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Charles Vincent Massey (20 February 1887 30 December 1967) was a Canadian lawyer and diplomat who, until 15 September 1959, served as the Governor General of Canada. He was appointed as such by George VI, King of Canada, on the recommendation of then Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent to replace as viceroy Harold Alexander, Viscount Alexander of Tunis. The official announcement of the appointment was made on 1 February 1952, just five days before the King's death, and Massey's investiture as the 18th governor general since Confederation took place on 28 February 1952.

Massey was born into a family that was influential in Torontomarker, and was educated in Ontariomarker and Englandmarker, obtaining a degree in law, and befriending future prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King while studying at the University of Oxfordmarker. He was commissioned into the military in 1917 for the remainder of the First World War, and after a brief stint in the Canadian Cabinet began his diplomatic career, serving in envoys to the United Statesmarker and United Kingdommarker. Upon his return to Canada in 1946, Massey headed a royal commission on the arts between 1949 and 1951, which resulted in the Massey Report, and subsequently the establishment of the National Library of Canadamarker and the Canada Council of the Arts, amongst other grant-giving agencies. He was appointed as the Canadian viceroy at the beginning of the following year, and proved to be a successful transition for the office between empire-born and Canadian-born governors general.

On 16 September 1925, Massey was sworn into the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, giving him the accordant style of The Honourable; however, as a former governor general of Canada, Massey was entitled to be styled for life with the superior form of The Right Honourable.

Early life, education, and career

Massey was born in Torontomarker, Ontariomarker, as the son of Chester D. Massey, himself the owner of the Massey-Harris Co. (predecessor company to the Massey-Ferguson Tractor Company), and the patriarch of one of the city's wealthiest families. The clan was strongly Methodist, and played an important role in supporting local religious, cultural, and educational organisations, including Victoria Universitymarker, Massey Hallmarker, and the Metropolitan Methodist Church (now the Metropolitan United Churchmarker). Massey was thus raised amongst Toronto's elite, which would give him a number of social and familial connections throughout his life, as occurred with his younger brother, Raymond Massey, and his children, Anna Massey and Daniel Massey.

Massey was raised in the family's mansion at 519 Jarvis Streetmarker, and educated at St. Andrew's Collegemarker, in Aurora, Ontariomarker, before enrolling in University Collegemarker at the University of Torontomarker (UofT). There, he joined the Kappa Alpha Society, and through that fraternity met his long-time friend, and future prime minister of Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King. After passing matriculation in 1910 with his Bachelor of Arts degree in history and English, Massey then went on to continue his education at Balliol Collegemarker at the University of Oxfordmarker, earning his Master of Arts in history. In 1913, he returned to Toronto and became the first Dean of Men at the Victoria University residence his father had recently donated, Burwash Hallmarker, as well as a lecturer on modern history at the college.

Feeling since his time as an undergraduate at UofT that the institution lacked a facility where its 4,000 students could engage in extracurricular activities, in 1911 Massey donated $16,290 to augment the money students had already raised for building a student centre, and thereafter led the endowment and construction efforts. Then, on 4 June 1915, Massey married Alice Parkin, the daughter of Sir George Robert Parkin, who was a former principal of Upper Canada Collegemarker (UCC) and secretary of the Rhodes Trustmarker; through the marriage, Massey later became the uncle of George Grant (born 1918), and the great-uncle to Michael Ignatieff (born 1947). But, he was not with his new bride long before, at the end of 1915, the United Kingdommarker, and thus Canada along with it, had declared war on Germanymarker. Massey was commissioned as an officer for Military District No. 2, and was called to work for the Cabinet war committee before being discharged at the cessation of hostilities in 1918.

