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KIRKPATRICK, Sir GEORGE AIREY, lawyer, militia officer, politician, office holder, and businessman; b. 13 Sept. 1841 in Kingston, Upper Canada, son of Thomas Kirkpatrick* and Helen Fisher; m. first 25 Oct. 1865 Frances Jane Macaulay (d. 1877), daughter of John Macaulay*, and they had four sons and one daughter; m. secondly 26 Sept. 1883 Isabel Louise Macpherson, daughter of David Lewis Macpherson, in Paris, and they had a son; d. 13 Dec. 1899 in Toronto.

George Airey Kirkpatrick was descended from the Irish branch of the barons of Closeburn, Scotland. His father, a son of Alexander Kirkpatrick, high sheriff of the city and county of Dublin, came to Upper Canada in 1823 and became a successful lawyer, politician, and businessman in Kingston. George grew up in an elegant country villa (St Helen’s) and, after 1852, at Closeburn within the city’s limits. He attended the best schools, including the local grammar school and the high school in St Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), Lower Canada. After studying at Queen’s College, Kingston, for a session, he entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated in 1861 with a ba and an llb, having distinguished himself as a moderator and silver medallist in law, literature, and political economy.

Because he had a law degree, Kirkpatrick had to article for only three years, which he served in his father’s firm. He was called to the bar in 1865 and became, according to David Breakenridge Read*, the “most prominent lawyer of his day in Kingston.” His law firm remained active throughout his lifetime, and it survived him under the direction of his partners and business associates Robert Vashon Rogers and William Folger Nickle*. Appointed qc in 1880, Kirkpatrick received honorary llds from Trinity College (1884), Queen’s (1893), and the University of Toronto (1894).

Kingston in the 19th century was home to a number of powerful politicians, including Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Alexander Campbell, Sir Richard John Cartwright*, and Sir Oliver Mowat*. In 1870, without much local political experience, Kirkpatrick defeated Cartwright’s cousin and succeeded his own father as Conservative mp for Frontenac, the largely rural riding surrounding Kingston, which he would represent for the next 22 years. During that period he sat as chairman of the standing committee on public accounts (which brought forth the Tariff Act of 1879), served as speaker of the House of Commons from 1883 to 1887, and was appointed to the Privy Council in 1891. None the less, he spent his political career in the shadow of the more prominent Kingston politicians. A minor figure in parliament, he was unable to secure a cabinet post and even flirted with the Liberal party at the time of the Pacific Scandal in 1873 [see Sir Hugh Allan*]. In refusing him a place in cabinet in 1888, Macdonald bluntly told him: “You are not strong enough in the House, when you were Speaker of the Commons you were afraid of [Edward Blake*], and decided Parliamentary questions against your Conservative friends.”

In the commons, in fact, he was a forceful advocate for the interests of Kingston, its businesses, Queen’s, and the Royal Military College of Canada [see Edward Osborne Hewett], and for the expansion of the Great Lakes–St Lawrence canal system that was so important to the economy of Kingston and other Ontario ports. He took a particular interest in legislation in 1877 establishing a court of maritime jurisdiction in Ontario. He was appointed lieutenant governor of Ontario on 28 May 1892, during the Mowat administration, and served until 18 Nov. 1897, in which year he was created a kcmg. While lieutenant governor, in 1894–95 he was instrumental with Dr George Ansel Sterling Ryerson* in the establishment in Toronto of the first Canadian branch of the St John Ambulance Association.

Public office was not a full-time occupation for Kirkpatrick. He had entered the militia as a private during the Trent affair in 1861 [see Sir Charles Hastings Doyle*]. He saw active service at Cornwall during the Fenian raids of 1866, at which time he was adjutant of the 14th Battalion of Rifles. The following year he transferred to the newly formed 47th (Frontenac) Battalion of Infantry as a major, rising to lieutenant-colonel in 1872 and retiring in 1890. In 1876 he commanded the Canadian rifle team at Wimbledon (London), England, and he was president of the Dominion Rifle Association in the 1880s. His military interests were shared by his son George Macaulay Kirkpatrick, who graduated from RMC and went on to become commandant of the Royal Engineers (1927–30). George Airey Kirkpatrick also had extensive commercial interests, most notably as president of the Canadian Locomotive and Engine Company in Kingston from 1882 until his death and as a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1886.

Kirkpatrick, whom historian Donald Wayne Swainson has called a “political patrician,” clearly felt obliged to promote the well-being of the community in which he was a leader. In turn he was widely respected. A few years after his death in 1899, Liberal mpp Edward John Barker Pense obtained money from the Ontario government, Kingston’s city council, and Kingstonians in general to erect a huge memorial fountain at the Frontenac County Court-House. It was formally presented in 1903 as the climax of the city’s Homecomers’ Festival.

Leslie H. Morley

Can., House of Commons, Debates, 1870–92. D. B. Read, The lieutenant-governors of Upper Canada and Ontario, 1792–1899 (Toronto, 1900). Daily British Whig, 13 Dec. 1899. Globe, 13 Dec. 1899. A catalogue of graduates who have proceeded to degrees in the University of Dublin . . . with supplements to December 16, 1868, ed. J. H. Todd (Dublin and London, 1869). Chadwick, Ontarian families, 1: 152–53. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. Political appointments, 1841–65 (J.-O. Coté; 1866). Carroll Ryan, “George Airey Kirkpatrick,” Men of the day: a Canadian portrait gallery, ed. L.-H. Taché (32 ser. in 16 vols., Montreal, 1890-[94]), ser.17. Donald Swainson, “Kingstonians in the second parliament: portrait of an élite group,” To preserve & defend: essays on Kingston in the nineteenth century, ed. G. [J. J.] Tulchinsky (Montreal and London, 1976), 261–77; “Personnel of politics.” P. B. Waite, “The political ideas of John A. Macdonald,” The political ideas of the prime ministers of Canada, ed. Marcel Hamelin (Ottawa, 1969), 58. H. P. Gundy, “The Sir George Kirkpatrick memorial fountain,” Historic Kingston, no.7 (1957–58): 64–67. Donald Swainson, “George Airey Kirkpatrick: political patrician,” Historic Kingston, no.19 (1970): 28–40.

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Cite This Article

Leslie H. Morley, “KIRKPATRICK, Sir GEORGE AIREY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 27, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kirkpatrick_george_airey_12E.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/kirkpatrick_george_airey_12E.html
Author of Article:   Leslie H. Morley
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   February 27, 2024