DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

MORRIS, ALEXANDER, lawyer, judge, businessman, politician, and public servant; b. 17 March 1826 in Perth, Upper Canada, eldest son of William Morris* and Elizabeth Cochran; m. in November 1851 Margaret Cline of Cornwall, Canada West, and they had 11 children; d. 28 Oct. 1889 in Toronto, Ont.

Alexander Morris was born to privilege, privilege which he used to expand the fortunes of his family and his country. He spent his childhood in the military settlement of Perth among the mercantile and political élite of which his father was a leading member. William Morris had served in the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council of Upper Canada and was appointed to the Legislative and Executive councils of the Province of Canada. He was active in the interests of Scottish colonists and the Church of Scotland, and in the founding of Queen’s College at Kingston. His son inherited the legacy of a mid-Victorian sense of public duty and family place as well as a network of political friends. Educated initially at Perth Grammar School, Alexander was sent to Scotland in 1841 where he spent two years at Madras College, St Andrews, and at the University of Glasgow. He was employed for the next three years in Montreal by Thorne and Heward, commission merchants, acquiring skills which were to be of use to him throughout his career. In particular, his command of French was aided by a three-month sojourn with a French Canadian family at Belle-Rivière (Mirabel), Canada East.

In 1847 Morris moved to Kingston to study law as an articled clerk, along with Oliver Mowat*, under John A. Macdonald*. He was admitted into the second year at Queen’s College. He “worked so hard his health gave way,” and in 1848 he left Kingston and returned to Montreal. In January 1849 he matriculated into McGill College and later that year became the first person to graduate in arts. He later received a bcl (1850), an ma (1852), and a dcl (1862) from McGill. He completed his legal apprenticeship in the office of William Badgley and John Joseph Caldwell Abbott* in Montreal, and in 1851 was admitted to the bar in both Canada East and Canada West. For “family reasons,” possibly his father’s ill health, he set up practice in Montreal that year and, by the time he entered political life in 1861, he and his partner Frederick William Torrance had been able to build up a “large and lucrative practise” in commercial law in a city rapidly expanding its economy and becoming the focus of transportation networks. His marriage in 1851 to a niece of Philip VanKoughnet* undoubtedly further advanced his career.

Like other young men of his time in the Province of Canada, Morris was enraptured by dreams of imperial destiny. Business interests, family connections, and personal inclination led to him to argue that Canadians should elevate themselves above sectional squabbles and take their rightful place in the building of an empire. He did not hesitate to express his ideas publicly, and his essay, Canada and her resources, was awarded 2nd prize in 1855 by Governor General Sir Edmund Walker Head* and the Paris exhibition committee in Canada. A plodding, descriptive pamphlet, it predicts a glorious future for this “fertile British Province” where “political liberty . . . educational advantages and religious privileges” would surely “attract men of energy and industry.” In 1849 Morris had become vice-president of the Mercantile Library Association in Montreal and lectured his fellow members on “The North American Indian, their origin, present conditions and oratory,” an early indication of one of the consuming passions of his later life. To this same audience he delivered in 1858 his lecture, “Nova Britannia; or, British North America, its extent and future,” which attracted some attention; when it was published as a pamphlet all 3,000 copies were sold in ten days. In it Morris predicted the federation of British American colonies and the construction of the Intercolonial and Canadian Pacific railways. He had been interested in these subjects since his youthful reading of the report by Lord Durham [Lambton*] and had actively identified himself with federal union, having been in 1849 one of the delegates at a meeting of the British American League in Kingston where this proposal was discussed. Foreshadowing Morris’ role in the west, Nova Britannia also argued that Canada should display a “large-spirited and comprehensive appreciation of the requirements of the country, and a proper sense of the responsibilities to be assumed in regard to the well-being of the native and other inhabitants, and the due development of the resources of the territory.” In this, his most important work of the period, he expressed ideas which were becoming both acceptable and exciting in the Canada of the 1850s. A lecture in 1858 to the Mercantile Library Association, and then to the mechanics’ institute at Hemmingford, Canada East, on “The Hudson’s Bay and Pacific territories” hammered home another theme of the day: opposition to the Hudson’s Bay Company, and annexation by Canada of its territories. Morris saw Canada as the rightful owner of Rupert’s Land, and felt that HBC activities must be curtailed if Canada’s new empire was to flourish.

