George Brown (Canadian politician)

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For other persons named George Brown, see George Brown.
The Honourable
George Brown
George Brown.jpg
Premier of Canada West (Ontario)
In office
August 2, 1858 – August 6, 1858
Preceded by John A. Macdonald
Succeeded by John A. Macdonald
Senator for Lambton, Ontario
In office
December 16, 1873 – March 25, 1880
Appointed by Alexander Mackenzie
Personal details
Born (1818-11-29)November 29, 1818
Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
Died May 9, 1880(1880-05-09) (aged 61)
Toronto, Ontario
Political party Clear Grit Party
Profession Journalist, publisher

George Brown (November 29, 1818 – May 9, 1880) was a Scottish-born Canadian journalist, politician and one of the Fathers of Confederation; attended the Charlottetown (Sept. 1864) and Quebec (Oct. 1864) conferences.[1] A noted Reform politician, he was also the founder and editor of the Toronto Globe, which is today (having merged with other newspapers) known as The Globe and Mail.[2]


Brown was born in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, on November 29, 1818[3] and immigrated to Canada in 1843, after managing a printing operation in New York City with his father. He founded the Banner in 1843, and The Globe in 1844, which quickly became the leading Reform newspaper in the Province of Canada. In 1848, he was appointed to head a Royal Commission to examine accusations of official misconduct in Provincial Penitentiary of the Province of Upper Canada at Kingston. The Brown Report, which Brown drafted early in 1849, included sufficient evidence of abuse to set in motion the termination of warden Henry Smith.[3] Brown's revelations of poor conditions at the Kingston penitentiary were heavily criticized by John A. Macdonald and contributed to the tense relationship between the two Canadian statesmen.

Brown used the Globe newspaper to publish articles and editorials that attacked the institution of slavery in the southern United States. In response to the Fugitive Slave Law passed in the United States in 1850, Brown helped found the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada. This society was founded to end the practice of slavery in North America, and individual members aided former American slaves reach Canada via the Underground Railroad. As a result, black Canadians enthusiastically supported Brown's political ambitions.

Brown was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada in 1851. He reorganized the Clear Grit (Liberal) Party in 1857, supporting, among other things, the separation of church and state, the annexation of Rupert's Land, and a small government. But the most important issue for George Brown was what he termed representation by population, or commonly known as "rep by pop".

From the Act of Union (1840), the Canadian colonial legislature had been composed of an equal number of members from Canada East (Lower Canada, Quebec) and Canada West (Upper Canada, Ontario, Canada). In 1841, Francophone-dominated Lower Canada had a larger population, and the British colonial administration hoped that the Canadiens in Lower Canada would be legislatively pacified by a coalition of Loyalists from Lower Canada with the Upper Canadian side. But during the 1840s and 1850s, as the population of Upper Canada grew larger than the Canadien population of Lower Canada, the opposite became true. Brown believed that the larger population deserved to have more representatives, rather than an equal number from Upper and Lower Canada. Brown's pursuit of this goal of righting what he perceived to be a great wrong to Canada West[4] was accompanied at times by stridently critical remarks against French Canadians[5] and the power exerted by the Catholic population of Canada East over the affairs of largely Protestant Canada West, referring to the position of Canada West as "a base vassalage to French-Canadian Priestcraft."[5]

For a period of four days in August 1858, political rival John A. Macdonald lost the support of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada on a non-confidence vote and his cabinet had to resign. After Alexander Galt declined the opportunity, George Brown attempted to form a ministry with Antoine-Aimé Dorion. At the time, newly appointed ministers had to resign their seats and run in by-elections. When members of Brown's ministry resigned their seats to get re-elected, John A. Macdonald re-emerged and through a loophole was re-appointed with his ministry to their old posts. Brown was the de facto premier of Province of Canada in 1858. The short-lived administration was called the Brown-Dorion government, named after the co-premiers George Brown and Antoine-Aimé Dorion. This episode was termed the "double shuffle."

Brown and Confederation[edit]

Monument to George Brown at Queen's Park, Toronto, Canada, circa 1910
Shooting of George Brown, Toronto

George Brown resigned from the Coalition in 1865 because he was not happy with the United States. Brown thought Canada should pursue free trade, while the conservative government of John A. Macdonald and Alexander Galt thought Canada should increase tariffs.

During the Quebec Conference, Brown argued strongly in favour of an appointed Senate. Like many reformers of the time, he saw Upper Houses as inherently conservative in function, serving to protect the interests of the rich, and wished to deny the Senate the legitimacy and power that naturally follows with an electoral mandate.[6]

The success of the Quebec Conference pleased Brown particularly by the prospect for the end of Lower Canadian interference in the affairs of Canada West. "Is it not wonderful?" he wrote to his wife Anne after the Quebec Conference, "French-Canadianism is entirely extinguished."[7] By this he may have meant either that he was of the view that English-speaking Canada West had emerged triumphant over French Canadians[8] or that Confederation would put an end to French Canadian domination of the affairs of what would become the province of Ontario.[9]

Brown realized, nevertheless, that satisfaction for Canada West would not be achieved without the support of the French-speaking majority of Canada East. In his speech in support of Confederation in the Legislature of the Province of Canada on February 8, 1865, in which he spoke glowingly of the prospects for Canada's future,[10] Brown insisted that "[w]hether we ask for parliamentary reform for Canada alone or in union with the Maritime Provinces, the views of French Canadians must be consulted as well as ours. This scheme can be carried, and no scheme can be that has not the support of both sections of the province".[11] Following the speech, Brown was praised by the Quebec newspaper Le Canadien[12] as well as by the Rouge paper, L'Union Nationale.[12] Although he supported the idea of a legislative union at the Quebec Conference,[13] Brown was eventually persuaded to favour the federal view of Confederation, closer to that supported by Cartier and the Bleus of Canada East, as this was the structure that would ensure that the provinces retained sufficient control over local matters to satisfy the need of the French-speaking population in Canada East for jurisdiction over matters essential to its survival.[12] However Brown, like Macdonald, remained a proponent of a stronger central government, with weaker constituent provincial governments.[12]

