George William Ross

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George William Ross
Honourable GW Ross, Prime Minister for Ontario (HS85-10-12129).jpg
The Hon. Sir George William Ross
5th Premier of Ontario
In office
October 21, 1899 – February 8, 1905
Lieutenant Governor
Preceded byArthur Sturgis Hardy
Succeeded byJames Whitney
Personal details
Born(1841-09-18)September 18, 1841
Nairn, Upper Canada
DiedMarch 7, 1914(1914-03-07) (aged 72)
Toronto, Ontario
Resting placeMount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto
Political partyLiberal
  • Christina Campbell
  • Catherine Boston
  • Mildred Margaret Peel

Sir George William Ross (September 18, 1841 – March 7, 1914) was an educator and politician in the Canadian province of Ontario. He was the fifth Premier of Ontario from 1899 to 1905.

Early life[edit]

Born near Nairn, in Middlesex County, Upper Canada, he worked as a school teacher, a school inspector and a newspaper publisher before he got into politics.

Ross's parents had emigrated from Tain in the Highlands of Scotland in 1831 and the language of his youth was Scottish Gaelic. He held a lifelong love for the language and his fellow Canadian Gaels and a short biographical account of Ross was printed in Gaelic in Ontario in the year following his death.[1]

Early political career[edit]

He was first elected to the House of Commons of Canada as a Liberal in the 1872 election, and was re-elected in the 1874 and 1878 elections. During his time as an MP, he actively defended the Canada Temperance Act, which favoured the "local option" approach for implementing prohibition.

He was initially declared re-elected again in the 1882 election, but his victory was challenged, and the next year the vote was declared void.

Rather than run again, Ross moved to provincial politics when he was offered the position of Minister of Education for Ontario in the Liberal government of Sir Oliver Mowat in 1883. He oversaw the transformation of former mechanics' institutes into more than 300 public libraries, the expansion of the kindergarten system, and the creation of a provincial School of Pedagogy for the training of school inspectors and masters. Ross increased grants to the education system, expanded the authority of the provincial Department of Education, and oversaw the expansion of the university system and the federation of a number of smaller colleges with the University of Toronto. He also, controversially, established an oligopoly for the supply of textbooks to Ontario schools that was in effect from 1885 to 1907.[2]

It was Ross who implemented a system of gradated education from kindergarten (a new innovation that Ross was the first to recognise as part of the provincial school system) to university, unifying what had been separately organised systems. During his time as Minister of Education (1883–99), Ross established both Arbor Day and Empire Day, in order to inculcate in students both the desire to keep the school grounds attractive as well as a sense of patriotism. With regard to this latter, under his ministry, both Canadian history and military training became part of the curriculum in high schools in Ontario.[3] This mandatory cadet training became controversial with the general public after the two World Wars, and was finally phased out entirely in 1944.

The Conservative opposition protested against the possibility of increased support for the Catholic Separate school system, while the Catholic minority agitated for the same high schools and other facilities that the public (Protestant) school system enjoyed. The Protestant Protective Association was formed by Orangemen in the 1890s to oppose the expansion of Catholic rights, and to attempt to exclude Catholics from public life in the province.

Premier of Ontario[edit]

After Mowat's retirement as Premier, and a short interregnum triggered by Arthur S. Hardy, Ross became Premier (and Provincial Treasurer) on October 21, 1899.[4] Nicknamed as the "Father of New Ontario",[5] he was present in the development of Northern Ontario:

The Liberal government was tired, however, after almost thirty years in office, and Ross could do little to revive its fortunes. In the provincial election of 1902, the Liberal majority was cut to one seat, but at a time when parties lacked the discipline over their members they would later develop, that was not enough for a secure government.

The Ross administration was rocked by a series of controversies in its second term:

Leading a stagnating and drifting government, Ross called an election for January 25, 1905, in which the Liberals lost 22 seats and the Conservatives under James P. Whitney won 69, making Whitney the new Premier.


Ross remained Liberal leader until 1907, when he was appointed to the Senate of Canada. In 1910, Ross received a knighthood from King George V for his years of public service in both Federal and Provincial politics. He wrote two books about his life in politics, and died in 1914.


Ross was the father of Duncan Campbell Ross, who sat in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario representing Middlesex West from 1907 to 1908 and Middlesex North from 1908 to 1909, and later as an MP for Middlesex West from 1909 to 1921.


  1. ^ Dr Alexander Fraser (Ollamh Alasdair Friseal) (1915). Geàrr-Sgeòil air Sir Seòras Uilleam Ros, agus air mar a Thuinich na Gàidheil ann an Canada Uachdrach [A Brief Narrative of Sir George William Ross, and of the Settlement of the Highlanders in Upper Canada]. Toronto. OL 23300975M.
  2. ^ Penney Clark (2008). "'Reckless Extravagance and Utter Incompetence': George Ross and the Toronto Textbook Ring, 1883-1907". Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada. 46 (2): 185–236. Retrieved September 7, 2013.
  3. ^ The Minister of Education for Ontario (1915). History of Education. Toronto: Press of the Hunter-Rose Co. Ltd. p. 222.
  4. ^ "George William Ross, MPP". Legislative Assembly website. Legislative Assembly on Ontario. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  5. ^ Judge MacWatt (1917). "Short Sketches with Photographs of the Wardens, Parliamentary Representatives, Judicial Officers and County Officials of the County of Lambton from 1852 to 1917, chapter titled Honorable Sir George William Ross, 1907–1914". County of Lambton. pp. 36–37. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  6. ^ An Act respecting the Manufacture of Spruce and other Pulp Wood cut on the Crown Domain, S.O. 1900, c. 11
  7. ^ An Act to amend The Mines Act, S.O. 1900, c. 13
  8. ^ Report of the Survey and Exploration of Northern Ontario, 1900. Toronto: King's Printer. 1901.
  9. ^ The Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway Act, S.O. 1902, c. 9
  10. ^ An Act respecting Aid to the Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway and Associated Industries at Sault Ste. Marie, S.O. 1904, c. 19
  11. ^ "Company Presidents: Sir George William Ross (1901 - 1914)". Manulife Financial. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  12. ^ Howard Hampton (2003). "The Triumph of Democracy". Public power: The fight for publicly owned electricity. Toronto: Insomniac Press. pp. 27–38. ISBN 1-894663-44-6.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
Angus Peter McDonald
Member of Parliament for Middlesex West
Succeeded by
Donald Mackenzie Cameron
Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Preceded by
Alexander Johnston
MLA for Middlesex West
Succeeded by
John Campbell Elliott
Political offices
Preceded by
Arthur S. Hardy
Premier of Ontario
Succeeded by
Sir James P. Whitney
Preceded by
Richard Harcourt
Treasurer of Ontario
Succeeded by
Arthur Matheson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Arthur S. Hardy
Ontario Liberal leaders
Succeeded by
George P. Graham
Government offices
Preceded by
Richard John Cartwright
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate of Canada
Succeeded by
Hewitt Bostock