Yet Morris was never a one-dimensional political man. At 27 he had published an academic treatise on the railway consolidation acts of Canada, a work of some utility in the pre-confederation decades. Like his father Morris was also active in the affairs of the Church of Scotland. At first mainly interested in missionary and educational work, in 1856 he assisted in beginning and in editing a children’s magazine, the Juvenile Presbyterian. A ruling elder of the synod of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and a trustee from 1858 of Queen’s College at Kingston, Morris was named one of the delegates to go to Scotland in 1859 to find a new principal for the school. As a result of the work of this delegation, William Leitch*, an old acquaintance of Morris’ father, was chosen. Morris himself had the opportunity to meet a number of the prominent leaders of the Scottish church and to take up friendships made by his father on earlier visits. In Glasgow he met for the first time George Monro Grant* who was to be principal of Queen’s in the 1880s when Morris was chairman of the board. Morris had also been elected a fellow in arts of McGill College in 1854 and in 1857 was elected to the board of governors.

Morris was an attractive public figure by the 1860s. A successful lawyer with good family connections and interests in education and his church, he was an able public speaker in English who could also cope in French and whose style in English could encompass the heights and extravagances of the new imperialism of the St Lawrence. Morris had been considering political life for some time and had made inquiries about a suitable riding. In 1861 he was elected as a Liberal-Conservative for Lanark South in Canada West; his father had represented Lanark in the Upper Canadian assembly for more than ten years. According to Morris, “the people brought me out without my knowledge and returned me by a majority of upwards of four hundred so that my sphere of influence is widening. I was very reluctant to accept but as it was my father’s County . . . could not say no.” He recognized his family obligations and, as a song composed to celebrate his victory suggests, his constituents also saw him primarily as a successor to his father: “With he has been an honest man, / In virtue he has shone, / The Father’s virtue we ha’e seen / Reflected in the Son.”

By 1864 Morris had returned with his family to Perth to take up residence in his constituency and to open a law partnership. His business interests, like those of many of his class, were expanding on the eve of confederation. Investments in iron ore, plumbago, and canals led not unnaturally to an interest in railways and the advocacy of a railway from Montreal to Ottawa and thence to Perth and Parry Sound. By 1867 Morris had taken a leading role in founding the Bedford Navigation Company; he and Richard John Cartwright* were among the directors. He was also named to the board of the Commercial Bank of Canada in that year.

In parliament Morris spoke strongly for confederation, seeing there a solution to the difficulties of Upper Canadian farmers whose sons were leaving for Wisconsin and Minnesota. He returned to the themes of Nova Britannia, stating that Canadians either must rise in “strength and wealth and power by means of this union, under the sheltering protection of Britain, or . . . must be absorbed by the great power beside us.” The solution for the problems of the Canadas was not representation by population but “the broader scheme of Confederation.” Morris’ role in parliament was minor but in June 1864, following the defeat of the government of Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché* and John A. Macdonald, Morris and John Henry Pope met with George Brown* and carried his offer of cooperation to Macdonald, thus helping to make possible the “Great Coalition” which brought about confederation three years later.

In the first federal election Morris was re-elected in Lanark South, ensuring, as Macdonald had anticipated, that he would now be able to “begin to play for taking a prominent part in the Conservative ranks.” After some urging, Macdonald appointed Morris to the cabinet as minister of inland revenue on 16 Nov. 1869. Morris’ cabinet position was confirmed by his return by acclamation in Lanark South in the necessary by-election.

Morris’ ten years in parliament were useful if not outstanding. He clearly served his constituents to their satisfaction and provided consistent support to Macdonald. He introduced two liberal reforms, the abolition of public executions and the municipal registration of vital statistics, which found easy acceptance. He gave the impression of being less partisan than many of his colleagues and was thus able to be a conciliator at a crucial time in Canadian political history.

The difficulties of federal politics, medical advice to retire from politics, and financial troubles resulting from a dearth of legal business in Perth, led Morris to leave federal politics in July 1872. “If I must retire,” Morris had written to Macdonald in May 1871, “I would like you to send me to Manitoba as Judge. The work would be light & though an exile, the country has a future & I could be of use, to [Lieutenant Governor Adams George Archibald*].”

