ALEXANDER MORRIS

ALEXANDER MORRIS

Manitoba’s Second Lieut Gov

by George Siamandas

On October 2, 1872, the Hon Alexander PC Morris became Lieut Gov of Manitoba. He was here to replace Lieut Gov Archibald who had committed the high crime of shaking hands with Louis Riel. Morris was a lawyer, judge, businessman, politician and civil servant. He was born March 26, 1826 in Upper Canada to a privileged family. His father was a prominent politician. Morris was the first arts graduate from McGill University in 1849 where he subsequently studied law. Morris believed in the imperial destiny of Canada that it should one day be much larger. He had also envisioned the role of the railways and began to invest in transportation companies. He felt that Canada should “find strength and wealth under the sheltering protection of Britain,” or Canada would be absorbed by the Americans. He ran successfully for Parliament in the first federal election and later joined the cabinet. Morris retired from politics in 1872 and asked to be sent to Manitoba as a judge becoming Manitoba ‘s first chief justice of the Court of Queens Bench of Manitoba.

Morris set out to find ways of unifying the people of Manitoba. In October he was appointed Lieut Gov of Manitoba. He became responsible for the administration of federal moneys, Indian affairs, and crown lands. But Morris was quick to introduce responsible government. Morris was known for his great tact and ability to get along with people. He was annoyed by the constant rancour amongst Manitoba politicians like Clarke, Joseph Royal, Stewart Mulvey and Francis Cornish.

Morris was vitally interested in education and helped found the University of Manitoba in 1877. He had succeeded in having three different religious groups agree on one strategy: the Catholics, the Presbyterians and the church of England. Morris was also the Lieut Gov for the North West Territories between 1872 and 1876. He was a strong proponent for the establishment of a police force in the North West.

Morris was fascinated with the Indians of North America and they became one of his consuming passions later in life. Between 1873 and 1876 Morris became personally involved in treaty making with the Indians in treaties 3,4,5 and 6 as well as revisions to 1 and 2. Morris was not permitted to be as generous with treaty fees as he would have liked and encouraged the federal government to give them help with education and to provide them resources for a new life in agriculture. They never did.
He also supported the idea of reserves where the Indians could retain a sense of connection to the land. And he wanted to strengthen the position of the chiefs and councillors and gave them suits, medals, rifles, and larger annuities.

Morris had done good work with the Indians, he helped introduce responsible government to Manitoba, helped establish the University of Manitoba, and brought a measure of peace to Manitoba. His son wrote: “Father never failed to make a friend of everyone he met. You inherit a good name. Make the best of it.” His only failure was in not being able to preserve Metis lands in Manitoba. While he admired the Indian people, he did not admire the Metis and their factionalism and petty quarrels.

In his latter years Morris purchased considerable property in Winnipeg, including land near Portage and Main where he built the Morris block. He was taunted by half breeds who accused him and his friends Gilbert McMicken (the domminion land agent and his agent) of having taken their children’s land.

After losing a Manitoba seat in the federal election he returned to Ontario where he ran and was elected in a by election. Never a robust man, Morris died at age 63 in Oct 28, 1889.

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