Princess Louise, Royalty in Canada
Though she spent most of her husband’s term in England, Princess Louise was adored by Canadians. While here, she was plagued with an accident, Fenian threats and the icy Canadian cold.
Arriving after a rough and dangerous crossing aboard ship from England, Canada’s new Governor
General John Campbell and his young beautiful wife, Princess Louise, set their feet on solid land at Halifax, Nova Scotia on November 23, 1878. Born Louise Caroline Alberta on March 18, 1848, the Princess was the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; her husband was Marquis of Lorne and heir to the Dukedom of Argyll. On arrival, Louise immediately found a church in which to give thanks for their safe arrival – according to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta site, “the weather was so stormy that the ship’s foresail and mainsail were lost during the voyage.”
The vice-regal pair made their way to the official Governor General’s residence in Ottawa by train. Considered less than royal, Rideau Hall at that time was a piecemeal building and spare in décor. A gifted sculptor and painter, Louise added artistic touches to her new home. She hung many of her watercolour and oil paintings throughout the house and painted rich trompe l’oeil scenes of apple blossoms. (One of her wall paintings has been preserved in Rideau Hall.) Also creative, her husband was a poet and writer. Campbell’s interests in arts and culture lead him to instigate the opening of the National Gallery of Canada in 1880.
Princess Louise Injured
Though not appreciative of the bone-chilling cold in Ottawa, Campbell and Princess Louise made the best of their first Canadian winter. They participated in “sledding and sleighing parties and lots of skating, with Louise inevitably wrapped up in massive sealskin furs, her face all but concealed,” said J.M. Packard in his book, Victoria’s Daughters. The next winter, the Campbells were on their way to an evening event when their large carriage sleigh veered out of control. It crashed over, startling the horses. The horses fled down the road dragging the overturned sleigh with its several passengers barely able to keep their heads and limbs from bashing onto the frozen ground. Only the quick action of aides in another sleigh ahead stopped the horses who had already gone a thousand terrifying feet. Princess Louise and the other occupants were seriously hurt, but the incident was downplayed in the official announcements.
The next summer, Princess Louise returned to England, still recovering from her injuries. Queen Victoria was glad to have her daughter home, fearful of the real and possible Fenian threats to kidnap the Princess and hold her hostage as part of their Irish-American rebellion against the British.
Governor General Named the Province
Back in Canada, the people were wondering just when their Princess Louise was returning. The Fenian threats had not been well-known. Originally beloved, the tide started to turn with rumours surfacing of marriage trouble, of boredom and of dislike of the country and people. Though the Governor General toured the nation without his wife along, she was still on his mind. While in what was then North-west Territories, Campbell named a future province in Princess Louise’s honour, noted Alberta Centennial:
“In token for the love which thou has Shown
For this wild land of freedom, I have Named
A Province vast, and for its beauty Famed,
By thy dear name to be hereafter Known.
Alberta shall it be!”
Lake Louise in Alberta’s Banff National Park was also named for the Princess, along with Regiments of the Canadian military: Princess Louise’s 8th Canadian Hussars, Princess Louise’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada and the Princess Louise Fusiliers.
Princess Louise at last made the long journey back to Ottawa in the spring of 1882. She had been away from Canada for over two years.
Princess Warmly Welcomed
Fresh duties of Governor General Campbell and Princess Louise took them on a cross-continent tripto British Columbia via the United States – the promised railroad across Canada was not yet completed. Princess Louise was given an effusively warm welcome everywhere she went, more
than the Governor General himself. But the threat of a Fenian bomb on the British warship that was to take them from California to British Columbia frightened and delayed the vice-regals once on their trip.
While he loved Canada, the Governor General decided to resign his post a year before his term was completed, possibly due to Princess Louise’s unhappiness with him or the unpleasantness of icy winters. The Campbells set sail in October 1883, returning to their previous posts as the Marquis and Marquess of Lorne, and later the 9th Duke and Duchess of Argyll. They never revisited Canada.
Governor General John Campbell wrote several books about his time at Rideau Hall. Afflicted with what was probably Alzheimer’s Disease, he died of pneumonia on May 2, 1914 at age 68. Princess Louise lived several decades more, dying at age 91 on December 3, 1939 at Kensington Palace. They had no children.
Visit The Cascapedia River Museum site to see more delightful art of Princess Louise: Cascadpedia Museum
Book: Victoria’s Daughters by Jerrold M. Packard, St. Martins Press, New York, 1998.
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in January 2008. Copyright Susanna McLeod