From July to December of 1872 Morris served as the first chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba, a task which would hardly seem suitable for a sick man. In addition, he acted as administrator of Manitoba and the North-West Territories after the departure of Lieutenant Governor Archibald in mid October. This latter role enabled him to continue his close political correspondence with Macdonald on a more official footing. His first task as chief justice was to travel throughout Red River to revise and confirm the federal electoral lists, and to make himself known in the new province. In September he was witness to riots during the federal election in Winnipeg and he recommended the formation of a dominion police force which would be paid and directed locally. His advice was not acted upon. Riots and other disturbances were not unusual in the aftermath of the Red River rebellion led by Louis Riel, which had bequeathed a legacy of lawlessness and a disregard for constituted authority; skirmishes between the Métis and the settlers from Ontario were frequent. Morris’ court was a “bear garden” where “I have had a conflict of authorities & practises – the old Assiniboia ideas – the Ontario & the Quebec, en lutte. Fortunately, the legislature here, adopted English practise & English law, and I . . . have quietly enforced both, and have carried with me the French Bar.” His inclination was to look for a compromise, for “I determined from the hour I entered the province, to know no parties in it, & have steadily maintained that position.”

Morris’ goal was to see a peaceful, stable Manitoba based largely on the Ontario model, with an acquiescent and cooperative French population. To this end he pressed as interim administrator for a speedy settlement of Métis land claims to divert support from Riel in his bid for election in Provencher in September 1872 and to provide assistance for the substantial number of Métis he expected would desert Riel for the leadership of the more moderate Pascal Breland*. The settling of land claims was his first major crisis as administrator and he felt that he had survived it well, writing to Macdonald in November 1872 that “with firmness & temper I expect to pilot the ship of state through, all right.” His health improved and such small and perhaps Pyrrhic victories persuaded Morris to reverse his earlier decision to refuse the lieutenant governorship of Manitoba. In October 1872 he had told Macdonald that he would appreciate the offer but would decline the appointment on grounds of health, yet on 2 December he was sworn in as lieutenant governor of Manitoba and of the North-West Territories. Gilbert McMicken*, who administered the oath of office, had perhaps voiced the doubts of others when on 13 October he advised Macdonald against the appointment of a man with a “sensitive and nervous temperament.” Yet Morris soon surprised such observers with his abilities, particularly his tact in the handling of the disparate, strong-willed, and inexperienced groups of politicians and self-styled local leaders with whom he was faced. As lieutenant governor, Morris was responsible for the administration of federal moneys, Indian affairs, crown lands, and customs, and also served in a private capacity as Macdonald’s own representative.

One of the more significant of Morris’ accomplishments during his five-year term as lieutenant governor of Manitoba was the rapid introduction of responsible government in the new province. Although the impetus may well have come from his own fear of disharmony and awkward political situations, the result of forcing an early move to responsible government was probably beneficial, concentrating political attention as it did on present alliances and future policies rather than on recriminations over past defeats and hostility to the federal power. Whether as a result of his own weakness or as a crowning accomplishment of his political ideals, with the resignation of the Executive Council and its leading member, Henry Joseph Clarke, in July 1874, Morris called on Marc-Amable Girard* to accept the premiership, and for the first time Manitoba’s cabinet was chosen not by the lieutenant governor but by the premier. In Morris’ push for responsible government one might also see the broader motive of the spread of familiar political traditions; such a concern had been reflected in Macdonald’s instructions to him as chief justice to impose a municipal government system upon the existing parishes of Red River. Macdonald’s purpose in this was clear: “The Emigrant from Ontario will understand its working and it will introduce a feeling of responsibility and self government among the people, of which they are, as yet, altogether ignorant. They have hitherto relied entirely on the Hudson’s Bay Company and have never thought nor acted for themselves.”

The achievement of responsible government by 1874 meant at least that Morris lightened the burden of “managing the animals composing his Ministry.” He was a man of considerably greater political experience than most of Manitoba’s politicians and complained wearily of the constant bickering among Clarke and Joseph Royal*, Stewart Mulvey*, Francis Evans Cornish*, and representatives of other political factions. “I have to read every Bill and play law clerk,” he told Macdonald, “but they make a sad mess with amendments in the Houses.” As the political ambitions of the local legislature grew, Morris increasingly lost patience with petty rivalries, which rarely rose above the level of personal feuds.

