George Brown (Canadian politician)

John A. Macdonald Liberal Party of Canada Ontario Liberal Party

George Brown
George Brown.jpg
Premier of Canada West
In office
August 2, 1858 – August 6, 1858
Preceded byJohn A. Macdonald
Succeeded byJohn A. Macdonald
Senator for Lambton, Ontario
In office
December 16, 1873 – March 25, 1880
Appointed byAlexander Mackenzie
Personal details
Born(1818-11-29)November 29, 1818
Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
DiedMay 9, 1880(1880-05-09) (aged 61)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Political partyClear Grit Party
ProfessionJournalist, publisher, politician

 • Father of Confederation •

George Brown (November 29, 1818 – May 9, 1880) was a Scottish-Canadian journalist, politician and one of the Fathers of Confederation; attended the Charlottetown (September 1864) and Quebec (October 1864) conferences.[1] A noted Reform politician, he is best known as the founder and editor of the Toronto Globe, Canada's most influential newspaper at the time. He was an articulate champion of the grievances and anger of Upper Canada (Ontario). He played a major role in securing national unity. His career in active politics faltered after 1865, but he remained a powerful spokesman for the Liberal Party promoting westward expansion and opposing the policies of Conservative Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.

Early life

George Brown was born in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, on November 29, 1818. His father, an evangelical Presbyterian, was committed to civil and religious liberty, progress, and laissez-faire economics. He was an enemy of Tory aristocratic privilege, and provided a good education for his son, who brought similar beliefs to the New World.[2]

New York City

The family emigrated to New York City in 1837 and began publishing newspapers.[2]

Brown discovered he appreciated British parliamentarianism more than American republicanism. He visited Canada several times and was invited to move there in 1843 by Presbyterians.


December 2, 1845

Brown began the Toronto Banner in 1843. It was a Presbyterian weekly supporting Free Kirk principles and political reform. Brown's father raised the money and founded a weekly newspaper, The Globe, in 1844, and it later became a daily news source. Filled with strong editorials on religious and political affairs, The Globe 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 the warden, Henry Smith.[2] 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 rival politicians.

Brown attacked slavery in the United States and in 1850, helped found the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada. It was founded to end the practice of slavery in North America, and individual members aided former American slaves reach Canada via the Underground Railroad.[3] As a result, black Canadians enthusiastically supported Brown's political ambitions.

Catholics, however, were another matter. He vehemently ridiculed and denounced the Catholic Church, Jesuits, priests, nunneries, etc. His newspaper promoted the strident speeches of the ex-Catholic priest Alessandro Gavazzi, which incited mob violence in 1853, which caused nine dead in Montreal.[4]

Early political career

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. However, the most important issue for him was representation by population in which electoral districts would be divided so that each one contained a roughly equal number of electors.[2]

From the Act of Union 1840, the Canadian colonial legislature had an equal number of members from Canada East (later called Lower Canada and now Quebec) and Canada West (later called Upper Canada and now Ontario). In 1841, Lower Canada had a larger population, and the British colonial administration hoped that Lower Canada, most of which was francophone and Catholic, would be legislatively pacified by a coalition of Loyalists from Lower Canada and Upper Canada. However, in the 1840s and the 1850s, as the population of Upper Canada grew larger than that 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 that goal of righting what he perceived to be a great wrong to Canada West[5] was accompanied at times by stridently critical remarks against French Canadians[6] and the power exerted by the Catholic population of Canada East over the affairs of Canada West, most of which was anglophone and Protestant. He referred to the position of Canada West as "a base vassalage to French-Canadian Priestcraft."[6]


For only four days in August 1858, his political rival John A. Macdonald lost the support of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada on a vote of non-confidence, and his cabinet had to resign. After Alexander Galt declined the opportunity, 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, supporters of Macdonald called for a vote of non-confidence, which passed and so forced Brown and his government to resign before they had retaken their seats. Brown was the de facto premier of Province of Canada in 1858. The short-lived administration was called the Brown-Dorion government, after the co-premiers George Brown and Antoine-Aimé Dorion. The episode was termed the "double shuffle."[7]


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

Brown resigned from the Great Coalition in 1865 because he was not happy with policy towards the United States. Brown thought Canada should pursue free trade, but the Conservative government of John A. Macdonald and Alexander Galt thought that 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 as serving to protect the interests of the rich, and he wished to deny the Senate the legitimacy and power that naturally follow with an electoral mandate.[8]

The success of the Quebec Conference pleased Brown, particularly 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."[9][10][11][12] By that, he may have meant either that considered English-speaking Canada West to have emerged triumphant over French Canadians[13] or that Confederation would put an end to French Canadian domination of the affairs of what would become Ontario.[12]

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, he spoke glowingly of the prospects for Canada's future,[14] and he insisted that "whether 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."[15] Following the speech, Brown was praised by the Quebec newspaper Le Canadien[16] as well as by the Rouge paper, L'Union Nationale.[16] Although he supported the idea of a legislative union at the Quebec Conference,[17] Brown was eventually persuaded to favour the federal view of Confederation, which was closer to that supported by Cartier and the Bleus of Canada East, as it 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 that it considered to be essential to its survival.[16] However Brown, like Macdonald, remained a proponent of a stronger central government, with weaker constituent provincial governments.[16]

In 1867, Brown ran for a seat in the House of Commons of Canada. As leader of the Ontario 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 though he had a seat in the House of Commons, and he was regularly consulted by leading Liberal parliamentarians. Brown was made a senator in 1873.[18]

Post-parliamentary career and death

Fatal shooting of George Brown, Toronto

Brown fought endless battles with the typographical union from 1843 to 1872. He paid union wages, not because of generosity but only when the power of the union forced it upon him.[19]

On March 25, 1880, a former Globe employee, George Bennett, dismissed by a foreman, shot George Brown at the Globe office. 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.[20] Bennett was hanged for the crime.

