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Governor General

 

The Governor General - the evolution of Canada's oldest public institution

50th anniversary

The Office of the Governor General dates back nearly 400 years to 1608 when Samuel de Champlain acted as the Governor of New France, establishing what has become the oldest continuing public office in Canada.

Marking A Milestone

Until 1952, Governors General were British.

Since then, all Governors General have been Canadian and for over 50 years, each has reflected our unique culture and aspirations in their mandate. The year 2002 was a milestone. It marked an affirmation of our identity as Canadians.

Political Evolution

The 1952 installation of Vincent Massey as Governor General marked an important evolution in Canadian political affairs. It came about as a result of a number of events in the 1940s:

  • Canada 's major role in World War II forged for us an international reputation
  • In 1947, the Canadian Citizenship Act was passed - before then, all Canadians were British subjects
  • Also in 1947, King George VI signed Letters Patent, documents that transferred most of the duties of head of state from the British Monarch to the Governor General.

The naming of a Canadian Governor General reflected this country's new sense of autonomy and identity in the post-war era. It marked the beginning of the modern institution of the Governor General with a Canadian representing the Crown and carrying out the responsibilities of Head of State.

The Evolution Continues

But the evolution of the Governor General's role did not stop in 1952. Since then, Canada's Governors General have taken on more responsibilities:

Honours
In 1967, during Governor General Roland Michener's mandate, The Canadian Honours system was established with the creation of the Order of Canada.

State Visits abroad
Also under Michener's mandate, the Governor General began to make international visits abroad as Canada's Head of State. Previously it was thought that the Governor General carried out duties only in Canada, and that only the Sovereign was received as Head of State abroad.

Letters of Credence
In the 1970s, under the mandate of Governor General Jules Léger, the Governor General took over responsibility from the Queen for signing the letters of credence for outgoing Canadian diplomats.

Treaties and Declarations of War
Mr. Leger's term saw some other important responsibilities transferred from the Queen to the Governor General, including the responsibilities of signing treaties and declarations of war.

Heraldry
In 1988, Jeanne Sauvé was the first Governor General to grant Canadian Coats of Arms. She presided over the creation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority so that Canadians did not have to apply to Britain for these symbols.

For more information on the roles and responsibilities of the Governor General, please click here: roles and responsibilities.

Updated: 2009-04-30
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