Although his role in provincial politics thus declined, Morris retained influence in some areas which were to be of significance for Manitoba’s development. For some time he continued to attend the meetings of the cabinet, although it is difficult to know how often he did so or what role he played in its proceedings. He was an active participant in dominion–provincial affairs relating to “better terms” for Manitoba, particularly in matters involving railways where he took part in some negotiations and in composing memoranda for submission to the federal government. Morris also had a keen interest in education. He set in motion some provisions for school laws, but his major achievement was the founding in 1877 of the University of Manitoba. G. M. Grant was to write: “In the founding of the University he had achieved a measure of co-operation among the different religious groups which had not been found possible in any other Province of Canada at that time.” Morris’ contribution was in the good working relationships he maintained with the three major churches in Manitoba: Church of England, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian. His relationship with Alexandre-Antonin Taché*, the Roman Catholic archbishop of St Boniface, although uneasy because of the latter’s concern for Riel and the Métis, was marked by formal politeness rather than open conflict. Thus when Robert Machray*, the Anglican archbishop of Rupert’s Land, suggested the establishment of a non-denominational university with affiliated religious colleges, Morris, who was closely associated with both McGill and Queen’s, was quick to respond. Making use of a suggestion by Taché that the model of the University of London be considered, he brought “the existing colleges together to form the working body of a university for Manitoba.” In his speech from the throne in January 1877 Morris announced the proposed university bill, introducing “this measure as one of great importance and as an evidence of the rapid progress of the country, towards the possession of so many of the advantages which the older Provinces of the Dominion already enjoy.”

Morris was lieutenant governor of the North-West Territories from 1872 to 1876 when the North-West Territories Act of 1875 established a government for the territories independent of that for Manitoba. He was faced with the task, as the Manitoba Daily Free Press in Winnipeg said, “of bringing order out of chaos in a territory larger than half the continent of Europe.” To assist him there was a motley Council of the North-West Territories, for which provision was first made in 1869 but which was not formally appointed by the federal government until December 1872. The council’s senior member was Girard and only two of the original 11 members, Robert Hamilton and William Joseph Christie*, were residents of the territories. Always hampered by an apparent lack of both interest and funds on the part of the federal government, and by the requirement for legislation to be approved by Ottawa before coming into force, Morris was responsible for establishing a mail service (started in 1876), licensing stipendiary magistrates, and making provision for liquor regulations and, eventually, for making treaties with and assisting the Indians. He constantly advocated the establishment of a police force in the west. “The preservation of order in the North West,” he told Macdonald, was “the most important matter of the future”; he was conscious of the presence of the Sioux [see Ta-tanka I-yotank], which might well provoke other Indian tribes, and also of the influence of the threats to survival caused by the dying out of the buffalo. The presence of “men in red coats” he saw as necessary to prevent outbreaks such as those in Minnesota in 1862. The Cypress Hills massacre in June 1873 pointed out the need for law forces on the prairies and Morris emphasized to Macdonald the importance of bringing to justice the whites responsible for the massacre.

It was in Indian affairs that Morris seemed to find the greatest satisfaction. Between 1873 and 1876 he involved himself personally as the queen’s representative in bargaining and treaty-making with the Indians, signing on behalf of the crown treaties nos.3, 4, 5, and 6, which encompassed a large portion of the territory between Lake Superior and the Rocky Mountains, and revising treaties nos.1 and 2. Each of these treaties required considerable preparation, diplomatic skill, and quickness of mind during the negotiations as well as a willingness to follow up on the promises made. Morris attended to all these duties, and the peaceful settlement of the northwest owes something to him as well as to the weakened physical state of the Plains Indians.

After some difficulties and almost three years of protracted negotiations, the “North-West Angle Treaty,” or Treaty no. 3, was signed on 3 Oct. 1873. Morris headed a three-man mission whose other members were Joseph-Alfred-Norbert Provencher and Simon James Dawson*. With the invaluable assistance of some Red River Métis, and by using a judicious balance of threats and cajolements, he succeeded in convincing the Ojibwas of the Lake of the Woods area, in what is now northwestern Ontario, of the government’s determination finally to settle with them. Although two earlier treaties had been signed in 1871 by Lieutenant Governor Archibald with Indians in what is now southern Manitoba, Treaty no.3 was the prototype for those that followed. This time extensive negotiations took place and the adhesion of all the groups concerned was ensured. In addition, Treaty no.3 transferred large areas of land long before they were required by white settlers, and included provisions regarding the resources on the lands being transferred. The revisions later made to treaties nos.1 and 2 incorporated provisions regarding annuities and cash settlements similar to those in Treaty no.3.

