Hugh Guthrie

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Hugh Guthrie
Leader of the Opposition
In office
Preceded byW. L. Mackenzie King
Succeeded byR. B. Bennett
Personal details
Born(1866-08-13)August 13, 1866
Guelph, Canada West
DiedNovember 3, 1939(1939-11-03) (aged 73)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Political partyLiberal (1900-1917)
Liberal-Unionist/Unionist (1917-1921)
Conservative (1921-1939)
Hugh Guthrie
CrestA dexter arm embowed proper holding the scales of Justice Or surmounted by a maple leaf Gules.
BlazonQuarterly first and fourth Or a lion rampant grasping in the dexter paw a maple leaf Gules second and third Azure a garb Or banded Gules all within a bordure counterchanged of the field and charged with three cats' faces alternating with three cross crosslets fitchée all counterchanged of the bordure.

Hugh Guthrie, PC, KC (13 August 1866 – 3 November 1939) was a Canadian lawyer and politician who served as a minister in the governments of Sir Robert Borden, Arthur Meighen and R. B. Bennett.


He was born in Guelph, Canada West, the son of Donald Guthrie, and studied there and at Osgoode Hall, becoming a barrister. Guthrie was named a King's Counsel in 1902. He married Maude Henrietta, the daughter of Guelph businessman Thomas H. Scarff.

Guthrie was first elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal in 1900 from the riding of Wellington South. He sat in Wilfrid Laurier's caucus for 17 years, but crossed the floor to join the Unionist government of Robert Borden as a result of the Conscription Crisis of 1917. The former Liberal backbencher became a leading light in his new party, serving as solicitor general under Borden. With the end of World War I, most Liberal-Unionists either rejoined the Liberal Party or joined the new Progressive Party. Guthrie, however, stayed with the Conservatives, becoming minister of militia and defence and running for re-election as a Conservative in the 1921 election. After the election, he joined the Tories on the Opposition benches.

As a result of the 1926 "King-Byng Affair", Meighen's Conservatives formed a government in which Guthrie served as Minister of Justice and Minister of National Defence (acting until July 13). This second stint in Cabinet ended with the defeat of the Meighen government in that fall's election. Meighen lost his seat, and Guthrie served as Leader of the Opposition and interim leader of the Conservative Party for a full year.

Guthie sought the party leadership at the leadership convention that the party held in 1927, but was defeated by R.B. Bennett. John Diefenbaker was a delegate to that convention and he wrote in his memoirs that Guthrie's candidacy was hurt when the former Liberal absent-mindedly declared in his speech to delegates that the Tory meeting was the "greatest Liberal convention in history".

Bennett led the Tories to victory in the 1930 election, and Guthrie was appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General. In 1931, he led the Canadian delegation to the League of Nations. In 1933, he introduced legislation making it illegal to carry a concealed weapon without authorization. In 1935, he clashed with opposition Member of Parliament Agnes Macphail who demanded an inquiry into inhumane conditions in Canada's prisons such as the whipping of prisoners.

Hugh Guthrie in earlier years

As the Great Depression worsened and millions were unemployed, the government became increasingly concerned about political instability and the growth of radical movements. Guthrie's department was responsible for the persecution of the Communist Party of Canada, and the arrest and incarceration of Communists, including leader Tim Buck, for sedition.

In 1933,Tim Buck was shot at by soldiers in an apparent assassination attempt while he was in his cell during a prison riot. Guthrie was forced to admit that the attack was deliberate, but claimed the intent was only to frighten him; however, the public outcry at this incident lead to Buck being released.

In 1935, unemployed workers in British Columbia deserted the remote relief camps established by the Bennett government, and began the "On to Ottawa Trek". Thousands of unemployed workers hopped on freight trains heading east intending to converge in Ottawa and press their demands on the government. Bennett's cabinet saw this as an insurrectionary movement and panicked. In the House of Commons, Guthrie charged that the protesters "were a distinct menace to the peace, order and good government of Canada."

As the protesters entered Saskatchewan, Guthrie had the Trek banned, over the objections of Saskatchewan Premier James G. Gardiner. He and Bennett ordered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to use tear gas and revolvers to break up the Trek when it entered Regina. The city was but under siege with hundreds of police officers moved in blocking all exits from the city. On July 1, 1935, the police attacked a meeting attended by 3,000 people resulting in one death, dozens of injuries and national outrage.

Guthrie, now 69, did not run in the 1935 election that routed Bennett's government, preferring to retire from politics. He died four years later.

Electoral record (Wellington South)[edit]

1900 Canadian federal election: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Hugh Guthrie 2,755 51.0 2.4
Conservative Christian Kloepfer 2,649 49.0 -2.4
Total valid votes 5,404 100.0
1904 Canadian federal election: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Hugh Guthrie 3,694 52.7 1.7
Conservative Christian Kloepfer 3,315 47.3 -1.7
Total valid votes 7,009 100.0
1908 Canadian federal election: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Hugh Guthrie 3,873 55.0 2.3
Conservative John Newstead 3,172 45.0 -2.3
Total valid votes 7,045 100.0
1911 Canadian federal election: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Hugh Guthrie 3,368 55.1 0.1
Conservative Arthur Thomas Kelly Evans 2,744 44.9 -0.1
Total valid votes 6,112 100.0
1917 Canadian federal election: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Government (Unionist) Hugh Guthrie 7,358 77.5
Labour Lorne Cunningham 2,139 22.5
Total valid votes 9,497 100.0
1921 Canadian federal election: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Hugh Guthrie 6,208 36.6 -40.9
Labour James Singer 6,077 35.9 13.4
Liberal Samuel Carter 4,662 27.5 27.5
Total valid votes 16,947 100.0
1925 Canadian federal election: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Hugh Guthrie 9,096 52.9 16.3
Liberal Robert Gladstone 8,088 47.1 11.1
Total valid votes 17,184 100.0
1926 Canadian federal election: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Hugh Guthrie 8,515 53.3 0.4
Liberal William A. Burnett 7,471 46.7 -0.4
Total valid votes 15,986 100.0
1930 Canadian federal election: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Hugh Guthrie 8,887 53.0 -0.3
Liberal John Burr Mitchell 7,893 47.0 0.3
Total valid votes 16,780 100.0
By-election: On Mr. Guthrie being appointed Minister of Justice, 25 August 1930: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
  Conservative Hugh Guthrie acclaimed


  1. ^ "Hugh Guthrie". Canadian Heraldic Authority. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  • Canadian Parliamentary Guide (1934), AL Normandin

External links[edit]

Parliament of Canada
Preceded by Member of Parliament from Wellington South
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Solicitor General of Canada
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Militia and Defence
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of National Defence
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Preceded by Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Conservative Party
Succeeded by