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Friday, January 14, 2005
Tweedsmuir

Honouring Right Honourable John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, GCMG, GCVO, CH, PC (26 August 187511 February 1940)

Lord Tweedsmuir was a Scottish novelist and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada.

During World War I, he wrote for the War Propaganda Bureau and was a correspondent for The Times in France. In 1915, he published his most famous book The Thirty-Nine Steps, a spy thriller set just before the outbreak of World War I, featuring his hero Richard Hannay, who was based on a friend from South African days, Edmund Ironside. The following year he published a sequel Greenmantle. In 1916, he joined the British Army Intelligence Corps where as a 2nd Lieutenant he wrote speeches and communiques for Sir Douglas Haig.

In 1917, he returned to Britain where he became Director of Information under Lord Beaverbrook in 1917. After the war he began to write on historical subjects as well as continuing to write thrillers and historical novels. His career as an author was very successful, and he produced many well-respected historical works. He wrote biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Caesar Augustus, Oliver Cromwell and James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, but the most famous of his books were the Richard Hannay spy thrillers and it is probably for these that he is now best remembered.

Buchan became president of the Scottish Historical Society. He was twice Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and in a 1927 by-election was elected a Scottish Unionist MP for the Scottish Universities. Politically he was of the Unionist-Nationalist Tradition that believed in Scotland's promotion as a nation within the British Empire and once remarked "I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist. If it could be proved that a Scottish parliament were desirable...Scotsmen should support it". The effects of depression in Scotland and the subsequent high emigration also led him to say "We do not want to be like the Greeks, powerful and prosperous wherever we settle, but with a dead Greece behind us" (Hansard, November 24, 1932). The insightful quotation "It's a great life, if you don't weaken" is also famously attributed to him.

In 1935 he became Governor General of Canada and was created Baron Tweedsmuir. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had wanted him to go to Canada as a commoner, but King George V insisted on being represented by a peer.

While pursuing his own writing career, he also promoted the development of a distinctly Canadian culture. In 1936, encouraged by Lady Tweedsmuir, he founded the Governor General's Awards, still some of Canada's premier literary awards.

Tweedsmuir took his responsibilities in Canada seriously and tried to make the office of Governor General relevant to the lives of ordinary Canadians. In his own words, "a Governor General is in a unique position for it is his duty to know the whole of Canada and all the various types of her people".

In recent years in common with many of his contemporaries, Buchan's reputation has been tarnished by the lack of political correctness perceived, with hindsight, in his novels. However, in many other ways, his work stands the test of time, and he is currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity.

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