Former diplomat and Ontario lieutenant governor James Bartleman has died at the age of 83.
Current Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell said in a statement Thursday that Bartleman died on Monday and she is sending her deepest condolences to his wife and children and their families.
“Mr. Bartleman left an indelible mark on Canadian literature through his five non-fiction books and three novels,” she wrote.
“His unique storytelling ability told not only his own narrative but also the stories of countless others who found a voice through his words. He will be dearly missed by many.”
Bartleman was a member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation and was a staunch advocate for Indigenous people.
During his term as lieutenant governor, Bartleman’s priorities were to eliminate the stigma of mental illness, fight racism and discrimination, and encourage young Indigenous people.
He also launched the first Lieutenant Governor’s Book Drive, which collected 1.2 million books for First Nations schools and Native Friendship Centres.
Bartleman served as a diplomat for more than 30 years, including as ambassador to Cuba, ambassador to Israel, ambassador to the European Union, and ambassador to the North Atlantic Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“During this time, he became well-known for his constructive engagement in peace negotiations and humanitarian work,” Dowdeswell wrote.
“Mr. Bartleman was renowned for his creativity in fostering cultural exchanges, emphasizing the role of diplomacy in building mutual respect and understanding. His profound dedication to his duties, detailed knowledge of international affairs, and exceptional ability to handle crisis situations earned him widespread respect in diplomatic circles.”
Bartleman was born in Port Carling, Ont., in the Muskoka region, and wrote about the poverty and anti-Indigenous racism he experienced growing up.
“It was as if everything I’d done in life had been a preparation for my new role,” Bartleman wrote in his most recent memoir, “Seasons of Hope.”
Living near the dump in Port Carling where he found “sometimes torn but still readable” comic books that taught him to read, having racial invectives hurled at him and his family members in town, forming a deep attachment for the land in Muskoka, and spending 35 years in Ottawa and on six continents on diplomatic missions all put him on a path to becoming the Queen’s representative in Ontario, he wrote.
“I loved being lieutenant governor,” Bartleman wrote.
“I enjoyed meeting people and hearing their life stories, listening to their jokes, and giving them a shoulder to cry on. Public speaking, which I had never enjoyed as a public servant when I had to adhere to the line of whatever government was in power, I embraced when I could speak frankly about social causes important to me, especially the plight of Indigenous children.”