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Visiting Glanmore House, Belleville, Ontario: Recalling the Curious Historiography of Prime Minister Bowell of Canada

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     Glanmore / Phillips-Faulkner House, Belleville, Ontario

Glanmore / Phillips-Faulkner House, Belleville, Ontario

A National Historic Site of Canada (...with the affairs of Manitoba weighing heavily)

A National Historic Site of Canada, Belleville's Glanmore House is sometimes referred to as Glanmore / Phillips-Faulkner House. The original residents were J.P.C. Phillips and his wife Harriet Dougall Phillips; the extended Phillips-Faulkner family lived here until 1971.

Built in 1882 and 1883, Glanmore House contains a number of significant artifact collections.

Remembering Sir Mackenzie Bowell — or not, as the case may be

One of these is the Sir Mackenzie Bowell Collection, recalling Canada's 5th Prime Minister, who served in that office from 1894 until 1896 and who was a prominent citizen of Belleville. Through the newspaper 'The Belleville Intelligencer', Sir Mackenzie Bowell (1823-1917) was notably a strong supporter of founding Prime Minister of Canada Sir John Macdonald (1815-1891).

One set of items is silverware; another is a porcelain dinner service, both collections having originally been presented to Sir Mackenzie Bowell (1).

Remembering Sir Mackenzie Bowell (1823-1917) is a surprisingly complex affair.

Perhaps bizarrely, for 121 years after Sir Mackenzie Bowell had relinquished his Prime Ministerial office, no biography of Canada's 5th Prime Minister had been issued.

A historian, Betsy Dewar Boyce, did eventually proceed to write such a biography. However, she died in 2007, without having succeeded in finding a publisher for her work.

Perhaps amazingly, the biography, which lay unpublished for 10 years after the death of the author, and indeed 100 years after the death of Sir Mackenzie Bowell, was finally issued only in 2017.

The fact is that Sir Mackenzie Bowell was a noted Parliamentarian who, prior to serving as Prime Minister of Canada, had served in a number of ministerial offices in the Dominion Government, as it was then known. In all, he indeed served in Parliament for 50 years, whether in the House of Commons or the Senate.

But when one looks more closely at his Parliamentary career, a number of what today would seem like oddities emerge. During his period of Prime Ministerial office, Sir Mackenzie Bowell was not actually a Member of the House of Commons but of the Senate. One of the salient issues in 1894-1896 was the Manitoba Schools Question, and during the often fiery debates in the Commons on this subject Prime Minister Bowell was basically absent.

Indeed, during the year and five months of his Dominion Premiership, it was Sir Charles Tupper who was regarded by some observers as the 'real' Prime Minister. During this period, a number of ministers in Sir Mackenzie Bowell's government were highly exercised about the Manitoba Schools Question. This was in an era when the Orange Order effected considerable influence (2); and, indeed, Sir Mackenzie himself was a prominent Orangeman; however, several of his cabinet held even more radical Orangist views than he himself did. Plotting against Sir Mackenzie Bowell, these Orangist cabinet colleagues — dubbed a 'nest of traitors' by the relatively short-lived Prime Minister — ensured his resignation to Governor-General Lord Aberdeen and his replacement by Sir Charles Tupper.

Thus ended Sir Mackenzie Bowell's short Prime Ministerial office — although his successor's was even shorter: Sir Charles Tupper lost an ensuing Dominion election and resigned after several weeks in office.

Both Sir Mackenzie Bowell and Sir Charles Tupper may thus each be described as one of Canada's 'revolving door' Prime Ministers who briefly served in a five year period between the long-serving Premierships of Sir John Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Once out of Prime Ministerial office, Sir Mackenzie Bowell never served as a minister again, despite his Parliamentary career lasing until his death in 1917.

Unusual funeral for a former Prime Minister; and legacy

Perhaps significantly, also, at his funeral, the occasion was noted by the presence of not a few Orangemen, but not one serving or former government minister found the time to attend.

In summary, perhaps, the legacy of Sir Mackenzie Bowell is to have been regarded as too much of an Orangeman for many people, but not radically Orangist enough for his recalcitrant cabinet colleagues (3).

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It is perhaps significant also that the City of Belleville's own local guide, 'Discover Belleville' (4) describes various features of Glanmore House, but Prime Minister Bowell and the collection at Glanmore House which is named for him are not actually mentioned in the 64 page publication.

Back to Glanmore House...

Architecturally, Glanmore House is a striking example of Second Empire style, popular in the mid to late 19th century. It was designed by local architect Thomas Hanley. Features of the three storey building include prominent mansard roofing, hand-painted ceilings and ornate woodwork (4).

Other artifact collections at Glanmore House include ones centred on clothing, furnishings and domestic textiles.

The works of artist Horatio Couldery (1832-1918) have been prominently displayed at Glanmore House. These include many examples of animal paintings (4).

Manitoba again...

The venue for regular exhibitions, Glanmore House has hosted a varied selection of these, one of which has been on the subject of the history of female suffrage in Manitoba: compared with some of Sir Mackenzie Bowell's associates, probably a subject which publicly funded museums are more likely to want to commemorate.

Glanmore National Historic Site is situated at 257 Bridge Street East, Belleville, Ontario, Canada.

November 17, 2021


(1); ; plus Wikipedia's 'Glanmore National Historic Site' sourcing.

(2) To put the influence of the Orange Order into context, Confederation in 1867 occurred against the background of Fenian attacks, and Orangist narratives were widespread in mainly Anglophone Canada in the subsequent decades.

(3) To paraphrase journalist David McKitterick, who has written extensively about the complexities of politics in Orangist spheres of influence, for Sir Mackenzie Bowell, with his background, it would have been impossible to conceive of his being able to serve effectively as Prime Minister without the support of the Orange Order, because the Orangists held — and, indeed, exercised — the power to bring him down. It proved equally impossible for Sir Mackenzie Bowell to govern effectively as Prime Minister with the support of the Orange Order, because seemingly Organgists managed continuously to hinder his ability to function while in office. Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges defined history as what people like to remember and like to forget. It would be interesting to analyze in depth what it is exactly about Prime Minister Sir Mackenzie Bowell that has made so many people want to forget him. (One wonders if he would have made more of a mark if, instead of his successor, Sir Charles Tupper, he had managed to become the shortest serving Prime Minister of Canada?)

(4) 'Discover Belleville' , Offical Visitor Guide, City of Belleville, p.p.20-21.

Photograph of Mackenzie Bowell, two women and a man standing outside C. P. Holton's house on Charles Street in Belleville, Ontario in winter.

Photograph of Mackenzie Bowell, two women and a man standing outside C. P. Holton's house on Charles Street in Belleville, Ontario in winter.

Also worth seeing

In Belleville itself is the stately, High Victorian Gothic Revival City Hall, built in 1872/73, of which its tower is a major feature of the City's skyline; West Riverside Park has a striking floral flag of Canada, visible from the 401 Freeway.

In Kingston (distance: 82.6 kilometres) visitor attractions include: Bellevue House National Historic Site (former home of Sir John A. Macdonald); Fort Henry; the City Hall, the Frontenac County Courthouse;the Flora MacDonald Confederation Basin; Portsmouth Village; and others.


How to get there: Kingston/Norman Rogers Airport, at Kingston , Ontario (distance from Belleville: 76.7 kilometres) is served by Air Canada, offering scheduled flights to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide flight connections. Car rental is available from Kingston/Norman Rogers Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, and to local authorities for Covid protocols.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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