Hugh Guthrie

Hugh Guthrie, PC KC (13 August 1866 3 November 1939) was a Canadian politician and Cabinet minister in the governments of Sir Robert Borden, Arthur Meighen and R. B. Bennett.

Hugh Guthrie

Leader of the Opposition
In office
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterWilliam Lyon Mackenzie King
Preceded byWilliam Lyon Mackenzie King
Succeeded byR. B. Bennett
Personal details
Born(1866-08-13)August 13, 1866
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
DiedNovember 3, 1939(1939-11-03) (aged 73)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Political partyLiberal (1900-1917)
Liberal-Unionist/Unionist (1917-1921)
Conservative (1921-1939)

He was born in Guelph, Ontario, the son of Donald Guthrie, and studied there and at Osgoode Hall, becoming a barrister. Guthrie was named a King's Counsel in 1902. He married Maude Henrietta, the daughter of Guelph businessman Thomas H. Scarff.

Guthrie was first elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal in 1900 from the riding of Wellington South. He sat in Wilfrid Laurier's caucus for 17 years, but crossed the floor to join the Unionist government of Robert Borden as a result of the Conscription Crisis of 1917. The former Liberal backbencher became a leading light in his new party, serving as Solicitor General under Borden. With the end of World War I, most Liberal-Unionists either rejoined the Liberal Party or joined the new Progressive Party. Guthrie, however, stayed with the Conservatives, becoming Minister of Defence and running for re-election as a Conservative in the 1921 election. After the election, he joined the Tories on the Opposition benches.

As a result of the 1926 "King-Byng Affair", Meighen's Conservatives formed a government in which Guthrie served as Minister of Justice and Minister of National Defence. This second stint in Cabinet ended with the defeat of the Meighen government in that fall's election. Meighen lost his seat, and Guthrie served as Leader of the Opposition and interim leader of the Conservative Party for a full year.

Guthie sought the party leadership at the leadership convention that the party held in 1927, but was defeated by R.B. Bennett. John George Diefenbaker was a delegate to that convention and he wrote in his memoirs that Guthrie's candidacy was hurt when the former Liberal absent-mindedly declared in his speech to delegates that the Tory meeting was the "greatest Liberal convention in history".

Bennett led the Tories to victory in the 1930 election, and Guthrie was appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General. In 1931, he led the Canadian delegation to the League of Nations. In 1933, he introduced legislation making it illegal to carry a concealed weapon without authorization. In 1935, he clashed with opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Agnes Macphail who demanded an inquiry into inhumane conditions in Canada's prisons such as the whipping of prisoners.

As the Great Depression worsened and millions were unemployed, the government became increasingly concerned about political instability and the growth of radical movements. Guthrie's department was responsible for the persecution of the Communist Party of Canada, and the arrest and incarceration of Communists, including leader Tim Buck, for sedition.

In 1933,Tim Buck was shot at by soldiers in an apparent assassination attempt while he was in his cell during a prison riot. Guthrie was forced to admit that the attack was deliberate, but claimed the intent was only to frighten him; however, the public outcry at this incident lead to Buck being released.

In 1935, unemployed workers in British Columbia's deserted the remote relief camps established by the Bennett government, and began the "On to Ottawa Trek". Thousands of unemployed workers hopped on freight trains heading east intending to converge in Ottawa and press their demands on the government. Bennett's cabinet saw this as an insurrectionary movement and panicked. In the House of Commons, Guthrie charged that the protesters "were a distinct menace to the peace, order and good government of Canada."

As the protesters entered Saskatchewan, Guthrie had the Trek banned, over the objections of Saskatchewan Premier James G. Gardiner. He and Bennett ordered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to use tear gas and revolvers to break up the Trek when it entered Regina. The city was but under siege with hundreds of police officers moved in blocking all exits from the city. On July 1, 1935, the police attacked a meeting attended by 3,000 people resulting in one death, dozens of injuries and national outrage.

Guthrie, now 69, did not run in the 1935 election that routed Bennett's government, preferring to retire from politics. He died four years later.

Electoral record (Wellington South)

1900 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes%±%
LiberalHugh GUTHRIE2,75551.02.4
ConservativeChristian KLOEPFER2,64949.0-2.4
Total valid votes 5,404100.0
1904 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes%±%
LiberalHugh GUTHRIE3,69452.71.7
ConservativeChristian KLOEPFER3,31547.3-1.7
Total valid votes 7,009100.0
1908 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes%±%
LiberalHugh GUTHRIE3,87355.02.3
ConservativeJohn NEWSTEAD3,17245.0-2.3
Total valid votes 7,045100.0
1911 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes%±%
LiberalHugh GUTHRIE3,36855.10.1
ConservativeArthur Thomas Kelly EVANS2,74444.9-0.1
Total valid votes 6,112100.0
1917 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes%±%
Government (Unionist)Hugh GUTHRIE7,35877.5
LabourLorne CUNNINGHAM2,13922.5
Total valid votes 9,497100.0
1921 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes%±%
ConservativeHugh GUTHRIE6,20836.6-40.9
LabourJames SINGER6,07735.913.4
LiberalSamuel CARTER4,66227.527.5
Total valid votes 16,947100.0
1925 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes%±%
ConservativeHugh GUTHRIE9,09652.916.3
LiberalRobert William GLADSTONE8,08847.111.1
Total valid votes 17,184100.0
1926 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes%±%
ConservativeHugh GUTHRIE8,51553.30.4
LiberalWilliam A. BURNETT7,47146.7-0.4
Total valid votes 15,986100.0
1930 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes%±%
ConservativeHugh GUTHRIE8,88753.0-0.3
LiberalJohn Burr MITCHELL7,89347.00.3
Total valid votes 16,780100.0
By-election: On Mr. Guthrie being appointed Minister of Justice, 25 August 1930: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±
     Conservative Hugh GUTHRIE acclaimed


  • Canadian Parliamentary Guide (1934), AL Normandin
Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
Christian Kloepfer
Member of Parliament from Wellington South
Succeeded by
Robert William Gladstone
Political offices
Preceded by
Arthur Meighen (acting)
Solicitor General of Canada
Succeeded by
Guillaume-André Fauteux
Preceded by
James Alexander Calder
Minister of Militia and Defence
Succeeded by
George Perry Graham
Preceded by
Edward Mortimer Macdonald
Minister of National Defence
Succeeded by
James Robb (politician)
Preceded by
Ernest Lapointe
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Esioff-Léon Patenaude
Preceded by
Arthur Meighen
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
R.B. Bennett
Preceded by
Ernest Lapointe
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
George Reginald Geary
Party political offices
Preceded by
Arthur Meighen
Leader of the Conservative Party
Succeeded by
R. B. Bennett
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