British Journal of Canadian Studies

Lady Aberdeen and the British origins of multiculturalism in Canada

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2020), 32, (1-2), 3–22.


Scholarly focus on British representatives in nineteenth-century Canada has often seen them as enforcers of a hegemonic English ethnic nationalism. This article challenges that view by showing that Lady Aberdeen, the wife of the seventh Governor General, and well known as an early feminist, was also a consistent advocate of a more pluralistic civic nationalism that supported minority religious, ethnic, and linguistic rights in Canada. It shows that her establishment of the Victorian Order of Nurses and Canada’s branch of the National Organisation of Women, along with many of her activities in partnership with her husband, were shaped by her beliefs about religious and ethnic co-existence as well as her feminism and anti-Americanism. In doing so it connects acceptance of diversity with longer-term trends in British governance: Lady Aberdeen’s approach to cultural and religious diversity within women’s organisations was an important precursor of official multiculturalism in Canada.

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