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Visiting the Rivière Gatineau / Gatineau River, Quebec: Remembering Lady Aberdeen; a Spectacular Firing; a What If?

Updated on August 2, 2023
Flag of Quebec
Flag of Quebec | Source
View of the Lady Aberdeen Bridge on the Gatineau River
View of the Lady Aberdeen Bridge on the Gatineau River | Source
Lady-Aberdeen Bridge - View of the left bank of the Gatineau River
Lady-Aberdeen Bridge - View of the left bank of the Gatineau River | Source
The Countess of Aberdeen (née Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks) in the robes which she wore when she received an honorary L.L.D. from Queen's University, 1897
The Countess of Aberdeen (née Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks) in the robes which she wore when she received an honorary L.L.D. from Queen's University, 1897 | Source

Dangerous waters and outspoken words

The Rivière Gatineau / Gatineau River is a 443 kilometre body of water, the confluence of which occurs with the Rivière de l'Outaouais / Ottawa River at the Quebec city which takes its name from the River.

Interestingly, at its confluence with the Rivière de l'Outaouais / Ottawa River, the Gatineau was formerly the boundary between the Quebec cities of Hull and what was formerly known as Gatineau: today, these former municipalities form one city, la Ville de Gatineau.

The River and the City are named for Nicolas Gatineau Sieur Duplessis (1627-1689), a French explorer of La Nouvelle-France / New France.

The Bridge and its associations

Close to the River's confluence with Rivière de l'Outaouais / Ottawa River is a bridge over the Gatineau, the Pont Lady-Aberdeen / Lady Aberdeen Bridge, the name of which recalls another historical personality. Ishbel Maria Hamilton-Gordon, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair (1857-1939), was consort to John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair (1847-1934), who served from 1893 until 1898 as Governor-General of Canada. Today, Lord Aberdeen's period of Vice-regal office is remembered, in the words of the website of La gouverneure générale du Canada / The Governor-General of Canada:

"Lord Aberdeen's legacy was a reformed role in how the office of Governor General dealt with Canadian society. He and his wife had sought to show interest in the welfare of less privileged Canadians. By meeting Canadians in all regions of Canada and discussing their concerns, Lord Aberdeen transformed the role of Governor General from that of the aristocrat representing the King or Queen in Canada to a symbol representing the interests of all citizens." (1)

The same source relates that, in her own right, Lady Aberdeen (see photo, above, depicting Lady Aberdeen in doctor's robes from Queen's University, Kingston) made a profound contribution to Canadian life:

"Lady Aberdeen made lasting contributions to Canadian society. She was the first president of the International Council of Women and encouraged the creation of the May Court Club. Her most significant achievement was establishing the Victorian Order of Nurses in 1897. This organization, dedicated to the care of ill people in their own homes, was at first mistrusted by the medical establishment, but Lady Aberdeen won its acceptance." (1)

Lady Aberdeen was thus noted in Canada as a strong personality, who made her mark in many areas.

However, the naming of bridge near the confluence of the Gatineau with the Rivière de l'Outaouais / Ottawa River for Lady Aberdeen is especially linked with a startling event in 1896, when the carriage in which Lady Aberdeen was travelling was involved in an accident which sent the vehicle plunging into the waters of the Gatineau. The quick thinking and valiant efforts of local people of Gatineau brought about Lady Aberdeen's safe rescue from drowning. In gratitude, Lady Aberdeen donated a bell to a local church building which stands close to the Bridge.

The Eglise Saint-François-de-Sales / Church of Saint Francis de Sales, situated on the intersection of Boulevard Gréber and Rue Jacques-Cartier, Gatineau, was built in 1873 and enlarged in 1886, with significant, subsequent artwork added. Its vicinity commands fine river views (2).

The Bridge itself was built in 1894, with further enlargement and construction carried out in 1931 and 2006/07.

The Aberdeens move to Ireland

Lord and Lady Aberdeen later lived in Ireland, where Lord Aberdeen served from 1905 until 1915 as Lord Lieutenant, during a tumultuous period of Irish history. By 1914, Home Rule for Ireland was on the statute book, suspended for the duration of World War One, but also challenged by Unionists mainly in six of the counties of Ulster. Lord Aberdeen was thus not fully trusted by significant elements of both the Irish Nationalist and Unionist populations.