Although he felt that no expense should be spared in making treaties, Morris was under constraints from Ottawa to offer only limited annuities and gifts in order not to raise the expectations of the Indians to the west. In response, he argued with Ottawa that if annuities were limited, there should be allowance for granting schools and other educational provisions for the Indians. He also successfully argued that they had always been led to expect their rights would be recognized before settlement took place, and therefore that treaties should be made well in advance of settlement to preserve peace and goodwill.

Following the practices confirmed in the Proclamation of 1763 and the treaties concluded by William Benjamin Robinson* in the 1840s and 1850s, Morris recognized the aboriginal rights of the Indians to their lands, accepted their relinquishment of these rights, and in return guaranteed to them what must have seemed a continuation of their way of life by permitting hunting and fishing on the unsettled lands in the territories they had ceded. The principle of allotting small reserves in scattered locations was not simply to avoid arousing the jealousy of white settlers or to diminish the military strength of the Indians. He wished to avoid the American system of “removal” and to cultivate a conservative “home feeling of attachment to the soil,” which would be communally owned to maintain cohesion in the face of immigration.

Morris also believed that it was “of importance to strengthen the hands of the Chiefs and Councillors by a due recognition of their offices and respect being shewn them. They should be strongly impressed with the belief that they are officers of the Crown, and that it is their duty to see that the Indians of their tribes obey the provisions of the treaties.” To this end, suits, medals, rifles, and larger annuities were to be given to chiefs and councillors and though Morris, like many whites, tended to overestimate the political power of the Indian chiefs, it is likely that this material assistance enabled them to maintain a stable leadership in their rapidly altered world.

All these methods were conservative but the goal was, from an Indian point of view, revolutionary: assimilation. Although in 1876, during negotiations at Fort Carlton (Sask.) on Treaty no.6, Morris assured Big Bear [Mistahimaskwa] that the government did not intend to “interfere with the Indian’s daily life” or “bind him,” but “only help him to make a living on the reserves,” it is true that anticipation of gradual social and economic change was an integral part of each treaty. Most western treaties made provision for education on the reserve, to, in Morris’ words, “train the new generation in the arts of civilization,” and “a very important feature” of all treaties was the supply of “agricultural implements, oxen, cattle (to form the nuclei of herds), and seed grain,” the tools necessary to transform hunters into farmers. Like many Victorians, Morris saw the advantages of the proposed way of life not simply in terms of helping new wards to become self-supporting; by “elevating” the Indian population, “Canada will be enabled to feel, that in a truly patriotic spirit, our country has done its duty by the red men of the North-West, and thereby to herself.” In a classic imperialist manner Morris considered the rewards of empire due only to those who recognized the responsibilities of their self-assumed burden and fulfilled their Christian duty.

Treaty-making had not been easy. The stakes were high, and the tact and stamina required were considerable. But for Morris the opportunity to play this role in the transformation of the west, of which he had dreamed so long ago, was an immensely satisfying experience. The symbolism of treaty-making, the language, and the ceremony also seem to have appealed to his sense of the dignity of his position, and he was to feel their loss keenly. After the Canadian parliament passed the North-West Territories Act in April 1875 Morris appeared dejected and suffered a loss of interest in his work. In November he wrote to Macdonald: “My sphere here, has lost its attraction, by the proposed cutting off, of the North West. I wish I had been left to complete my work there, during the remainder of my term of two years. However I have settled the Indian policy & the work will go on. Now that I am in health, I am weary of the loneliness & want of companionship here, & to my family, it is an exile.” When the act was proclaimed on 7 Oct. 1876 David Laird* became lieutenant governor of the North-West Territories but Morris continued as lieutenant governor of Manitoba and assumed as well the lieutenant governorship of Keewatin District which was created at the same time to the north (as far as the Arctic Ocean) and east of Manitoba; he retained these posts until December 1877. Morris had not been consulted in the drafting of the 1875 act, and he would have preferred to see the administration of the territories conducted from Winnipeg (Fort Pelly was the proposed seat of government). When a reconstituted council was appointed for the territories with three members, all of them white government officials, he wrote that “it is a crying shame that the half breeds have been ignored. It will result in trouble and is most unjust.”