Once again a civilian, Massey started in 1921 as president of his father's business, while simultaneously pursuing philanthropic interests, mostly in arts and education, such as his collecting paintings and sculpture through his Massey Foundation, which he founded in 1918. By the next year, UofT's social and athletic facility was complete and dedicated in memory of Massey's grandfather, Hart Massey, as Hart Housemarker; there, while he headed Massey-Harris Co., Massey participated as an amateur actor and director in the building's theatre. But, in 1925 he resigned from the corporate life he was unsuited for, and, as a friend of the then Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, Massey was appointed on 16 September, by Governor General Julian Byng, Viscount Byng of Vimy, to the King's Privy Council, and was subsequently made a minister without portfolio in the Cabinet. It was desired that Massey, as a minister, hold a seat in the House of Commons, yet he failed to win his riding of Durham in the 1925 federal election, held on October 29. Though he thereafter resigned his cabinet post, Massey was still included in the Canadian delegation to the 1926 Imperial Conference, where was drafted the Balfour Declaration that would ultimately lead to vast constitutional changes in the role of the monarch and his viceroys throughout the former empire.

Diplomatic career

Later in 1926, on 25 November, Governor General Freeman Freeman-Thomas, Marquess of Willingdon, acted on Mackenzie King's advice to appoint Massey as the first Canadian Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States, making Massey Canada's first ever envoy with full diplomatic credentials to a foreign capital. Despite this first in international relations, Massey's time in Washington, D.C.marker was free of notable events, and he returned to Canada in mid-1930, as Mackenzie King had put his name forward for appointment as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. But, merely five days after Massey reliquished his posting to Washington, Mackenzie King's Liberal Party was defeated in the federal election, seeing Richard Bennett appointed as prime minister. The new premier objected to Massey as the government's representative to the UK, on the grounds that, as a former Liberal minister, Massey did not enjoy the political confidence of the new Conservative government that was needed by the individual occupying the position.

Starting in 1932, Massey took on the job of president of the National Liberal Federation of Canada until, three years later, the Liberals were again returned to a majority in the commons, and Mackenzie King was once more installed as prime minister. Within a month, on 8 November 1935, Massey was appointed as the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom for His Majesty's Government in Canada, and arrived at Canada Housemarker to find as his secretary the man who would be his future successor as govenror general of Canada, Georges Vanier. The two men set about regular diplomatic business, but, throughout 1936, Massey had to contend with the death of King George V, and the accession and then before the proposed Canadian postage stamps even arrived for Massey to pass on for the King's approval abdication of Edward VIII in favour of hisyounger brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York.

Throughout his time as high commissioner, Massey used his connections to bring to Canada House a litany of personalities from "the highest quarters." Two such persons were the Viscount and Viscountess Astor, who were both the nucleus of the Cliveden set, which itself was a group of aristocrat individuals rumoured to be Germanophiles not only in favour of the appeasement of Adolf Hitler, but also supporters of friendly relations with Nazi Germany. Though these allegations were historically challenged as exaggerations, Irving Abella and Harold Troper claimed in their book None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948 that 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. However, Canadian immigration policy at the time favoured trained farmers, which excluded most Jews, who were largely city dwellers, and the Cabinet of Mackenzie King was already resistant to changes in the law. Seven decades later, these accusations against Massey resulted in a campaign in Windsor, Ontariomarker, to rename a high school that had originally been named in his honour.

Nevertheless, Massey was a Canadian and British patriot, and worked not only to maximize Canada's war effort once World War II broke out, but also concurrently served through 1936 as the Canadian delegate to the League of Nations, between 1941 and 1945 as a trustee of the Nationalmarker and Tatemarker Galleries, and additionally as chair of the Tate's board of governors from 1943 to 1945. Though, Massey was honoured for all this work by being inducted in 1946 by King George VI into the Order of the Companions of Honour, upon his return to Canada Massey continued in the same fields. He sat as chair of the National Gallery of Canadamarker from 1948 to 1952, and was selected as Chancellor of the University of Toronto between 1948 and 1953. In 1949, Massey's artistic expertise was of benefit when he was appointed as the head of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, which ultimately, resulted in the Massey Report of 1951, and from there to the establishment of the National Library of Canadamarker and the Canada Council of the Arts. All this Massey continued despite the death of his wife in July 1950.

