by William Kendall @WilliamKendall1
The job of a Governor General is not the sort of post that would show up in the want ads, but if it did, it might read like this:
“Wanted: challenging temporary job applicant, generous pay and perks, official residence for five to seven years. The applicant must be fluent in English and French (with additional language comprehension a bonus), must be apolitical, well-educated and distinguished in their field, be well-traveled and willing to deal with endless ceremonies, be willing to put up with a battalion of Mounties in a protective detail 95% of the day…”
Canada’s Parliamentary system of government includes a largely ceremonial position: the Governor General. Along with the Lieutenant Governors of the provinces and territories, the person in the job represents the Monarchy. We’ve retained that tie- so Queen Elizabeth is Queen of Canada in addition to being Queen in Great Britain. The Governor General (and the ranks of Lieutenant Governors) represent her in state functions like the opening of Parliament or legislatures, but a multitude of ceremonial functions- swearing in of cabinets, presiding over state ceremonies like the Order of Canada, or meeting with foreign ambassadors presenting credentials. Mostly ceremonial- there are a few powers someone of that position can exercise in our system of government- such as telling a desperate politician trying to cobble together a coalition in a minority government situation that other party leaders might well have a go at it. It’s an appointed position, worked out by the governing party of the day, but meant to be strictly apolitical and above the fray of the down and dirty world of politics.
For the last few years we’ve had a good one, the soft-spoken David Johnston, whose tenure in the job has seen him do a lot of travel around the country and beyond, with a great deal of interest in education. His term was extended by the previous government, and is coming to an end this fall. It’s been a tradition to alternate between Anglophones and Francophones since the days when the Governor General was to be strictly a Canadian citizen. There’s been diversity- two of our other recent Governor Generals have been women of colour, one an immigrant, the other an African-Canadian. At some point in the not too distant future, the traditional rotation of Anglophones and Francophones in the job will add a third component- a Governor General of First Nations heritage.
This fall we will have a new posting in the job. It’s been announced in recent weeks that the next Governor-General of Canada will be Julie Payette. She’s more than qualified for the job. A Quebec native, she’s well educated, speaks six languages, and is more traveled than any of her predecessors. Ms. Payette has worked at NASA as the Chief Astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, and has been on shuttle missions in space twice- in 1999 and in 2009. If anything, she’s overqualified for the job.
I mentioned the official residence. Rideau Hall stands in the New Edinburgh neighbourhood of Ottawa, and it’s the house that comes with the job. House? More like a palace. 80 acres of land, 170 rooms, 9500 square meters of space. A lot of that is used for state occasions, and it’s changed drastically from its earliest days in the first half of the 19th century, when it was first built as a stone mason and businessman’s family home. Starting from when it became an official residence to the Governor-General in 1867, it’s been expanded over time, with large ballrooms and formal spaces to be found, lovely gardens, a fine collection of art, and a centerpiece of the Canadian story.
A lot of that’s open to the public for tours. Sections of the building the public can see include the Tent Room or the ballroom, all used to explain the Hall’s place in Canadian society and history, and the role of the Governor-General in our system of government. Guides talk about the history of the building, the use of the room, and much more. Out on the grounds, which are lovely to explore in any season, one might find a cricket pitch (the only one I know of here), the rose garden, or have a look at the multitude of trees that have been planted for more than a century by distinguished visitors from royalty or government leadership around the world- among them Queen Elizabeth herself, the Reagans, the Eisenhowers, the Kennedys, the Trumans… The trees, mainly oaks and maples, have plaques beneath them designating who planted them and when.
Rideau Hall is one of those delights to visit here. I have been in each season to visit… and since my first visit have wondered why it is I didn’t come to visit the place much sooner.
And Frankly, My Dear . . . That’s all she wrote!
William Kendall is a photoblogger who finds the unique perspective in everyday life. You can follow him on his writing blog, Speak Of The Devil, his photoblog Ottawa Daily Posts, and Twitter @WilliamKendall1.