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GORDON, ANDREW ROBERTSON, naval officer, businessman, civil servant, and hydrographer; b. 13 Feb. 1851 in Aberdeen, Scotland; m. Mary Elizabeth Parker, and they had several children; d. 24 March 1893 in Ottawa.

Andrew Robertson Gordon was educated in Aberdeen and joined the Royal Navy in 1863. Promoted lieutenant in 1871, he retired in October 1873. By August 1872, however, he had immigrated to Canada, settling in Cooksville (Mississauga), Ont., and had married the daughter of Melville Parker, the deputy reeve of Toronto Township and later warden of Peel County. During the late 1870s Gordon and Parker, in partnership, operated an oil refinery near the village.

In 1880 Gordon was appointed deputy superintendent of the Meteorological Service in the federal Marine and Fisheries Department, effective 1 August [see George Templeman Kingston*]. Located at the service’s central office in Toronto, he was engaged in inspecting weather observation stations and in advising Superintendent Charles Carpmael on the development of the service. Gordon travelled to stations in Quebec and around the Gulf of St Lawrence in the summer of 1881, and subsequently made proposals that the service should undertake a magnetic survey of the gulf. Two years later he toured southern Manitoba and the northwest in order to make recommendations to the department regarding the extension of the service’s activities to that part of the country. Prior to this time there had been only four weather stations west of Winnipeg and they reported irregularly; the service wished to establish new stations along the telegraph line being built with the Canadian Pacific Railway. As a result of Gordon’s report, several stations were authorized and opened within two years.

Although Gordon continued as deputy head of the Meteorological Service, he became increasingly involved in other activities of the department, beginning in the summer of 1884. That year he was appointed to head the first Canadian expedition to Hudson Bay after confederation, which was to ascertain for what period of the year Hudson Strait was navigable. This investigation was necessary to deal with demands from western Canada for a railway to Hudson Bay, at the mouth of either the Nelson or the Churchill River.

The first expedition, which sailed from Halifax in the Neptune in July under Gordon’s command, established five observation stations along the strait and one on the Labrador coast. A wintering party of three men was left at each station, their prime responsibility being to observe and record the formation, break-up, and movement of ice. Meteorological and tidal observations and, at one station, magnetic observations were also recorded. Gordon commanded expeditions in the summers of 1885 and 1886 aboard the Alert to take more summer observations, replace the wintering parties, and, in 1886, dismantle the stations and remove them along with the personnel. In his reports Gordon concluded that navigation through Hudson Strait was limited to the July–October period, with the best conditions in August and September. He argued forcefully that the Nelson River estuary was no place for a port but that Churchill had all the natural attributes of a great port and “should be the terminus of the proposed railway.” With a view to exerting greater Canadian control on the Arctic frontier, he urged the regulation of whale hunting. Other members of the expeditions, including Robert Bell*, published accounts on the geology, the flora and fauna, and the Inuit of the north.

During the winter seasons with the Meteorological Service in Toronto, Gordon became involved in several activities which indicated he was no ordinary public servant – certainly not by late-20th-century standards. In 1884 he appealed with little success to Frederic Newton Gisborne, the head of the government’s telegraph service, to pay a larger salary to his brother Leslie, a telegraph agent and weather observer in the northwest. Although an active worker for the Conservative party, he had trouble with his department when, early in 1885, he hired James Gordon Mowat, a knowledgeable climatologist and newspaperman but unfortunately a political opponent of the government, as a special assistant to write an account of the Canadian climate. Gordon was forced to let him go within a few months, before the report could be completed. In the spring of 1886 he corresponded with his minister, George Eulas Foster*, seeking action, if necessary, to ensure the legality of the marriage Gordon had performed as a ship’s captain the previous summer on Hudson Bay between missionary Joseph Lofthouse and his fiancée from England. Despite being a public servant, Gordon associated with Conservative politicians: he sold livestock from his Cooksville farm to his former minister, Archibald Woodbury McLelan*, in 1886 and the following year, before the federal election, participated openly at meetings in Peel. Gordon was ambitious, but his goal, to become a deputy minister, was never achieved, though not for lack of attempts to use his political friends.

Following the Hudson Bay expeditions he was again absent each summer from the Meteorological Service, serving in command of the fisheries protection fleet on the east coast. On 14 Oct. 1891 he was appointed nautical adviser and commander of the fleet. Suffering from consumption, he was transferred from active duty in 1892 and supervised the fisheries patrol from Ottawa, where he died the following year. He was buried at St Peter’s Church (Anglican) in Springfield, near Cooksville.

Morley K. Thomas

Andrew Robertson Gordon’s accounts of his three expeditions to Hudson Bay were published in Ottawa both as separate monographs and as appendices to the annual reports of the federal Dept. of Marine and Fisheries (from 1884 the Dept. of Marine). They appeared under the following titles: Report of the Hudsons Bay expedition, under the command of LieutARGordon, R.N., 1884 (1885) (Annual report, 1883–84, app.30); Report of the second Hudsons Bay expedition . . . 1885 (1886) (Annual report, 1884–85, app.29); and Report of the Hudsons Bay expedition of 1886 . . . ([1887]) (Annual report, 1885–86, app.27). The departmental reports also appear in Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1885, no.9; 1886, no.11; and 1887, no.15.

AO, RG 22, ser.224, reg.H (1892–94): 135; Toronto Township, abstract index to deeds, concession 1 N.D.S., lot 17; deeds, vol.10, nos.1021–23 (mfm.). Can., Environment Canada, Atmospheric Environment Service, National Headquarters (Toronto), Meteorological Service, superintendent’s letter-books; A. R. Gordon, letter-books, 1880–93; Dept. of Marine, Meteorological Service, Annual report (Ottawa), 1880–93 (issued both separately and in the Annual report of the department itself). Brampton Conservator (Brampton, Ont.), 30 March 1893. Ottawa Citizen, 25 March 1893. Alan Cooke and Clive Holland, The exploration of northern Canada, 500 to 1920: a chronology (Toronto, 1978). Dominion annual reg., 1884: 392.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Morley K. Thomas, “GORDON, ANDREW ROBERTSON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gordon_andrew_robertson_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gordon_andrew_robertson_12E.html
Author of Article: Morley K. Thomas
Title of Article: GORDON, ANDREW ROBERTSON
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: November 22, 2014