Named for his grandfather, a member of Sir John A. MacDonald’s Confederation Cabinet, George Alexander Drew was born at Guelph, Ontario, on 7 May 1894. His father was a prominent lawyer and president of the South Wellington Conservative Association. Both his father and grandfather were active in the local militia so young George was raised in daily contact with the law, politics and the military.
After attending public school and the Guelph Collegiate Institute it seemed natural that he would attend Upper Canada College and enrol in the militia. Having joined the 16th Field Battery in 1909 at age 15, he rushed to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of war in 1914. A courageous, efficient and dedicated Gunner officer, he quickly gained a reputation for excellence.
Early in 1916 while serving in Flanders, his left forearm was shattered by shrapnel and in January the following year he was invalided to Canada, spending nearly three years in hospital undergoing 13 bone graft operations. He never regained the use of his left arm. Continuing to serve in uniform, he assumed command of the 64th Field Battery and later on its reorganization in 1920, of Guelph’s 16 Field Battery. In 1929 he was appointed to command the 11th Field Artillery Brigade where his devotion to duty, infectious enthusiasm and insistence on high standards earned the formation the Shaughnessy Cup in 1930, 1931 and 1932. The cup was awarded annually for general efficiency. Concurrent with his military activities he attended the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall; he was called to the Bar of the Province of Ontario in 1920 and practiced law in Guelph immediately thereafter. He made his entry into local politics in 1921, and won a seat as alderman; by 1925 he was Mayor of Guelph – at age 31 the youngest chief magistrate in Canada.
In 1926 he was appointed Assistant Master of the Supreme Court of Ontario and three years later was elevated to Master-in-Chambers, once again the youngest to hold this post in the province’s history. This job involved the hearing of minor cases and the screening of cases for Supreme Court hearings. In 1931 he was appointed Chairman of the Ontario Securities Commission for the administration of the Ontario Securities and Fraud Act.
By the late 1920s his entry into Ontario provincial politics was clearly underway and in 1934 he began his political activities in earnest. Within two years he was serving as chairman of the provincial Conservative Campaign Committee. His initial efforts to win the party leadership were unfruitful, but the job was his by 1938. The following year, in a by-election he was elected to the Ontario Legislature representing Simcoe East. He led the Ontario Conservative Party in 1939 and in the general elections of 1943 and 1945 was re-elected as a member for High Park. During his term as Premier he demonstrated that he was a capable administrator and an able political tactician; in an unusual move he also retained the provincial education portfolio.
In early October 1948 he was chosen leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and, slightly more than two weeks later, resigned as Premier of Ontario. In December of that same year he was elected to the House of Commons as the member for Carleton. He spent the next eight years in the House of Commons leading Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. In 1953 he was appointed to the Privy Council, the first to gain such a distinction while in opposition.
Ill health following a number of demanding parliamentary sessions triggered his resignation as leader of the official opposition in 1956. Not willing to withdraw from public service entirely he accepted appointment as Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, a position held until early 1964.
In 1949 he reaffirmed his link with the Gunner family by accepting the appointment of Honourary Colonel in Guelph’s 11th Field Regiment, RCA.
During his career of public service he also served as President of the Canadian Artillery Association, as President of the Toronto Branch the League of Nations and as Vice President of the Dominion Command Royal Canadian Legion. He also earned wide recognition as an author with his books: “Canada’s Fighting Airmen”, “The Truth About the Great War”, “Canada’s Part in the Great War”, “Tell Britain” and “The Truth About War Debts”. An article dealing with wartime profiteering in the munitions industry titled “Salesmen of Death” has been translated into more than 30 languages.
A dedicated soldier and remarkable politician, George Drew died on 4 January 1974 in Toronto and was buried in Guelph. With service spanning both World Wars he made a unique and lasting contribution to Canada and to the Royal Regiment.