In 1867, Brown ran for a seat in the Canadian House of Commons. As leader of the provincial Liberals, he also ran for a seat in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. His intention was to become Premier but he failed to win election to either chamber. He was widely seen as the leader of the federal Liberals in the 1867 federal election. The Liberals were officially leaderless until 1873, but Brown was considered the party's "elder statesman" even without a seat in the House of Commons, and was regularly consulted by leading Liberal parliamentarians. Brown was made a senator in 1873.[14]

Brown's post-parliamentary career[edit]

The grave of Anne Nelson, George Brown's wife, Dean Cemetery

On March 25, 1880, a former Globe employee, George Bennett, dismissed by a foreman, shot George Brown at the Globe office in Toronto. Brown caught his hand and pushed the gun down, but Bennett managed to shoot Brown in the leg. What seemed to be a minor injury turned gangrenous, and seven weeks later, on May 9, 1880, Brown died from the wound. Brown was buried at Toronto Necropolis.[15] George's entire family later died due to a flood in Alloa in 1882. His wife, Anne Nelson, returned to Scotland thereafter where she died in 1906. She is buried on the southern terrace of Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh. The grave also commemorates George Wilson.


Upon being rescued from drowning in the Don River by William Peyton Hubbard, Brown took him under his wing and encouraged his political career. Hubbard would go on to 13 straight years as alderman for the elite Ward 4, sitting on the powerful Board of Control, and become Toronto's first black deputy mayor, functioning as acting mayor on several occasions.

His residence, formerly called Lambton Lodge and now called George Brown House, at 186 Beverley Street in Toronto, was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1974. It is now operated by the Ontario Heritage Trust as a conference centre and offices.

Brown also maintained an estate, Bow Park, near Brantford, Ontario. Bought in 1826, it was a cattle farm during Brown's time and is currently a seed farm.[16]

Toronto's George Brown College (founded 1967) is named after him. A statue of George Brown can be found on the front west lawn of Queen's Park and another on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (sculpted by George William Hill in 1913). A large portrait of Brown also hangs in the upper lobby of the Ontario legislature.

Brown was married to Anne Nelson (d. 1906) and had two sons and three daughters. One of his sons, George Mackenzie Brown (1869–1946), became a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

George Brown is commonly referred to in popular culture as "Downtown George Brown".[citation needed]

He was portrayed by Peter Outerbridge in the 2011 CBC Television film John A.: Birth of a Country.

George Brown appeared on a Canadian postage stamp issued on August 21, 1968.

George Brown


  1. ^ "BROWN, The Hon. George". Retrieved October 7, 2013. 
  2. ^ "BROWN, GEORGE". University of Toronto/Université Laval. Retrieved September 24, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b JMS Careless (2000). "George Brown" in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Retrieved on 2007-09-24.
  4. ^ P. B. Waite, The Life and Times of Confederation 1864-1867 Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2nd ed, 2001, pp. 98-99
  5. ^ a b "What has French-Canadianism been denied? Nothing. It bars all it dislikes--it extorts all its demands--and it grows insolent over its victories." letter from George Brown, cited in Richard Gwyn, John A: The Man Who Made Us, Toronto: Random House Canada Ltd., p. 143:
  6. ^ Christopher Moore, 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart), 1997; pp. 107-109
  7. ^ Brown Papers, George Brown to Anne Brown, Oct. 15, 1864. Also in J.M.S. Careless George Brown and the Mother of Confederation, Canadian Historical Association, Report, 1960, 71, cited in Gwyn, p. 319.
  8. ^ Waite, p. 113
  9. ^ Gwyn, p. 319.
  10. ^ Waite, p. 139
  11. ^ George Brown on Confederation, The Quebec History Encyclopedia, Marianopolis College, retrieved May 27, 2009 [1]
  12. ^ a b c d Waite, p. 140
  13. ^ Gwyn, p. 330
  14. ^  Carlyle, Edward Irving (1901). "Brown, George (1818-1880)". In Sidney Lee. Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement​. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  15. ^ "Historicist: The Assassination of George Brown". Torontoist. May 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  16. ^ Bow Farms

Further reading[edit]

  • Claude Bélanger. "George Brown", in L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia. Marianopolis College, March 2006
  • Careless, J.M.C. Brown of the Globe: Volume One: Voice of Upper Canada 1818-1859 (1959)
  • Careless, J.M.C. Brown of the Globe: Volume Two: Statesman of Confederation 1860-1880. (Vol. 2. Dundurn, 1996)
  • Creighton, Donald G. "George Brown, Sir John Macdonald, and the “Workingman”." Canadian Historical Review (1943) 24#4 pp: 362-376.
  • Gauvreau, Michael. "Reluctant Voluntaries: Peter and George Brown: The Scottish Disruption and the Politics of Church and State in Canada." Journal of religious history 25.2 (2001): 134-157.

Primary sources[edit]

  • Mackenzie, Alexander. The life and speeches of Hon. George Brown (Toronto, Globe, 1882)

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir John Alexander Macdonald
Joint Premiers of the Province of Canada - Canada West
August 2–6, 1858
Succeeded by
Sir John Alexander Macdonald
Party political offices
Preceded by
Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada West/Ontario Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Archibald McKellar
Preceded by
Robert Baldwin
as Reformer Leader
Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
Succeeded by
Alexander Mackenzie