John Buchan


Soldier, spy, politician, bestselling thriller writer, and governor general of Canada — John Buchan was a man of many seasons and talents.

An accomplished Scottish journalist, soldier, head of intelligence, and Member of Parliament, John Buchan (1875-1940) is best known for penning thrillers such as The Thirty-Nine Steps. However, as Canada’s 15th governor general (1935-40), Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, played a significant leadership role as a statesman and diplomat.

Buchan was the first governor general appointed after the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which gave Canada constitutional equality with Britain. He worked tirelessly for Canadian unity and promoted the sovereignty, and loyalty to the sovereign, of Canada. In 1937 he founded the Governor General’s Awards, still Canada’s premier prizes for literary achievement.

Lord Tweedsmuir helped draw Canada, Britain, and the United States closer together to strengthen the democracies threatened by Nazism and Fascism. He was an inspiration to several of his successors and still inspires us today.


William Galbraith has [written] a comprehensive and affectionate, though not uncritical, study of John Buchan's legacy.

Peeblesshire News (UK)

...few could compete in the vice-regal “buzz” department against a guy [John Buchan] whose novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, was being made into a Hitchcock film as he took up his post.

Toronto Star

John Buchan was a 20th century renaissance man who became governor general of Canada.

Ottawa Citizen

It is a very fine work, indeed.

For a close-up of a top-down view of Canada and especially Rideau Hall in the late 1930s…and for further understandings of the peculiarities of dealing with Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King, the Galbraith book offers a great deal of interest. In the end it is Buchan’s role as a moral compass that seems most worthy.

Literary Review of Canada

…for all those interested in the past, Galbraith’s book casts a clear sidelight on the international politics of the 1930s and on the British empire before its last, and mortal, fight.

The Spectator (UK)

If you read only one book on a Canadian viceroy this year, make it this one. (UK)

Galbraith has done...a full, fine-grained portrait of the man and the country in the late 1930s.

John Buchan Journal

This is a meticulously researched and interesting account of this last phase of Buchan’s very accomplished and adventurous life.

The New Criterion

Galbraith's account of Buchan's years in Canada ... is a workmanlike illumination of the intricacies of diplomacy, internal and external, at a time of great significance.

Scottish Review of Books

Galbraith has written a masterful biography of one of the most successful governors general to have filled the office .. thoroughly researched and meticulously documented.

British Journal of Canadian Studies

It is a most interesting book showing Buchan as a man contentiously attempting to create a new kind of office, not so much for the fading empire perhaps, but the emerging Commonwealth.

I was able to combine public law with literature by reading John Buchan’s The 39 Steps and then J.William Galbraith’s excellent biography of our literary G.G.”

About the Authors

J. William Galbraith

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 30, 2014
J. William Galbraith photo

J. William Galbraith

J. William Galbraith is a council member of the John Buchan Society. Following degrees from universities in Ottawa and Brussels, he worked for a private sector business research organization and has served in a number of Canadian federal government departments and agencies, involving investment review, intelligence, national security policy, and intelligence review. He lives in Ottawa.