canadian to hold the office of Governor General of Canada.

Biography

Major General and Diplomat

After attending school, he first studied at Loyola College in Montreal, earning a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree there in 1906. He completed subsequent postgraduate studies in law at the University of Montreal in 1911 with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) and subsequently practiced law.

After the outbreak of the First World War, he joined the Royal Canadian Army and was initially appointed Commander in 1915. During this time he was appointed aide-de-camp to the new Governor-General Julian Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy in 1921. In 1924, after receiving the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, he became Commander of the 22nd Royal Regiment stationed at the Citadel of Quebec. After serving as a member of the delegation to the League of Nations disarmament negotiations from 1928 to 1930, he became secretary to the Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Howard Ferguson, and continued to hold that position under his successor, Vincent Massey, until 1938.

On 12 December 1938, he was appointed envoy to France. Vanier held this post until 14 September 1940, several months after the occupation of France by the German Wehrmacht. After his promotion to major general, in November 1942 he became both representative to the French government-in-exile in London and envoy to the governments-in-exile of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Yugoslavia.

General Vanier had been on the spot immediately after the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration Camp and, accompanied by 8 US-Americans, had seen the horrible conditions the Germans had wanted. He reported about it by telegram on April 27th from Paris to Canada[1]which was broadcast nationwide by the CBC on May 1, 1945 and shocked the listeners.[2]

When the governments in exile ceased their activities after the end of the war, his task there was finished. He then became ambassador to France from 22 November 1944 to 31 December 1953.

He subsequently retired from the diplomatic service and returned to Canada, serving simultaneously as a director of the Banque de Montreal, Credit Foncier Franco-Canadien and Standard Life Assurance Company, and the Canadian Council for the Arts.

Governor General of Canada

On August 1, 1959, he was appointed Governor General of Canada by Queen Elizabeth II, a post he became the first French Canadian to hold on September 15, 1959, succeeding Vincent Massey, and held until his death on March 5, 1967.

As Governor General, he not only represented the British monarch as Head of State, but was also her representative as Commander-in-Chief. In addition, he was responsible for the appointment of the Lieutenant Governors in the provinces and territories of Canada. His tenure included the appointments of the Lieutenant Governors of British Columbia (George Pearkes 1960), Manitoba (Errick Willis 1960), Saskatchewan (Robert Hanbidge 1963), Manitoba (Richard Spink Bowles 1965), and Alberta (Grant MacEwan 1966).

After his death, because the six-week period had elapsed before his successor, Roland Michener, took office, the president of the Supreme Court, Robert Taschereau, assumed the office of governor-general on an interim basis.

Among other things, a street in Montreal and the Georges-Vanier subway station are named after Vanier.

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Notes

  1. LETTER WRITTEN BY GEORGES P. VANIER AFTER HIS VISIT TO THE BUCHENWALD CONCENTRATION CAMP, April 27, 1945, History of Vanier College. Accurate description of his impressions.
  2. Jeremy Kinsman, “Georges Vanier” in Legacy. How french Canadians shaped North America. Eds. André Pratte et al. McClelland & Stewart, Toronto 2016; reissued 2019, ISBN 0771072392, pp. 161-187, here p. 161; French edition: Bâtisseurs d’Amérique: Des Canadiens français qui ont faite de l’histoire. La Presse, Montréal 2016, pp. 275-312