National Treasure #94: Vincent Massey

Charles Vincent Massey was the first Canadian-born Governor General of Canada: likely the only Canadian-born governor general of any country, I guess.

According to the same Wikipedia article, he was also Canada’s first ever envoy with full diplomatic credentials to a foreign capital as “Canadian Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States for His Majesty’s Government in Canada,” which is the best title ever, but would be tricky on a business card.

As a politician, he was perhaps more successful as a diplomat; as a diplomat, he was perhaps more successful hobnobbing than negotiating. As a patron of the arts, he promoted Canadian culture, chaired a Royal Commission on the development of the arts, and recommended the formation of the Canada Council for the Arts.

He also gave us Massey College, conceiving it, making a substantial donation, and leading fund-raising efforts.

Massey College is a graduate students’ residential community affiliated with, but independent from, the University of Toronto. It provides a unique, congenial and intellectual environment for graduate students of distinguished ability in all disciplines to share in a rich and stimulating community. – Massey College site

Of the establishment of a new graduate college, Massey wrote, “It is of great importance that it should, in its form, reflect the life which will go on inside it and should possess certain qualities — dignity, grace, beauty, and warmth.” The Massey Foundation, for which Vincent Massey served as a trustee, provided the financial endowment. – Wikipedia

Massey College, in turn, helped establish the Massey Lectures.

The College, along with CBC and the House of Anansi Press, co-hosts the Massey Lectures, widely regarded as the most important public lectures in Canada. Established in 1961 by the CBC to honour the former Governor-General of Canada, the Right Honourable Vincent Massey, the College’s Founder and first Visitor, these annual lectures are given by a noted scholar or public figure. They are broadcast by the CBC from cities across Canada, and published at the same time by House of Anansi Press.

If you’re not familiar with these lectures, check them out here. They make great listening.

His family was the Massey part of what became Massey Ferguson; his brother, Raymond, was a well-known actor.


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