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Sir Sam Hughes

February 11, 2024

Major-General The Honorable Samuel Hughes, M.P., Minister of Militia

By Guy Scott

Of all the famous local politicians, Sir Sam Hughes is the most controversial. Hughes was publisher of the Victoria Warder newspaper in Lindsay. He served as MP for Victoria County from 1892-1921. During the first 2 years of World War I, he was Minister of Defence. But all his accomplishments were dogged by controversy and often ended in disaster.

Hughes was a native of Bowmanville, who was originally a school teacher. In 1885 he moved to Lindsay and became the publisher of the Victoria Warder. A rabid tory, Hughes was first elected to Parliament in 1892 and died in office (1921).

Hughes’ other passion after politics was the military. He had joined the militia in 1866, fought in the Boer War and rose to colonel of the 45th battalion. When the Boer War broke out, Hughes, still an MP, volunteered to go to South Africa. While he was a competent and daring battlefield officer, his rash and boastful personality constantly got him in trouble (a harbinger for things to come!) He was sent home early, more trouble than he was worth. But Hughes parlayed his Boer War reputation into a cabinet job as Minister of Militia in the new Conservative Government in 1911.

Hughes was a firm believer in the militia. He reasoned part-time soldiers were more cost effective and passionate than regular soldiers. His plans for the Canadian military revolved around community militia. As part of this policy, local training facilities called armouries were built in key centres across Canada. Of course, his home town of Lindsay got one, still standing majestically today.

When war broke out in 1914, Hughes was a hurricane of energy. Canada had no regular soldiers, just Hughes’ militia and the military had to be built from scratch. Sam Hughes had some successes and some failures. Improvising as he went along, the Canadian Expeditionary Force made it to the front in France by early 1915. But Hughes’ personality often got in the way. He never admitted to his failures such as the Ross Rifle fiasco, and his personality constantly got in the way. He became so hated, Prime Minister Borden was forced to fire Hughes in 1916. A bitter old man, Sir Sam Hughes died in 1921.

For all his faults, Sir Sam Hughes was loved and respected by the residents of Victoria and Haliburton Counties. He easily won re-election every time. His summer home at West Guilford near Haliburton was a noted estate that was eventually turned into Sir Sam’s Ski Resort.

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