As he prepared to end his exile and return to Ontario, Morris could take some pride in his achievements in Manitoba and the northwest. Apart from his work with the Indians, the introduction of responsible government in Manitoba, and the establishment of a university, he had brought a measure of peace to the relations between the old settlers of Red River, the Métis, and the new settlers from Ontario. He had fulfilled Macdonald’s goal of making a new society in the west which was patterned on the institutions of Ontario but which retained the support of the French population.

The major weakness of his administration lay in the failure to preserve Métis lands in Manitoba. Although Morris had seen the necessity of an early settlement of the land allotment question to maintain peace in the province, he had been unable to prevent the speculation in scrip which led to the dispossession of the Métis. Morris always considered his sympathies to “have been strongly with the native raised population,” but his admiration of the native people apparently did not extend to all Métis (there were significant exceptions) and he was much dismayed by their partisanship and factionalism. More important perhaps is the question of Morris’ own interest in the Métis lands. During his time in Manitoba he purchased many sections of land in Winnipeg, including a portion close to Portage and Main streets where he later built the Morris Block. He bought land elsewhere in the province and invested financially in various land companies. It would have been almost uncharacteristic for a successful commercial lawyer like Morris not to have seized this “magnificent gift” to expand his family’s fortunes as some Métis suspected he had done. But it would have been unforgivable for him as lieutenant governor had his land purchases been undertaken at the expense of the people whose rights he should have protected. He appeared to have no response to those half breeds who taunted him at election meetings with cries of “today we see Mr. McMicken and his friends all behind us on our children’s lands.”

Morris returned to a public welcome at Perth in 1878 but by late summer he was prepared to return to political life and was anxiously writing to Bishop Taché inquiring about his chances of being elected in the federal Manitoba riding of Marquette. Losing the Conservative nomination to Joseph O’Connell Ryan, Morris decided to stand for Selkirk, and on 7 Aug. 1878 was nominated by John Norquay. Although he found some support in Winnipeg, Morris’ campaign raised little enthusiasm among either the Métis or the old settlers in the parishes around the city. The Free Press, which supported his opponent Donald Alexander Smith*, mocked Morris’ love of pomp and circumstance as lieutenant governor and attacked him as avaricious, “first of all availing himself of Manitoba’s climatic virtues as a sanatorium, and afterward fattening his estate in the green pastures of Government House.” Questions were raised in the Free Press about his acquisition of Métis land, especially about the actions of Gilbert McMicken, the dominion lands agent and Morris’ own agent, who was said to have used advance knowledge of what lands would be distributed. Even allowing for the bias in newspaper reporting, Morris seems to have defended himself unconvincingly; his oratory was weak, his manner evasive and self-important. He lost the election to Smith by 10 votes.

Shortly after, Matthew Crooks Cameron resigned his Toronto East seat in the Ontario Legislative Assembly, and Morris ran in the by-election. He was elected on 21 Dec. 1878. His victory was confirmed in the general election in June of the following year when he defeated Oliver Mowat, the premier of Ontario and Liberal candidate in that riding, by 57 votes. His contributions to the Ontario legislature were not extensive; he seemed content to serve as the opposition house leader under William Ralph Meredith* and to receive his laurels. In 1880 he published The treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, a comprehensive history and discussion of the Indian treaties in the northwest from 1871 to 1876. He was appointed qc by Ontario in 1876 and by the dominion government in 1881. In 1886 he accepted a formal address from his fellow Conservatives on 25 years in public life. He championed the cause of federal rights against Mowat’s Liberals and reputedly prevailed in 1881 on the Toronto Daily Mail to support the Conservative party, writing some of the editorials on the subject himself.

Morris, never strong physically, was beset by “hereditary rheumatism of the head” and other nervous disorders, and was not in good health in these years in spite of rest and treatment in England. On medical orders he declined to seek re-election in 1886. He was not idle, however. He was active in the Presbyterian Church and had continued his connection with Queen’s College, serving as chairman of the board of trustees from 1883 to his death. Because of his financial and political connections across the dominion, he was in demand too for the boards of financial institutions and was associated with various companies including the North American Life Assurance Company and the Imperial Bank of Canada. During these last years he concerned himself with building his estate in the newly fashionable Muskoka. He also found pleasure in following the careers of his large and devoted family, all of whom had entered the professions. His youngest son, Edmund Montague*, was a preoccupation as Morris sought the best possible education for him in Europe and America in the fields of art and architecture.

