DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

BRELAND, PASCAL – Volume XII (1891-1900)

b. 15 June 1811 in the Saskatchewan River valley


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

LEE, WILLIAM HENRY, civil servant; b. at Trois-Rivières, L.C., 26 June 1799, son of Dr William Lee, from Ireland, who was on the army medical staff in Upper Canada; d. Ottawa, Ont., 11 Sept. 1878.

William Henry Lee was educated in Montreal. In May 1821 he was appointed extra clerk in the office of the Executive Council of Upper Canada, and then junior (1828) and senior (1831) clerk. He became acting clerk of the Executive Council in 1839, and had the same position in the Province of Canada in 1841. In 1844 he married Harriet Louisa, daughter of Samuel Smith*, a leading Upper Canadian politician. Lee was made clerk of the Executive Council in 1853 and was clerk of the Privy Council from 1 July 1867 until his superannuation at his own request in 1872. Lee held several minor appointments connected with his regular work (for example, clerk to the Heir and Devisee Commission, 1839–53, and commissioner for sundry official purposes). Official papers were his only writing.

Lee’s successor as clerk of the Privy Council was William Alfred Himsworth. Born 28 Aug. 1820 at Trois-Rivières, he had been educated at the college of Montreal and was called to the bar of Lower Canada in 1841; he had then practised law briefly at Aylmer (Gatineau County), until he entered government service. He was sessional clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Province of Canada, 1842–43, and became a full-time clerk in the office of the Executive Council in 1843. Thereafter he rose to be assistant clerk of the Executive Council, 1851; assistant clerk of the Privy Council for Canada from 2 July 1867; clerk from 1 July 1872 to 1880. He died in 1880, in Ottawa. He had married Louisa Morrison on 31 Dec. 1844, by whom he had one son.

Himsworth, like Lee, held a number of minor appointments supplementary to his major position (for example, as a deputy for signing money warrants, and commissioner for signing commitments under a habeas corpus suspension act) and was appointed justice of the peace for Carleton County on 6 Nov. 1875. The only literary work connected with his name is a doubtful attribution: he may have been the youthful author of a brochure, La crise ministérielle, published in 1844 under the name of Denis-Benjamin Viger*.

The duties of Lee and Himsworth throughout their careers were mainly secretarial. In their junior days (when both would travel with the peripatetic government of the Province of Canada) their clerical tasks included anything that might be assigned to them. As they rose in rank, they were increasingly concerned with the routine preparation of business for the cabinet, including receiving departmental applications which had to be passed on for executive decision, and the subsequent communication of decisions back to the departments. The duties have been authoritatively described as “menial,” and they allowed for little initiative; the largest staff either ever supervised rarely exceeded a dozen clerks.

That both Lee and Himsworth served under more than one constitution and numerous governments, at a time when appointment and promotion depended on political superiors, is a mark of their capacity and integrity; but longevity in the public service was common even then, and no great significance can be attached to longevity alone. Both were held in high regard by their associates and Lee, who at his retirement was the dean of the public service, was honoured by a presentation from the cabinet.

Norman Ward

PAC, MG 24, I9 (Hill collection), 25, pp.6399–6400; MG 26, A (Macdonald papers), 82, pp.13184–85, 39678, 39679, 77048–49; RG 1, E14, 8–40. Queen’s University Archives, Alexander Mackenzie papers, pp.327–28, 329–30, 851–54. Can. parl. comp., 1872; 1874. Dom. ann. reg., 1880–81, 411. Hodgetts, Pioneer public service, 52, 86–87, 94, 271.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Norman Ward, “LEE, WILLIAM HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lee_william_henry_10E.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/lee_william_henry_10E.html
Author of Article:   Norman Ward
Title of Article:   LEE, WILLIAM HENRY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   June 15, 2024