Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona (1820-1914)

M.P., P.C., D.L., F.R.S., 1st Lord Strathcona & Mount Royal

Associated Houses

Shaughnessy House


Knebworth House


He emigrated from Scotland to Montreal where his uncle, John Stuart, had become Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company. Donald became Governor and principal shareholder of the Hudson's Bay Company. He was President of the Bank of Montreal (then North America's third largest bank and twice the size of its nearest Canadian competitor) and with his first cousin (Lord Mount Stephen) he co-founded the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba and afterwards represented Montreal in the House of Commons of Canada. He was Canadian High Commissioner to the U.K.; Chairman of Burmah Oil; Chairman of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company; Chancellor of McGill University and Aberdeen University.

Lord Strathcona was one of the British Empire's foremost builders and philanthropists. During his lifetime, and including the bequests left after his death, he gave away just over $7.5 million plus a further £1 million (not including private gifts and allowances) to a huge variety of charitable causes across Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He personally raised Lord Strathcona's Horse for action in the Boer War. He funded the building of Leanchoil Hospital. He and his first cousin, Lord Mount Stephen, purchased the land and then each gave $1 million to the City of Montreal to construct and maintain the Royal Victoria Hospital. He endowed the Lord Strathcona Medal and donated generously to McGill University, Aberdeen University, the University of Manchester, Yale University, the Prince of Wales Hospital Fund and the Imperial Institute.

At McGill University, he started the Donalda Program for the purpose of providing higher education for Canadian women, building the Royal Victoria College on Sherbrooke Street for that purpose in 1886. He also built the Strathcona Medical Building at McGill and endowed its chairs in pathology and hygiene. King Edward VII called him "Uncle Donald" in reference to his charity that benefitted so many. On his appointment as Canadian High Commissioner in England (1899), he leased Knebworth House as his country home until his death in 1914, and purchased Colonsay House on the Isle of Colonsay. His estate was valued at £5.5 million. Strathcona viewed Sir Edward Clouston "like his son". His only daughter, the Hon. Margaret Howard, was given special permission to succeed her father as the Baroness of Strathcona & Mount Royal and today the title is held by her great-grandson, Alexander Howard, the 5th Baron, who continues to reside at Colonsay House.
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 21/03/2019 and last updated on 21/01/2024.