George Eulas Foster

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Sir George Eulas Foster
George Eulas Foster.jpg
Senator for Toronto, Ontario
In office
September 22, 1921 – December 30, 1931
Appointed by Arthur Meighen
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for York
In office
Preceded by Thomas Temple
Succeeded by Alexander Gibson
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Toronto North
In office
Preceded by District was created in 1903
Succeeded by Thomas Langton Church
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for King's
In office
Preceded by James Domville
Succeeded by James Domville
Personal details
Born (1847-09-03)September 3, 1847
Carleton County, New Brunswick
Died December 30, 1931(1931-12-30) (aged 84)
Resting place Beechwood Cemetery
Nationality Canadian
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Adeline Davis Chisholm (July 2, 1889 – September 17, 1919); Jessie Allan (1920 – ?)
Alma mater University of New Brunswick

Sir George Eulas Foster, GCMG, (Canadian) PC, (Imperial) PC (September 3, 1847 – December 30, 1931) was a Canadian politician and academic. He coined the phrase "splendid isolation" to praise British foreign policy in the late 19th century.

Foster was a Member of Parliament (MP) and a Senator in the Canadian Parliament for a total of 45 years, 5 months and 24 days. He enjoys the unique distinction of having served in the cabinets of seven Canadian Prime Ministers: Macdonald, Abbott, Thompson, Bowell, Tupper, Borden and Meighen.

Aside from his severe and lugubrious personality, two factors thwarted whatever ambitions he may have had to become Prime Minister himself: his legally questionable marriage in Chicago to his newly divorced former landlady,[1] and his later involvement in a trust company scandal.[2]


Born in Carleton County, New Brunswick, Foster received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of New Brunswick in 1868. He taught in various high schools and seminaries until 1870 when he was appointed Professor of Classics and Ancient Literature in the University of New Brunswick. He shortly afterwards studied in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Heidelberg, Germany, resuming his professorship in 1873. He resigned in 1879 and became a noted temperance lecturer.[3]


Foster entered politics with his election to the Canadian House of Commons in the 1882 federal election as a Conservative MP representing New Brunswick. He joined the Cabinet of Sir John A. Macdonald as Minister of Marine and Fisheries in 1885, and was promoted to Minister of Finance in 1888. Foster retained this position after Macdonald's death and through the successive governments of Prime Ministers Abbott, Thompson, Bowell and Tupper. He led a group of seven cabinet ministers who resigned temporarily in January 1896 to force the retirement of Bowell, who denounced them as a 'nest of traitors'. Foster's debates with Sir Richard Cartwright, the former Liberal Minister of Finance under Prime Minister Mackenzie, are the stuff of Canadian Parliamentary legend.

With the defeat of the Tories in the 1896 election, Foster retained his seat and joined the Opposition. He was a prominent supporter of Canada's involvement in the Anglo-Boer War from 1899 to 1901. He lost his seat in the 1900 election but returned to parliament in 1904, this time representing the riding of Toronto North in Ontario. He remained an Opposition MP until his party returned to government in the 1911 federal election under Sir Robert Borden and he continued in the government under Arthur Meighen.

During his final years in cabinet, Foster served as Minister of Trade and Commerce, and received a knighthood (KCMG) in 1914 for his work in the Royal Commission on Imperial Trade; he was named to the Imperial Privy Council in 1916 and elevated to GCMG in 1918.[4] He served as a Canadian delegate to the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference. He was acting Prime Minister in 1920, when Borden was absent due to ill health. From 1920 to 1921, he was chairman of the Canadian delegation to the first assembly of the League of Nations. In 1921, he was appointed to the Canadian Senate in which he served until his death.

"Splendid isolation"[edit]

Foster is best known today for coining the term "splendid isolation" in January 1896 in praising Great Britain's foreign policy of isolation from European affairs.

The term caught on when picked up by a senior British official, Lord Goschen, First Lord of the Admiralty, during a speech at 26 February 1896: "We have stood here alone in what is called isolation – our splendid isolation, as one of our colonial friends was good enough to call it."[5] Goschen heard about it froma London newspaper where it appeared in a headline in The Times, on 22 January 1896. The headline was paraphrasing a comment by Foster to the Parliament of Canada on 16 January 1896: "In these somewhat troublesome days when the great Mother Empire stands splendidly isolated in Europe."[6]

The ultimate origin of "splendid isolation" is suggested by Robert Hamilton .[7] He places the Foster quotation beneath a passage from the following paragraph from Cooney's Compendious History of Northern New Brunswick and Gaspé describing the England's situation in 1809–1810 during the Napoleonic Wars:

In the midst of this terrific commotion, England stood erect: wrapt up in her own impregnability, the storm could not affect her: and therefore, while others trembled in its blast, she smiled at its fury. Never did the 'Empress Island' appear so magnificently grand; – she stood by herself, and there was a peculiar splendour in the loneliness of her glory.[8]

Death and Family[edit]

He died without issue. His first wife was the ex-spouse of Daniel Black Chisholm, a former Liberal-Conservative Ontario MP, and his second wife was a daughter of Sir William Allan, a former British MP for Gateshead.

Foster and his first wife are buried in Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery, near the grave of Sir Cecil Spring Rice.[9]


  1. ^ Sharon Anne Cook, “DAVIS, ADELINE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 21, 2015,
  2. ^ Augustus Bridle, Sons of Canada: Short Studies of Characteristic Canadians (Toronto: J.M. Dent, 1916) pp. 221-227.
  3. ^ Matthew Heiti, "Sir George E. Foster" in New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia (Spring 2009), accessed December 21, 2015,
  4. ^ W. Stewart Wallace, The Memoirs of The Rt. Hon. Sir George Foster, P.C., G.C.M.G. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1933) pp. 174, 179, 189.
  5. ^ Angela Partington, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (4th ed. 1992).
  6. ^ Angela Partington, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (4th ed. 1992).
  7. ^ Robert M. Hamilton. Canadian Quotations and Phrases: Literary and Historical (McClelland and Stewart, 1952).
  8. ^ Robert Cooney, Compendious History of Northern New Brunswick and Gaspé (1832) p 8
  9. ^ Jacques Faille, "The fascinating lives of Sir George Eulas and Lady Adeline Foster" in The Beechwood Way, vol. 8, issue 30 (Summer 2013), pp. 4-5, accessed December 21, 2015,

External links[edit]