Governor generalship

Massey's tenure as the Governor General of Canada was notable in that he was the first Canadian-born individual to be appointed to the post; previously, all the viceroys since Confederation had been born in another overseas region of the British Empire and later British Commonwealth. As a widower, he was also the first and only unmarried person ever to reside at Rideau Hall. Typically, the governor general's wife would be the viceregal consort, and act as the hostess and Chatelaine of the household. In Massey's case, however, his daughter-in-law, Lilias Massey, fulfilled the role, though she was not accorded the style of Her Excellency usually given to the viceregal consort.

As Governor General-Designate

It was announced from the Prime Minister's office on 1 February 1952 that George VI had, by commission under the royal sign-manual and signet, approved the recommendation of his Canadian prime minister, Louis St. Laurent, to appoint Massey as his representative. Within five days, however, the King was dead, and Massey, upon his swearing-in, would thus be the first Canadian representative of George's daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. To respect the King's passing, there was little fanfare around Massey's appointment; the sitting governor general, Harold Alexander, Viscount Alexander of Tunis, quietly departed Canada shortly after the announcement of Massey as his successor, leaving Chief Justice Thibaudeau Rinfret as Administrator of the Government in his place.

There was, though, some commentary about the soon-to-be representative of the new queen. The notion of a Canadian-born governor general, and one also not elevated to the peerage, was viewed as somewhat controversial by traditionalists. Massey, thus, was to be a compromise: while it was known he was closely associated with the Liberal Party, having been the group's chairman during the 1930s, the Govenror General-Designate was a commoner Canadian by birth but he also embodied loyalty, dignity, and formality, as expected from a viceroy. Massey stated that for his role as governor general, he for inspiration looked to one of his predecessors, and a man Massey had known for decades, John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir, whom Massey said he "greatly admired" and had "learnt much from" his tenure as governor general.

Life ran a profile piece on Massey, in which Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, described Massey as an elegant individual citing Massey's Oxford schooling and tailored cothing as illustrations and thoroughly Canadian, though noting that "Vincent's a fine chap, but he does make one feel like a bit of a savage." But the elite demeanour he was sometimes criticised for was not evident in Massey's belief that the Crown belonged to Canadians, and that it was his task as viceroy to act as a link between the people and the monarch. He similarly believed that the arts were a way to assert Canadian sovereignty, and that the various artistic fields should be accessible to all Canadians.

As Governor General

On 26 February 1952, Massey was sworn in as the 18th governor general of Canada in a ceremony in the Senate chamber, where he was presented with the Canadian Forces Decoration (subsequently given to all governors general upon taking office). However, Massey's first months as the viceroy were muted, due to the ongoing 16 week period of official mourning. It was not until the coronation of Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953 that Massey was called upon to take charge of any national celebration. For the occasion, he revived the use of the State Carriage when he rode in it, with an accompanying guard of Royal Canadian Mounted Policemarker, from the royal and viceroyal residence of Rideau Hallmarker to Parliament Hillmarker, where he introduced to the gathered crowd the Queen's coronation speech, broadcast around the world via radio. He also gave a silver spoon to each child born on that day.

Massey welcomed Queen Elizabeth II and her consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, to Ottawa on three occasions from 1957 on, and when the royal couple were engaged in a cross-country tour, Massey invited them to stay at his private estate, Batterwood, near Port Hope, Ontario. He also hosted a number of foreign heads of state, including US President Dwight D. Eisenhower on 13 November 1953. As a return gesture, Massey was invited by Eisenhower to Washington, D.C.marker, where, on 4 May 1954, he addressed a joint session of the United States Congress.

