Ge­orge Harold Baker (1877-1916) an Ig­nored and Un­rec­og­nized Hero

Pat­ri­moine Bolton Her­itage

Stanstead Journal - - NEWS - Serge Wag­ner Spe­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion

Few peo­ple know the name Ge­orge Harold "Harry" Baker (1877-1916), even if a statue was erected in his honor in the Ot­tawa Par­lia­ment. A few years ago, the CBC de­voted more time to Morn­ing Glory, Colonel Baker’s horse! In fact, the last sub­stan­tial pa­per writ­ten about Harry Baker dates back to 1917. Since then, the same ba­sic nar­ra­tive has es­sen­tially been re­peated: a lawyer born in Sweets­burg (now Cowansville), Baker was elected M.P. for Brome (1911); he raised a reg­i­ment in the East­ern Town­ships, and was killed at the front in the Bat­tle of Mount Sor­rel (1916).

For two years, our As­so­ci­a­tion has re­searched the Baker fam­ily. Among other rea­sons, the fam­ily long owned a sea­sonal res­i­dence in East Bolton. We have found out that sev­eral as­pects of the po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary life of Harry Baker were omit­ted by the ac­counts of his fam­ily, and also by the Cana­dian Army and the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment - par­tic­u­larly af­ter the elec­tion of the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in 1921.

For sev­eral decades, in fact, the East­ern Town­ships were the scene of a mer­ci­less feud be­tween Liberals and Con­ser­va­tives, and then led re­spec­tively by two "hon­or­ables": Syd­ney Fisher and Ge­orge Barnard Baker. The most fa­mous episode of this clash was the Dun­don­ald Af­fair, in 1904, when Lord Dun­don­ald, was the Bri­tish head of the Cana­dian Army. While Syd­ney Fisher was act­ing Min­is­ter of Mili­tia and De­fense, he blocked the appointment of Sen­a­tor Baker's son-in-law to the Light Dra­goons Reg­i­ment of Water­loo. In the House of Com­mons, Fisher de­clared that this reg­i­ment was in­fil­trated by the Con­ser­va­tives, nam­ing in par­tic­u­lar, young Harry Baker. The Lau­rier Gov­ern­ment re­quired Dun­don­ald’s re­call in Bri­tain; the de­ci­sion caused ma­jor public de­bate in Canada and over­seas. In 1911, how­ever, the Baker fam­ily took its re­venge when Harry beat Syd­ney Fisher to be­come Brome County's M.P.

In 1914, at the be­gin­ning of the War, M.P. Baker raised a reg­i­ment in the East­ern Town­ships. Col. Baker was killed at the front on June 2nd 1916. His fam­ily had a book­let pub­lished in the USA that was silent on the Fisher-Baker con­flict. At that point, the Con­ser­va­tives were in power and they de­cided to honor the M.P. with a mon­u­ment. At the un­veil­ing cer­e­mony of Baker's statue in 1924, the Liberals were in power and Prime Min­is­ter King said al­most noth­ing of Colonel Baker, in­sist­ing in­stead that a sym­bol was be­ing hon­oured. Gov­er­nor Gen­eral Lord Byng of Vimy, who chaired the cer­e­mony, kept silent. Yet it was he who led the Cana­dian Army in June 1916. It seems he did not want to men­tion that he or­dered the dis­as­trous counter-at­tack of June 3. The Cana­dian Army it­self pref­ered be­ing silent about the Bat­tle of Mount Sor­rel as well, be­cause it was one of the cul­mi­nat­ing mo­ments of the dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the first years of the War. This two week bat­tle re­sulted in over 8,000 ca­su­al­ties. In re­al­ity, it was Colonel Baker’s sol­diers who kept alive his mem­ory for more than fifty years. Pe­ri­od­i­cally, a num­ber of them com­mem­o­rated his death, com­ing to the Par­lia­ment on June 2. Their last ac­tion took place June 2, 1966, when a del­e­ga­tion again vis­ited the Par­lia­ment. In the House of Com­mons, the Speaker ac­knowl­edged their pres­ence, but noth­ing else was said.

Ge­orge Harold Baker was “a sol­diers' of­fi­cer." Though he was also cer­tainly a tra­di­tional politi­cian, he bravely paid with his life his com­mit­ment to the de­fense of the Em­pire and Lib­erty.

* The lec­ture of Au­gust 14 will present Harry Baker in con­text, with his con­tra­dic­tions. It will also men­tion how his mem­ory was oblit­er­ated, and how he was pub­licly posthu­mously hu­mil­i­ated in the very County that had elected him.

Lt-col. Baker was the only Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment killed in ac­tion in the World War II

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