Roland Michener

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Daniel Roland Michener, PC,CC,CD (April 19, 1900 - August 6, 1991) was Governor General of Canada from 1967 to 1973. His tenure as Canada's Governor General is often considered to be a key turning point in the history of his office. Since his retirement the Governor Generalship has moved dramatically in a less formal, less prominent, and less monarchial direction.


Early life

Roland Michener attended the University of Alberta for his undergraduate degree, then earned graduate degrees at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. While he was at Oxford he met Lester B. Pearson – the two men would become lifelong friends. He practised law in Toronto while sitting on the Executive Council of Ontario and became the secretary general for the Rhodes Foundation.

He married Norah Willis on February 26, 1927 in St. Mary Magdalen Anglican Church in Toronto, and the couple had three daughters. Sadly, one daughter, Wendy, died at the age of 33 on January 1, 1969, while the Micheners were in office. For her thesis on the French philosopher, Jacques Maritain, Mrs. Michener received her doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1953.

Political career

Michener first ran for office as a Progressive Conservative in the Ontario provincial election of 1943, but was defeated. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in the 1945 election, and became Provincial Secretary in the cabinet of Premier George Drew. He was given the task of formalizing cabinet procedures so that there would be an agenda and minutes. He was defeated by the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation candidate in the 1948 provincial election.

He ran for a seat in the Canadian House of Commons in the 1949 federal election, but was unsuccessful.

Roland Michener was first elected to Parliament in the 1953 election as a Progressive Conservative Party of Canada candidate. He supported Donald Fleming at the 1956 party leadership convention that was won by John George Diefenbaker.

When Diefenbaker's Tories won the 1957 election, Michener was not offered a seat in the Canadian Cabinet. He was instead offered the position of Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons after it was turned down by Stanley Knowles.

Michener angered Diefenbaker by allowing the Opposition a great degree of latitute during Question Period, and, at one point on May 25 1959, Diefenbaker was so flustered that he refused to sit down when called to order by Michener.

Parliamentary observers were more impressed by the Speaker, and a group of university professors began a campaign to make Michener's position as Speaker pemanent. They proposed that, as is the tradition with the Speaker of the British House of Commons, he run as an Independent in the general election, and that the political parties agree not to run candidates against him.

Such an agreement failed to materialize and Michener ran for re-election as a Progressive Conservative in the 1962 election, and was defeated. This was the first time since Canadian Confederation in 1867 that a Speaker was defeated in an election in which his party formed government.

Diefenbaker declined to offer Michener an appointement (such as to the Canadian Senate), and he returned to his law practice in Toronto.

The Conservatives lost the 1963 election, and the new prime minister, Lester Pearson, appointed Michener as High Commissioner to India and first Canadian Ambassador to Nepal from 1964 to 1967. A close friend of Prime Minister Lester Pearson, Michener had received overtures from the PM that he would be considered among the leading candidates for the Governor Generalship when he returned from his foreign duty.

Governor General

In 1967, Governor General Georges Vanier died, a few weeks before the scheduled end of his term. Vanier had hoped to have his term extended to serve as Governor General during the upcoming centennial festivities, but Pearson was not prepared to allow it, citing Vanier's deterorating health. Vanier died the next night, and Chief Justice Robert Taschereau became Administrator (acting Governor General), serving out the last few days of his term.

Michener was officially appointed Governor General on April 17, 1967 by Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada and Canada's head of state under the Canadian constitution.

Shortly after Michener took office, the celebrations began for the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation. Rideau Hall was rarely empty – 53 heads of state arrived to celebrate the Centennial and visit Expo '67 in Montreal.

On July 1, 1967, the Order of Canada was created. Governor General Michener presided over the first presentation ceremony in November of the same year. In 1972, the Order of Military Merit and Decorations for Bravery were introduced, and in 1973 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presented Mr. Michener with the Royal Victorian Chain, one of only two Canadians ever to receive the honour. (The other was former Governor General Vincent Massey in 1960.)

Mr. Michener was an avid sportsman and athlete. His interest in fishing prompted him to create a national award for the sport, called the Michener Tuna Trophy. A long-time friend of many reporters and journalists, in 1970, he created the Michener Awards for Journalism.

During their stay at Rideau Hall, Roland Michener and his wife Norah relaxed protocol in a number of ways. The practice of curtseying before the Governor General ended. Michener continued to wear his elaborate viceroy uniform, but he would be the last Governor General to do so.

In 1971, Michener visited Trinidad and Tobago, and became the first Governor General to go on a state visit to another country. This was initially the source of some controversy among Ottawa insiders, who considered state visits inappropriate for a Governor General to do, considering he was not technically Canada's head of state. However the successes of the visits helped end the controversy, and established a precedent that is followed to this day.

Michner also began a practice of instituted periodic meetings with provincial Lieutenant-Governors, which started in 1973. The meetings were both educational and social, and were meant to help bring awareness to the role of viceregals in Canada.


After his term as Governor General, the couple moved to Toronto, and Mr. Michener served as Chancellor of Queen's University until 1980, while remaining active in business throughout Canada.

In his later years, a mountain in Alberta was named in his honour and, still energetic at age 80, he climbed to the peak to celebrate the naming ceremony. Following his death at the age of 91, his ashes were interred beside those of his wife, who had died on January 12, 1987, at St. Bartholomew's Anglican Church in Ottawa, directly across from Rideau Hall.

Adapted from

Preceded by:
Louis-René Beaudoin
Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons
Succeeded by:
Marcel Lambert
Preceded by:
Georges Vanier
Governor General of Canada
Succeeded by:
Jules Léger

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