It is common testimony that Canadian society is easy to get on with. The people are simple and natural and very ready to be pleased. Her Excellency soon feels quite at home amongst them, and her dinners and receptions are functions which she enjoys herself as well as being pleasurable to her guests. Etiquette has its place, but is not an oppressively rigid matter in colonial society. Guests have a pleasant, friendly way of talking entertainingly and trying to make her Excellency feel at home. They have the sensible idea that, as every thing is strange to her, she should not be expected to make all the conversation.
How simple the entertainment of a Governor-general's wife may be is instanced by Lady Dufferin's first reception. It was an informal garden-party to the people at Riviere-du-loup, where she was staying with her children. She decorated the rooms with wild flowers which she had gathered., and borrowed extra chairs from her neighbours. Her Excellency and her friend. Lady Harriet Fletcher, having carried out the bed from the best bedroom, made the latter a reception-room. Croquet and conversation were sufficient to keep everybody amused. When the party broke up, the neighbours removed the goods which they had lent - in sight of the departing guests.
This was in 1872, a few years after the Dominion had been proclaimed. But in an ever-spreading colony there are always new places where, it she visits them, the Governor General's wife may have to entertain in a very informal manner.
If her Excellency is wise she does not miss such opportunities, for the men and women who are nobly doing the pioneer work of our Empire in building up new towns and cities have the right to an equal consideration with the old families of Quebec and Ottawa. It is a red-letter day in their toiling lives to have an opportunity of seeing the representatives of the Crown freshly arrived from the dear Homeland.
Lady Aberdeen, during her husband's Governor-generalship, 1893-98, made a point of visiting the small towns and isolated places, and passed many nights in the huts of lonely settlers. She felt great admiration for the colonial wives and mothers, many of them gently bred, who were cheerfully toiling to build up the homes of the Empire.
The life of the Governor-general's wife has three main divisions - the winter and parliamentary season at Government House, Ottawa; spring and summer sojourns at the Citadel, Quebec; and a period devoted to exploring the interesting parts of the colony, and accompanying his Excellency on his tours to the distant parts of the Dominion. Visits are also paid to Montreal, Toronto, and the other chief cities in the provinces, where she meets the lieutenant-governors and their wives, and takes part in social functions. With the first fall of snow, her Excellency and family don the fur-lined garments, sealskin headgear, fur gloves, and moccasins with which to face the rigours of the Canadian winter. "Our Lady of the Snows" is a little sensitive on the matter of climate, so her Excellency must not appear to be in terror of the frost-bite,and must cheerfully go through multitudinous Wrappings and under-wrappings when she goes to church. The Canadian climate is delightfully exhilarating if severe. To quote Kipling:
"There was once a small boy of Quebec, Who was buried in snow to the neck, When asked, 'are you friz'? He replied, 'yes, I is; But we don't call this cold in Quebec.' " Her Excellency's winter seasons are enlivened by parties for every kind of ice sport. Tobogganing parties by torchlight are a favourite pastime at Government House, where there is a magnificent run, made during the governor - generalship of the Duke of Argyle, 1878-83, the Princess Louise being particularly fond of the sport. Then there are ice carnivals, skating parties, bewitching sleigh drives, curling matches, which delight the Scottish part of Canadian society, and expeditions in snow-shoes over the illimitable white expanses. Her Excellency is sure to find some form of recreation in which she can share the general hilarity of the season.
Lady Minto, during her term in Canada, 1898-1904, was particularly popular as an adept in all kinds of ice sports, even to the less known recreation of ice sailing. Never were there gayer Winter seasons than during her reign.
Her Excellency has a curious experience at the New Year's reception, for the ladies stay at home, and only the gentlemen come to pay their respects at Government House.
With the spring, the parliamentary season begins with a Cabinet dinner on the eve of the opening of Parliament in Ottawa. Next day her Excellency accompanies the Governor-general to the State opening of Parliament, and sits to the left of the throne in the Senate Chamber, on each side of which are rows of ladies in full dress. The Senators occupy the floor of the House, and the galleries are filled to the ceiling. The Commons attend to hear the Speech from the throne, which is read first in English and then in French.
Her Excellency is now at the height of her social entertainments, and dinners; receptions and balls follow in quick succession. In March the great Drawing Room is held in the Parliament Buildings. The Governor-general and her Excellency stand by the throne with the Ministers about them; the wives of the Ministers pass their Excellencies first, next those of the Senators, and then follows "all the world."
During residence in Quebec, her Excellency's entertainments derive colour from the French element. Roman Catholic archbishops, bishops, and grands vicaires attend in full ecclesiastical dress, most gorgeous and resplendent. Her Excellency's progress from the Citadel to pay State visits to institutions such as the Universite Laval are accompanied by much ceremony.
A Curious Privilege
At Quebec the Governor-general has some privileges of the old kings of France, one of which is the right to enter cloistered convents. Her Excellency is admitted along with him for the nuns to be presented, but should she go alone she can only speak to them through the convent grating.
The third phase of her Excellency's life, that of travelling about the Dominion, is of great pleasure and interest, and may be as full of adventure as she is inclined to make it. There are the campings-out in primeval forests, the visits to Indian wigwams, and the fishing expeditions, which Princess Louise so greatly enjoyed, and there are the visits to the lakes, the first sight of Niagara and of the rolling prairies, and those long railway journeys through the Wonderful scenery of the Rockies, where her Excellency may, if of adventurous spirit, ride on the cowcatcher of the engine as Queen Mary - then Duchess of York - and Lady Minto did, during the Royal colonial tour.
Lady Grey has endeared herself to all classes in the Dominion during her five years of residence. In 1911, however, she will be succeeded by the Duchess of Connaught, whose tour in South Africa will be a fitting prelude to the position of Governor-general's wife in Canada.