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Jules Léger

Jules Léger (April 4, 1913 - November 22, 1980) was the Governor General of Canada (1974-1979).

Early years

Born in St-Anicet, Quebec, Léger was raised in a devoutly religious family. His older brother, Paul-Émile Léger, dedicated his life to the Roman Catholic priesthood, being appointed Archbishop of Montreal in 1950 and three years later made a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals. He married Gabrielle Carmel on August 13, 1938, and the couple had one daughter.

Studying first at the Collège de Valleyfield and then at the University of Montreal, he completed a degree in law prior to receiving a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris in 1938. He was an associate editor of Le Droit in Ottawa from 1938 to 1939, and from 1939 to 1942 he taught the history of diplomacy at the University of Ottawa.

Léger joined External Affairs in 1940, the start of a successful career as a diplomat. In 1953 he became Canada's Ambassador to Mexico. He was later appointed as the Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, and in 1958 was made Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council and Canadian representative to the Organization for European Economic Cooperation in Paris. In 1962 and 1964 he held posts as Ambassador to Italy and France respectively, followed by his appointment in 1973 as the Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg. In 1974, he was appointed Governor General of Canada.


Six months after the beginning of his term, Jules Léger suffered a stroke while at the University of Sherbrooke, where he was to receive an honorary degree. Madame Léger assisted him in his official duties, including reading part of a Speech from the Throne. Her contributions to her husband's term were recognized by her inclusion in Mr. Léger's official portrait, which hangs in the Reception Room at Rideau Hall. Gabrielle Léger is the only spouse to have been featured in a portrait along with the Governor General. In December 1974, Léger resumed his duties, presiding over an Order of Canada award ceremony. The Légers established awards for new chamber music and for heritage conservation. in 1975 he welcomed Prince Charles, and in 1976, after fire destroyed several rooms at La Citadelle, the Governor General's official residence in Québec, Madame Léger was actively involved in the restoration project.

The Légers travelled all across Canada after the full resumption of duties. In 1979, the Canadian government honoured the Légers by establishing the Jules and Gabrielle Léger Fellowship, which is awarded to outstanding Canadian scholars for research and writing on the role, function and historical contributions of the Crown and its representatives in Canada. As well, the Jules Léger Scholarship was established in 1974 at the University of Regina to promote academic excellence in bilingual programs.

On October 19, 1975, Mr. Léger received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Ottawa, and Mme Léger receive an honorary Doctor of the University degree in the same ceremony.

The Légers also appreciated Canadian fine art, and continually encouraged artistic endeavour. They were close friends of painters such as Jean Paul Lemieux, Alfred Pellan and Jean Dallaire.

Leger and his wife are credited with greatly modernizing the office of Governor General. Among other things, he dispensed with the colonial-era tradition of wearing an elaborate military costume, and instead dressed in a casual suit when performing official state functions.

When he retired in 1979, Léger left a legacy of encouraging Canadian unity and humanity while introducing an intellectual aspect to the office of Governor General of Canada. After leaving Rideau Hall, the Légers continued to live in Ottawa. Jules Léger died on November 22, 1980; Gabrielle Léger died on March 10, 1998.

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Preceded by:
Roland Michener
List of Canadian Governors GeneralSucceeded by:
Edward Schreyer