Sunday, November 16, 2008

What Matters Most?

Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt was Canada's First Finance Minister and Canada's First High Commissioner to Britain. Queen Victoria knighted him twice. When he was well past 60, he co-founded Lethbridge, Alberta with his son, Elliott Torrance Galt.

As a teenager Alexander Galt came back to Canada from Scotland while his father, cheated and shamed out of two Canadian companies he founded, died in poverty in Aryshire. Alexander vowed to become richer than the men who ridiculed his father. And he did. He vowed to become more powerful than them; and he was.

While some Canadians know Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt was the son of novelist and colonist John Galt, founder of Guelph,Ontario, not many know that he actually listened more to his mother, Elizabeth Tilloch Galt, than to his father.

Elizabeth, a deeply religous woman, was the daughter of Calvinist theologian and publisher, Alexander Tilloch. As soon as he earned enough to support Elizabeth, Alexander brought her to Canada to live in his house.

Alexander attended the Congregational Church in Sherbrooke with his mother until she died. (Later, he appears to have preferred the Anglican Church, but his wife, Amy, still took their children to Presbyterian Sunday School.)

Alexander's faith remained important to him through his life. Galt was the Calvinist Scot who kept his friends, John A. Macdonald and George Etienne Cartier, from discussing politics on Sundays.

Often, instead of going to church, Galt read The Book of Job and The Psalms alone in his study. Alexander, who never quite saw himself as a powerful man, found solace in these scriptures.

Alexander Galt never forgot the shame of his childhood. And he was dogged with fear that he would be called a fool and die in poverty like his father.

But God is gracious. At the end of his life, Galt died in his mansion in Montreal, peacefully, finally able to trust God.

The passage below comes from my book Stars Appearing: The Galts' Vision of Canada.

Alexander has spent years worrying that his family will suffer poverty if his Western companies fail. But as he celebrates his last birthday on the 6th of September, he is ready to leave Amy, the girls, and his investors safely in Elliott's care.

A friend named Doctor Potts comes to visit.

Alexander cannot speak, but he writes a few words on a blank page inside a book.

"I have much to be thankful for, a long life with many blessings, and I try to accept God's will as my most supreme comfort. No one could have had greater blessings in his family than myself. I do not pray to God to prolong my life, but only to support and strengthen me and to let my departure be tranquil."

A few weeks later Alexander dies peacefully. It is 19 September 1893. He is 76 years old.

His employees in the District of Alberta, Northwest Territories, erect a monument in front of the hospital he built for them in Lethbridge.

The Honourable Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, GCMG, (born 6th September 1817-die 19th September 1893) who founded this hospital for the sick and afflicted employees of the Alberta Railway and Coal Company of which Company he was president from the date of its formation. A Christian gentleman whose benevolence and sympathy for those in distress will long be cherished by his fellow countrymen at large as one of the Fathers of Confederation. His great talents were earnestly devoted to the development of Canada and the welfare and happiness of its people."

What is left of that hospital is part of the Galt Museum in Lethbridge. The white marble monument remains sealed to the wall; and visitors still read what Galt's employees had inscribed.

Alexander Galt would be happy to know his employees thought of him as 'a Christian gentleman.' He would be even happier to think 21st Century Canadians think of him that way.

At the end of his life, the companies and political victories were not the most important things to him. In the end, his family and God mattered more.

What matters most to you?

Jane Harris Zsovan writes in both mainstream in Canadian publications about faith, business, arts, and contemporary Canada. She is the author of Stars Appearing: The Galts' Vision of Canada. She contributed "Jessie's Generation: Canada's Firebrands of Mercy and Justice" to Hot Apple Cider: Stories to Warm the Heart and Stir the Soul. Jane writes Vision of Canada Blog, on contemporary and historical Canada.

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