Library and Archives Canada (LAC) recently acquired a wealth of archival records accumulated by James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, his wife, children, and two of his brothers during their stays in North America.
The Lord Elgin Collection complements the private records of other governors and supplements the official government records of the time, offering insight into roles, relationships, social networks, and family life at Government House during that period, as well as contributions and events that have influenced Canadian history. These artifacts also provide a window into communication channels and the process of creating and preserving records from the 1830s to 1909.
The current Earl of Elgin generously donated most of the correspondence through the Broomhall Conservation Trust; the remainder was purchased with the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) [www.civilization.ca]. Through the acquisition, LAC and the CMC obtained a number of items collected by Lord and Lady Elgin in Canada, including exceptional Aboriginal artifacts.
LAC continues to preserve the Lord Elgin Collection in the same format and order that it was organized in the family archives at Broomhall. The entire collection is now available online, searchable by keyword, and includes records with individual descriptions. You can also access descriptions at higher levels (e.g., fonds and series), which provide biographical notes from published sources and the records themselves, as well as information about record arrangement, creation, and interrelationships with other holdings.
The National Archives of Scotland [www.nas.gov.uk/nras/] makes available listings of other records created and preserved by the Bruce family, including those retained at Broomhall, and those held at other institutions.
Lord Elgin played a key role in Canada’s early development. During his tenure as Governor-in-Chief of the Province of Canada from 1847 to 1854, he oversaw the transfer of executive and legislative powers to Canada and negotiated the 1854 Reciprocity Treaty between the four colonies of British North America and the United States—initiatives that would pave the way to Confederation.
After responsible government was implemented in March 1848 and the April 1849 Rebellion Losses Bill riots were quelled, Lord Elgin focused on promoting agricultural, commercial and industrial development to stimulate trade and ensure Canada’s economic viability.
Although Elgin was appointed Governor General of the four separate provinces of British North America, he had no legal power to govern Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island. Without a budget or staff, Lord Elgin relied solely on his moral authority to consult and collaborate with fellow governors to foster intercolonial co-operation, particularly for postal service, navigational aids, railroads, and the telegraph.
Yet for over half a century, Lord Elgin, his brothers, and his eldest son shaped Canadian history through many other contributions, while his wife and eldest daughter recorded impressions of life in the colony with pen and brush, providing a different perspective from that of official documents.
Lord Elgin’s brother Robert Bruce, who served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1849 to 1854, negotiated the Lakes Huron and Superior Treaties, which contributed to the westward expansion of the Province of Canada. Another brother of his, Frederick Bruce, served as British Minister at Washington from 1865 to 1867, addressing imperial and colonial concerns, mainly claims arising from the American Civil War and the Fenian threat to the colonies of British North America.
Likewise, his son Victor Alexander Bruce, 9th Earl of Elgin and 13th Earl of Kincardine, played his part in Canadian history while serving as Colonial Secretary in London from 1905 to 1908. In that role, he recommended that Canada assume control of its external relations, negotiated international agreements related to fisheries on behalf of Canada and Newfoundland (then a separate Dominion), and helped to resolve fisheries disputes, such as the Labrador Boundary.