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 Brown. In 1885 his daughters Margaret and Catherine were two of the first women to graduate from University of Toronto.

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


After an accident involving a horse-drawn sleigh in which Brown nearly drowned in the Don River, Brown took William Peyton Hubbard under his wing and encouraged his political career. Popular legend has it that Brown was rescued by Hubbard, but Hubbard stated that he was not present and that he had agreed to work for Brown only as a favour to his brother, who operated the livery service. Hubbard went on to 13 straight years as alderman for the elite Ward 4, sitting on the powerful Board of Control and becoming Toronto's first black deputy mayor; he functioned as acting mayor on several occasions.[21]

Brown's residence, formerly called Lambton Lodge and now called George Brown House, at 186 Beverley Street, 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.[22]

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.[23]

Toronto's George Brown College (founded 1967) is named after him.[24] A statue of Brown can be found on the front west lawn of Queen's Park[25] and another on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (sculpted by George William Hill in 1913).[26]

Brown married Anne Nelson (d. 1906) in 1862 and had three children. After his death, Anne and the children moved to her hometown of Edinburgh in Scotland, where one of his sons, George Mackenzie Brown (1869–1946), became a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, representing Edinburgh Central.[27][28]

He was portrayed by Peter Outerbridge in the 2011 CBC Television film John A.: Birth of a Country.[29]

George Brown appears on a Canadian postage stamp issued on August 21, 1968.[30]

George Brown


  1. ^ "BROWN, The Hon. George". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d Careless, J.M.S. (1972). "BROWN, GEORGE". In Hayne, David (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. X (1871–1880) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  3. ^ Baker, Nathan (February 13, 2018). "Anti-Slavery Society of Canada". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  4. ^ Careless, Brown of the Globe 1:172-74
  5. ^ Waite, P. B. (2001). The Life and Times of Confederation 1864-1867 (2nd ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 98–99.
  6. ^ a b Gwyn, Richard (2009). John A: The Man Who Made Us. Toronto: Random House Canada. p. 143. ISBN 978-0-3073-7135-5. Retrieved August 5, 2015. 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
  7. ^ Careless, JMS (1967). The Union of the Canadas. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd.
  8. ^ Moore, Christopher (1997). 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. pp. 107–109. ISBN 978-1-5519-9483-3.
  9. ^ Brown Papers, George Brown to Anne Brown, October 15, 1864.
  10. ^ Careless, J.M.S. (1996). "George Brown and the Mother of Confederation". Careless at Work: Selected Canadian historical studies. Toronto: Dundurn. p. 77. ISBN 978-1-4597-1340-6.
  11. ^ Careless, J.M.S. (1960). George Brown and the Mother of Confederation. Report of the Annual Meeting. Canadian Historical Association. p. 71.
  12. ^ a b Gwyn (2009), p. 319
  13. ^ Waite (2001), p. 113
  14. ^ Waite (2001), p. 139
  15. ^ "George Brown on Confederation". The Quebec History Encyclopedia. Marianopolis College. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
  16. ^ a b c d Waite (2001), p. 140
  17. ^ Gwyn (2009), p. 330
  18. ^ Carlyle, Edward Irving (1901). "Brown, George (1818-1880)" . Dictionary of National Biography (1st supplement). London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  19. ^ Sally Zerker, "George Brown and the Printers Union," Journal of Canadian Studies (1975) 10#1 pp 42-48.
  20. ^ "Historicist: The Assassination of George Brown". Torontoist. May 2009. Retrieved December 12, 2009..
  21. ^ Gray, Jeff (October 21, 2016). "Park to be named after William Peyton Hubbard, the first black person elected to Toronto city council". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  22. ^ "George Brown House (Toronto)". Ontario Heritage Trust. Archived from the original on May 17, 2011. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  23. ^ Bow Farms Archived January 13, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "History". George Brown College. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  25. ^ "George Brown Statue, 1884". Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  26. ^ "Explore the statues, monuments and memorials of the Hill". Public Works and Government Services Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  27. ^ Skikavich, Julia (July 7, 2015). "Anne Brown". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  28. ^ "Mr George Brown (Hansard)". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  29. ^ Weekes, Renee (September 15, 2011). "John A: Birth of a Country – Two-Hour Political Thriller Airs on CBC Television Monday, September 19 at 8:00 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT)" (Press release). Veritas Canada. Retrieved November 27, 2018 – via Cision.
  30. ^ "OTD: George Brown co-founds Anti-Slavery Society of Canada". Canadian Stamp News. February 26, 2018. Retrieved November 27, 2018.