Henry Albert Harper

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A photograph of Harper

A Canadian journalist and civil servant, Henry Albert Harper (December 9, 1873 - December 6, 1901) was best known as a friend of future Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, and is commemorated by a statue on Parliament Hill.

Born to Henry and Margaret-Ann Harper in Cookstown, Ontario, Harper moved with his family to Barrie in 1880, where he graduated from Barrie Central Collegiate Institute eleven years later.

He attended the University of Toronto where he befriended Mackenzie King, who was a fellow student. After completing his Honours degree in Political Science in 1895, Harper became a journalist in London and Toronto, before eventually becoming the Ottawa correspondent for the Montreal Daily Herald.

The statue of Sir Galahad in honour of Harper

In Ottawa he shared an apartment with Mackenzie King, who was then leading the effort to establish the new Department of Labour under the government of Wilfrid Laurier. In 1900 Harper resigned from the Herald, to work for Mackenzie King as the assistant editor of the Labour Gazette, the Department's main publication.

The plaque on the Galahad statue

On December 6, 1901, Harper was attending a skating party held on the frozen Ottawa River by the Governor General, the Earl of Minto. Andrew George Blair's daughter Bessie, and Alex Creelman, fell through a patch of weak ice - though Creelman pulled himself to safety, Harper dove into the river to save Blair, and both ultimately drowned. His last words were reportedly "What else can I do?" when their companions tried to dissuade his rescue attempt, another telling says that he quoted Galahad's famous "If I lose myself, I save myself" before jumping into the water.[1] Their bodies were recovered the following day and Harper was buried in Cookstown on December 9.

Mackenzie King at the unveiling of the statue.

Mackenzie King was deeply affected by his friend's death, and arranged to become head of the government committee charged with finding some way to honour his sacrifice. Both Mackenzie King and Harper had been fond of Tennyson's Arthurian works, and Mackenzie King decided that Harper would be honoured by a statue of Sir Galahad outside the parliament buildings, with the quote cut into the stone base. Sculptor Ernest Wise Keyser was commissioned and the statue was unveiled in 1905.[1] It remains in place today, in one of the most prominent locations in the city just in front of the main entrance to Parliament Hill. It is the only statue not portraying a politician or monarch.

A rose left by a passerby

In 1906 Mackenzie King published a book The Secret of Heroism about his friend whom he recalled in his diary entries as "the man I loved as I have loved no other man, my father and brother alone excepted"

In 1909 King's first speech before the House of Commons was preceded by the statement that he marked the eighth anniversary of Harper's sacrifice by placing ten white roses on the base of the statue.

His diaries, memos and correspondence with King are kept in the National Archives of Canada.[2]

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Henry Harper is not buried in Cookstown, Ontario. He is buried in the Old Presbyterian Cemetery, in the Harper family plot, at Wilson's Hill. It is located some two miles South of Cookstown Village on the East side of Simcoe County Road 27. There is a memorial plaque to his memory in St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Barrie, Ontario.

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