George Brown | The Canadian Encyclopedia


George Brown

George Brown, journalist, politician, senator, cattle breeder (born 29 November 1818 in Alloa, Scotland; died 9 May 1880 in Toronto, ON). George Brown played an instrumental role in Confederation. A Reformer who helped bring responsible government to Upper Canada, he orchestrated the great coalition of 1864, which pushed British North America toward Confederation. He participated in the Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec Conference in 1864 and is considered a Father of Confederation. Brown’s journalistic legacy is also significant. His Globe newspaper ushered in the beginning of Canada’s big newspaper business. The widely read Globe was a vigorous force in Upper Canada politics in the 1850s. Today, it is Canada’s major daily newspaper, the Globe and Mail.

George Brown

Early Life

George Brown was raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, and immigrated with his father to New York in 1837. (See also Scottish Canadians.) They moved to Toronto in 1843 and began a newspaper, the Banner, for a Presbyterian readership in Upper Canada. The next year, Brown launched the Toronto Globe to back the Reform Party’s efforts for responsible government.

Political Career

Brown helped the Reformers to victory in 1848. In the process, he made his Globe a vigorous force in Upper Canada. New issues rising in church-state relations (notably, Catholic demands for state-aided separate schools) led him into the Assembly as member for Kent in 1851. He sat as an independent Reformer.

In the Province of Canada, Brown’s pronouncements against church-state ties were favoured in mostly Anglo-Protestant Upper Canada; but they drew animosity in largely French-Catholic Lower Canada. Moreover, in 1853, he supported the idea of representation by population, or “Rep by Pop.” This would give the more populous Upper Canada a majority of seats in the legislature.

Beset by internal strife, the Reform regime collapsed in 1854. The Liberal-Conservatives took office, while Brown sought to rebuild the Reform Party. In the interest of unity, he won over the Clear Grit radicals, who had strong representation across rural Upper Canada. (Brown had formerly opposed their sweeping, American-style democracy.)

In January 1857, a reorganized Upper Canadian Reform Party adopted Brown’s policy proposals for rep by pop and the annexation of Rupert’s Land. This potent combination of Toronto leadership, the Globe’s wide influence, and agrarian Grit numbers helped Brown’s Reform party sweep the Upper Canada elections of late 1857. In August 1858, Brown formed a government with Antoine-Aimé Dorion, head of the Lower Canada Parti Rouge. However, internal divisions were too strong, and it swiftly fell. (See Double Shuffle.)

The Upper Canada leader then steered a Reform Convention in Toronto in 1859; the goal was to discuss the federal union of the Canadas as a remedy for the province’s divisions. Yet Brown’s concept did not carry Parliament. In 1861, ill and temporarily defeated, he withdrew to recuperate. During a visit to Britain in 1862, he met and married Anne Nelson, daughter of a prominent Edinburgh publisher.

Great Coalition of 1864

A restored, happy Brown returned to politics in 1863 as member for South Oxford. He explored more conciliatory means to achieve reform of the Union. In 1864, he chaired an all-party parliamentary committee on that subject. On 14 June, it reported in favour of the “federal principle” to overcome the divisions that had brought political deadlock. On the same day that a last, ineffectual Conservative ministry broke down, Brown offered to support a new government ready to pursue constitutional changes. As a result, he joined with his chief Conservative rivals John A. Macdonald, Alexander Tilloch Galt and George-Étienne Cartier. They formed the great coalition of 1864. It would seek a federal union of all the British provinces or, failing that, of the Upper and Lower Canada.


Through this coalition, which Brown initiated, the movement for Confederation surged ahead. Brown played a major role at the Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec Conference; it was there that the Quebec Resolutions — a list of 72 policy directives that formed the basis of Canada’s Constitution — were formulated. Brown spoke compellingly of the need for Confederation at the 1865 debates in the Canadian Assembly. (See George Brown: 1865 Speech in Favour of Confederation.) In December 1865, however, he resigned from the coalition Cabinet over internal dissensions.

Life After Politics

George Brown continued to support Confederation. He ran in the first federal elections in fall 1867. Defeated, he then left Parliament. Satisfied that his chief aims had been realized, he retired to the Globe office; to his wife, Anne Brown, and their three children; and to his Bow Park estate near Brantford, which he turned into a large-scale cattle-breeding farm.

An elder statesman who still published an influential newspaper, Brown remained powerful in Liberal circles. He was active in Ontario party affairs and served as a senator from 1874. He was close to Alexander Mackenzie, his former chief lieutenant, who was prime minister from 1873 to 1878. Brown refused the position of lieutenant-governor of Ontario in 1875 and an offer of knighthood in 1879. He chose instead to focus on his cattle business and his work at the Globe.

George Brown


Brown’s death happened by tragic accident in 1880. A dismissed Globe employee, George Bennett, whom Brown did not know, accosted him in his office and shot him in a sudden struggle. The seemingly minor leg wound grew infected and caused his death at the age of 61. (See Toronto Feature: George Brown.)


By rising above political differences in his great coalition of 1864, Brown helped pave the way for Confederation. He is counted as one of the Fathers of Confederation. (His wife, Anne, is considered one of the Mothers of Confederation.) Equally enduring is Brown’s journalistic legacy. His influential Globe ushered in the beginning of big newspaper business in Canada. (See Newspapers in Canada: 1800s–1900s.) The Globe boasted the largest circulation in British North America in the 1850s. Today it is one of Canada’s major daily papers, the Globe and Mail, having merged with theMail and Empire in 1936.

See also Editorial: George Brown of the Globe.

Further Reading

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