It was Massey's intent as governor general to work to unite Canada's diverse cultures. He travelled across the country, using any and all available transportation, including canoe and dog sled, and delivered speeches promoting bilingualism, some 20 years before it became an official national policy. Along with the usual ceremonial duties undertaken by a viceroy, such as opening in 1955 the new home of the Royal Saskatchewan Museummarker, the Governor General toured the Canadian arctic extensively, journeying to such places as Frobisher Baymarker and Hall Beachmarker in the Northwest Territoriesmarker, meeting with local Inuit residents, participating in their activities, and watching their performances. During his governor generalship, Massey also became actively involved with Upper Canada Collegemarker in Toronto, donating funds and his time to the school, and seeing a number of spaces there named in his honour in return. As part of his effort to unify Canadians, it was Massey's desire to see established an entirely Canadian honours system. Though such a thing was never realised during his viceregal tenure, he helped lay the groundwork for the system that would be implemented by his successor, and in 1967, just months before his death, Massey was inducted as one of the first companions of the Order of Canada.


It was said by Claude Bissell in his biography of Massey, The Imperial Canadian, that Massey's most influential years were between 1949 and 1959, when Massey "made his major contribution. More than any other Canadian, he was responsible for the first major movement of the arts and letters from the periphery of national concern towards the centre. It was a notable achievement." In this vein, he created awards for artistic endeavours, such as the Governor General's Medals in Architecture, and promoted the concept of an annual, national arts festival, which eventually led to the founding of the National Arts Centremarker. Further, Massey initiated in 1954 the Governor General's Gold Medal for the Institute of Chartered Accountants, as well as in 1959 the Massey Medal, for excellence in geographic endeavours for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Post-viceregal life

Upon his final departure from Rideau Hall as governor general, Massey reitred to Batterwood. For his service to the Crown, he was awarded from the Queen the Royal Victorian Chain, making him the first Canadian recipient of that honour, and today only one of two to ever receive it. Yet, Massey continued his philantrhopic work, dedicating his time to the stewardship of the Massey Foundation, and its endowment to the University of Toronto, in particular. While Hart House continued as one of the recipients of Massey's attention and funds, Massey also expanded the scope of his donations to UofT with the establishment in 1963 of Massey Collegemarker, to which Massey's protegé Robertson Davies was appointed as the college's first master. In 1961, the Massey Lectures were also initated, conceived as a focus on important contemporary issues by leading thinkers, and they remain considered as the most important public lecture series in Canada.

At the end of 1967, Massey was on holiday in the United Kingdom, where, on 30 December, he died. His remains were returned to Canada, and Massey was, as is customary for former governors general, given a state funeral in early January 1968. He was buried alongside his wife at St. Mark's Anglican church in Port Hope; his was the last burial to take place there.

Titles, styles, honours, and arms


  • 20 February 1887 16 September 1925: Mister Vincent Massey
  • 16 September 1925 25 November 1926: The Honourable Vincent Massey
  • 25 November 1926 23 July 1930: The Honourable Vincent Massey, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States of America
  • 23 July 1930 8 November 1935: The Honourable Vincent Massey
  • 8 November 1935 1 September 1946: His Excellency The Honourable Vincent Massey, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom for Her Majesty's Government in Canada
  • 1 September 1946 28 February 1952: The Honourable Vincent Massey
  • 28 February 1952 15 September 1959: His Excellency The Right Honourable Vincent Massey, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada
  • 15 September 1959 30 December 1967: The Right Honourable Vincent Massey

Massey's style and title as governor general was, in full, and in English: His Excellency The Right Honourable Charles Vincent Massey, Companion of the Order of the Companions of Honour, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada, and in French: Son Excellence le très honorable Charles Vincent Massey, compagnon de l'ordre du Compagnon d'honneur, gouverneur général et commandant en chef du Canada. It should be noted that, for Massey, Commander-in-Chief was strictly a title, and not a position that he held; the actual commander-in-chief (who can also be, and is, called such) is perpetually the monarch of Canada.

In his post-viceregal life, Massey's style and title was, in English: The Right Honourable Charles Vincent Massey, Companion of the Order of Canada, Companion of the Order of the Companions of Honour, and in French: le très honorable Charles Vincent Massey, compagnon de l'ordre du Canada, compagnon de l'ordre du Compagnon d'honneur.


Ribbon bars of Vincent Massey




Honorary military appointments

Honorary degrees

Honorific eponyms

Geographic locations





List of works

See also



External links

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