Vincent Massey

From Academic Kids

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Charles Vincent Massey (February 20, 1887 - December 30, 1967) was the eighteenth Governor General of Canada and the first who was born in Canada.

Vincent Massey was the son of Chester D. Massey who owned the Massey-Ferguson Tractor Company. The family was one of Toronto's wealthiest and Vincent grew up among Toronto's elites. His family was strongly Methodist and played an important role in supporting local religious institutions. One of these was Victoria College at the University of Toronto where Massey was sent for his university education. Massey then continued his education at Balliol College, Oxford. After his father donated a new residence, Burwash Hall, constructed at Victoria College, he returned there to be appointed its first Dean of Men in 1914. On 4 June 1915, he married Alice Parkin, daughter of Sir George Parkin, a former principal of Upper Canada College and secretary of the Rhodes Trust. Mrs. Massey died in July 1950, just 18 months before her husband's appointment as Governor General. As a result, his daughter-in-law, Lilias, acted as Chatelaine of Rideau Hall while Massey was in office.

Before beginning his career in diplomacy, Vincent Massey spent four years as president of the business his father had founded. During this time, he pursued philanthropic interests – promoting the arts, education and letters. He also began compiling one of Canada's great art collections and through the Massey Foundation, influenced the construction of Massey College at the University of Toronto.

In 1926, he was appointed first Canadian Minister to Washington and then High Commissioner to London in 1935.

While in London, Massey travelled in the same circles as Lord Astor and his wife Nancy and their largely aristocratic anti-Semitic and pro-German Cliveden set. According to Irving Abella's book None Is Too Many, Massey was an enthusiastic supporter of the Munich Agreement and worked with Ernest Lapointe to put obstacles in the way of Jewish refugees attempting to immigrate to Canada. Seven decades later, his actions resulted in a campaign in Windsor, Ontario to rename a high school originally aimed in his honour.

Nevertheless, Massey was a Canadian and British patriot and worked to maximize Canada's war effort once World War II broke out. He made such a favourable impression in England that in 1946, King George VI invested him with the Companion of Honour. In 1949, he was appointed chairman of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences. The ensuing report issued in 1951, known as the Massey Report, led to the creation of the National Library of Canada and the Canada Council.

With his appointment as Governor General in 1952, a new tradition began – he was the first Canadian appointed to the post, and from that day the Governor General has always been a Canadian citizen. If the innovation had any detractors, they were soon won over by Mr. Massey's exceptional qualities in the vice-regal role.

Vincent Massey believed that the Crown belonged to Canadians, and as the Sovereign's representative his job was to strengthen that bond. He combined a respect for the Crown and its ceremonies with a commitment to using the Office of Governor General to promote Canadian unity and identity. He was tireless in his travels, visiting every corner of the country – where plane or ship couldn't reach, he went by canoe or dog team.

Massey's speeches often praised Canada's cultural diversity, and he emphasized the need to learn both English and French and spoke to diverse groups such as the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Blood First Nation in Alberta, and fishing villages in the Maritimes.

Encouraging the arts was one of Massey's noteworthy achievements. His promotion of a national festival of the arts began a movement that eventually led to the founding of the National Arts Centre. At Rideau Hall, he established writer's weekends to help create a Canadian literary identity. The then fledgling Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario received his enthusiastic support and he lent the prestige of his position to the opening of numerous art exhibitions. In 1953, he established the Governor General's Awards for Architecture, and he presented Canada Council awards to many artists, including the composer Sir Ernest MacMillan.

However, Vincent Massey was careful not to concentrate exclusively on any one area – he encouraged excellence in every field. His greatest ambition, creating a Canadian honours system, was not realized during his term, but his efforts helped lead to its creation in 1967, and Massey was one of the first Companions appointed in 1967. He established the Governor General's Gold Medal for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1954, and the Massey Medal to recognize national exploration, development, and description of geography for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 1959. Canada was developing a new confidence through its accomplishments in science, business and the arts, and Vincent Massey helped foster this positive identity.

Massey revived the use of the State carriage in 1953 when it was used in Ottawa for the coronation celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II. Amid much pageantry, the carriage brought Vincent Massey and his staff to Parliament Hill under escort by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Mr. Massey introduced Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation speech, broadcast in London and around the world. The carriage he used that day is still used for the opening of Parliament and during official State visits. To commemorate Her Majesty's Coronation, Mr. Massey issued silver spoons to all Canadian children born on that day, June 2, 1953.

Massey conferred new regimental colours on the Governor General's Foot Guards, and presented a regimental mascot to the Royal 22 Regiment at La Citadelle in Québec, a well-behaved goat of Persian ancestry from the Royal herd called "Baptiste". The mascot was received by the regiment's honorary colonel, General Georges Vanier, who would become Vincent Massey's successor as Governor General.

Vincent Massey's term as Governor General was extended twice, first by Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, and then by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker before he left office on September 15, 1959.

After his term as Governor General, he retired to Batterwood, his home near Port Hope, Ontario, and he continued to chair the Massey Foundation, as he had done since 1926. The Foundation, incorporated in 1918, was the first trust of its kind to be established in Canada. He devoted his time to two of the foundation's endowments on the University of Toronto campus – Massey College and Hart House, a beautifully-designed student centre. For his achievements representing Canada's Sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the Royal Victorian Chain on July 22, 1960. At the time, he was the only Canadian to receive this great honour.

In 1961, the Massey Lectures were created to honour Vincent Massey, in recognition of his energetic support for the humanities in Canada. The Massey Lectures allow a noted scholar or public figure to give a talk on a subject of his or her choice, and are considered by many to be the most important public lecture series in Canada.

Vincent Massey also received another honour from the Queen. He had already been granted armorial bearings (a coat of arms) in 1926 by the Kings of Arms at the College of Arms in London, England. On 11 December 1963, a Royal Warrant was signed assigning an Honourable Augmentation to his arms. It consisted of a blue square placed in the upper left bearing the crest from Her Majesty's Arms in right of Canada. Very few augmentations are granted, and even fewer to Canadians.

Vincent Massey died while visiting England on 30 December 1967, and was given a State funeral in Canada in early January. He is buried in an Anglican cemetery near his home in Port Hope.

His younger brother was the actor Raymond Massey.

Adapted from

Vincent can be heard on film, reading the prologue to Forty-Ninth Parallel which starred his brother Raymond and was set in Canada. Vincent had helped Powell and Pressburger to organise the filming.

Preceded by:
The Viscount Alexander of Tunis
Governor General of Canada
Succeeded by:
Georges Vanier

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