Reflections on 5 Years as Ontario's Lieutenant Governor

Canadian Speeches, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Reflections on 5 Years as Ontario's Lieutenant Governor


Lieutenant Governor of Ontario

Ontario's lieutenant governor reflects on lessons learned during five years about the greatness and the challenges, the successes and the needs of Ontarians and Canadians. Farewell address to The Canadian Club of Toronto, December 10,2001.

Thank you, for that warn introduction. I hope I can live up to it in my stories and reflections here today. Ladies and gentlemen, it's hard to believe how quickly those four years have passed since I was last at this podium. I was still a neophyte to speech making in those days, and I well remember standing here, feeling nothing but fear and trepidation. Now, some 600 formal speeches later, I'm here once again, and feeling -- well, nothing but fear and trepidation.

It reminds me of what the 11-year-old Boy Scout said during a visit I made to Chatham a couple of years ago. His job was to hoist the Canadian flag. It went up the flagpole in a little ball, but, no matter how hard he tugged and yanked, it simply refused to flutter open. "I think," the boy whispered in my ear, "I think it's feeling a bit nervous.

What he never suspected was that I was feeling a bit nervous, too. Nervousness, I've learned, is not something that most people expect of the lieutenant governor of Ontario. Here, for example, is how Robertson Davies described an imaginary lieutenant governor in his novel, "Murther and Walking Spirits:

"As he was the patron of many ambitious and deserving ventures, it was not expected that he should show much knowledge of what was happening, but that he should shed the light of his countenance upon [this party.] He did so with a fine demonstration of vice-regal goodwill, greeting people he hardly knew, or did not know at all, with the warmth appropriate to his office."

Like all good satire, this struck me as three parts caricature, one part truth. It presumes, of course, that His Honour is a man -- and I'll bet that Robertson Davies didn't think it necessary to describe this man any more fully. He could count on his readers to fill in the blanks and picture a distinguished-looking gentlemen who was white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant -- even though Pauline McGibbon had already been appointed the first female lieutenant governor in Canada's history in 1974, and Lincoln Alexander was serving so ably in the post at the time this novel was being written.

Things have evolved quickly since then. Today seven of Canada's 10 lieutenant governors are women, as is of course, the current Governor General -- as is indeed, our gracious sovereign, Elizabeth II, who will be marking the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne in a couple of months. And we look forward to her visit to Ontario and other provinces next fall. Though I myself was only the second woman to be appointed lieutenant governor of Ontario since John Graves Simcoe arrived in 1792,1 would be surprised -- no, I would be horrified -- if it took another couple of hundred years to get up to three.

Less well known is the fact that I was also the first and only Irish Catholic -- and one relatively fresh off the boat, to boot -- to have been offered this honour since Confederation. For those who might wonder why it took so long, given the enormous contributions that the Irish Catholic community has made to the province, I would reply: be patient, 130 years is but a prelude to a great nation's history. After all, the Roman Catholic Church itself has been in existence for 2000 years and has yet to get an Irish Pope -- or dare I say it, a woman.

I also think that it should be a great comfort to us all that no one paid the slightest attention to either the religion or place of my birth. No more than 50 years ago, remember, the Orange and the Green from Ireland were doing battle in the cities and small towns of this province. That demonstrates once again how much progress Ontario has made to turn itself into a deeply tolerant, genuinely pluralistic society. …

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