At his death on 28 Oct. 1889 at the age of 63, Morris was eulogized as “a kindly man, a faithful public servant, a loyal elder of the church, working for his day and generation, and one whose public life was without a stain.” From a more distant perspective he may be seen as a man of considerable ability with the advantage of being born into a well-connected political family in a small society in the mid 19th century. He shared the visions of young men of his class and through family and fortune was able to play a brief part in shaping the future of an expanding nation. He had the geniality of spirit and generous manner one might expect from a successful professional man who had suffered few setbacks in his career, and the concern for expanding the family’s position that would not be uncommon in the first son of a Scots immigrant. An epitaph might be found in a note from his eldest son, Alexander Cline, to his youngest son, Edmund, in 1894: “Father never failed to make a friend of everyone he met, and his success in life was in no small measure due to this. You inherit a good name. Make the best of it.”

Jean Friesen

Alexander Morris was the author of: . . . Canada and her resources: an essay, to which, upon a reference from the Paris exhibition committee of Canada, was awarded, by His Excellency Sir Edmund Walker Head, bart., governor general of British North America . . . , the second prize (Montreal, 1855; 2nd ed., Montreal and London, 1855); The Hudson’s Bay and Pacific territories: a lecture (Montreal, 1859); Nova Britannia; or, British North America, its extent and future: a lecture (Montreal, 1858); Nova Britannia; or, our new Canadian dominion foreshadowed: being a series of lectures, speeches and addresses, ed. [J. C. Dent] (Toronto, 1884); . . . Speech delivered in the Legislative Assembly . . . during the debate on the subject of the confederation of the British North American provinces (Quebec, 1865), and The treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, including the negotiations on which they were based, and other information relating thereto (Toronto, 1880; repr. [1885?]; repr. 1971). Under the anonym of “A Canadian loyalist,” he wrote, with H. E. Montgomerie, The question answered: “Did the ministry intend to pay rebels?” in a letter to His Excellency the Right Honourable the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, K.T., governor general of British North America . . . (Montreal, 1849). Morris also compiled An analytical index to the act 20th Victoriæ, cap. XLIV., amending the judicature acts of Lower Canada (Montreal, 1857) and The railway clauses consolidation acts of Canada, 14 & 15 Victoria, chapter 51, and 16 Victoria, chapter 169, with an alphabetical and analytical index thereto (Montreal, 1853).

AASB, T. AO, MU 2164–70. PAC, MG 26, A. PAM, MG 12, B. G. M. Grant, “Churches and schools in the north-west,” John Macoun et al., Manitoba and the great north-west: the field for investment; the home of the emigrant, being a full and complete history of the country . . . (Guelph, Ont., 1882), 523–39. [William Morris], “Twilight in Jamaica,” Douglas Library Notes (Kingston, Ont.), 14 (1965), no.2. R. G. Babion, “Alexander Morris: his place in Canadian history” (ma thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, 1945). F. A. Milligan, “The lieutenant-governorship in Manitoba, 1870–1882” (ma thesis, Univ. of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 1948). D. R. Owram, “The great north-west: the Canadian expansionist movement and the image of the west in the nineteenth century” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1976). J. T. Saywell, The office of lieutenant-governor: a study in Canadian government and politics (Toronto, 1957). L. H. Thomas, The struggle for responsible government in the North-West Territories, 1870–97 (Toronto, 1956). L. F. Wilmot, “The Christian churches of the Red River Settlement and the foundation of the University of Manitoba: an historical analysis of the process of transition from frontier college to university” (ma thesis, Univ. of Manitoba, 1979). Lila Staples, “The Honourable Alexander Morris: the man; his work,” CHA Report, 1928: 91–100.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jean Friesen, “MORRIS, ALEXANDER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 12, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/morris_alexander_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/morris_alexander_11E.html
Author of Article:   Jean Friesen
Title of Article:   MORRIS, ALEXANDER
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   June 12, 2024