Again, in Ireland, as in Canada, it was Lady Aberdeen who was perceived as a particularly strong personality. (Indeed, later Irish President Arthur Griffith's Republican newspaper Sinn Féin, in principle antagonistic to all that the Viceroyalty stood for, even backhandedly acknowledged Lady Aberdeen as the real ruler of Ireland.) (3)

In 1914, among the Lord Lieutenant's many high pressure issues surrounding the waging of World War One and troop recruitment, a controversy arose with the organization of the Red Cross in Ireland. While Home Rule was in principle an established legal fact, Lady Aberdeen was perceived as being particularly sympathetic towards Home Rulers and she was noted for interventions which were claimed as unacceptable. Among other comments, she wrote in a letter to a journalist made public in November 1914: "I am afraid that there is a bit of a plot amongst the Unionists to capture the Red Cross Society in Ireland" (3). This incensed many people of different persuasions in Ireland. Within weeks, Prime Minister Asquith, while waging a World War and to balance the pressures and sensibilities of Irish Nationalists and Unionists, terminated Lord Aberdeen's appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

As Mark Duncan writes,

"Most likely, the episode hastened an exit that would have anyway come. Within weeks, the Aberdeens received notice from the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, that their time in Ireland was up. And within months, despite heavy lobbying to remain in situ, they were gone." (4)

What if?

The de facto firing in 1915 of Lord Aberdeen in the aftermath of Lady Aberdeen's publicized accusations against Unionists does raise an interesting historical 'What If?'

What if the Aberdeens had been serving instead as the Vice Regal couple in Canada during World War One and the Conscription Crisis in 1917?

In the face of Toronto-recruited troops machine-gunning protestors against Conscription in la Ville de Québec / Quebec City, would someone of Lady Aberdeen's record and temperament likely have remained silent? (In my humble view, probably not.)

Equally, in a militia- and military-recruitment scene dominated by such Orangist luminaries as Colonel Sam Hughes, in an Ontario where the effervescence of Orangemen was preventing the teaching of French in French secondary schools (yes, really!), would Orangemen with 'clout' have tolerated protests emanating from Rideau Hall about the way Conscription was being implemented? (Again, in my humble view, probably not.)

The waters — momentarily dangerous in 1896 — of the Rivière Gatineau / Gatineau River are frankly eclipsed by more 'dangerous' personalities such as Lady Aberdeen who speak their minds.

This begs somewhat wider 'What Ifs' surrounding the role and powers of the Governor-Generalship itself.

Recently there has been speculation about a role in Canada for the newly independent Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Prince Harry and Meghan, nee Markle), following their sudden announcement that they wished to spend much of their time in Canada. In particular it has been mooted in the press that the Duke and Duchess would be a suitable Vice Regal couple for Canada (5).

This itself also arguably begs the further question of whether a hypothetical Governor-General — or even a Governor-General's consort — could in the course of time be seen by Canadians and the Federal Government as being too outspoken. Deriving from this consideration, also, it begs the question of whether any incumbent at 24 Sussex would have the 'intestinal fortitude' to seek the curtailment of such a Vice Regal couple's appointment in the event that such levels of outspokenness had become widely perceived as unacceptable.

Saving perhaps the King-Byng Thing in 1926, when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had a spectacular falling out with Governor-General, Canada has been largely spared events of high controversy surrounding the office of Governor-General (6).

These are mere questions from a blogger, not answers from historians; but it would indeed be interesting if the various overlapping strands of Canadian, Quebec, Irish and Commonwealth history could be assessed afresh by historians in the light of the remarkable personality of Lady Aberdeen.

February 4, 2020


(1) See also:

(2) See also: Michelin Green Guide to Quebec, Michelin North America (Canada) Inc., Laval, QC, 1996, p.111;

(in French: )

(3) See also:, March 3, 2015

(4) See also:

(5) See also: 'Celebrities': Will Prince Harry take over the post of governor general? Canadians are hopeful, poll says, National Post, January 9, 2020,

(6) In a country with a similar constitution to that of Canada, the aggravated disagreements in 1975 between Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Governor-General Sir John Kerr were arguably an especially Australian expression of local political culture.)

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Madame Tussauds London
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Madame Tussauds London | Source

Also worth seeing

In Gatineau itself, the Musée canadien des civilisations / Canadian Museum of Civilization is Canada's most visited museum. Gatineau's Masion du citoyen / Citizen's House has a noted art gallery and the Hall des nations / Hall of the Nations containing valuable cultural artifacts from around the world. Parc de la Gatineau / Gatineau Park has exceptional recreational and scenic possibilities.

In Ottawa (distance: 2 kilometres from Downtown, Gatineau) possesses cultural treasures, structures of architectural excellence and noted museums which are too numerous to mention properly here; but a few of these include Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall, the Chateau Laurier, Laurier House, the Rideau Canal, and the Bank of Canada's Currency Museum.


How to get there: Air Canada flies from various North American destinations to Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport / Aéroport international Macdonald-Cartier d'Ottawa, where car rental is available. However, travellers may prefer to use OC Transpo public transit for travel within Ottawa / Gatineau. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

Map location of Gatineau, in Quebec
Map location of Gatineau, in Quebec | Source

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