Earl Grey

The 12MC audience anticipated my next move again. This time it was "The Basement Geographer" who flagged British prime minister Earl Grey and the Grey Cup in a comment responding to Gray vs. Grey. Those will be mentioned along with other topics today. I knew that could be a risk when I mentioned the prairie town of Earl Grey in Saskatchewan. I interpreted this as a sign of an engaged conversation and I appreciated the input.

Earl Grey, Saskatchewan

Anyway, let’s talk about Earl Grey, the rural town and its namesake. There have been seven men with the the hereditary title Earl Grey. Earl referred to a Peerage of the United Kingdom in this context, not to some dude named Earl although that may have been much more entertaining. According to the History of Earl Grey as published in "From Buffalo Grass to Wheat: a History of Long Lake District,"

…this settlement began when a settler spent the winter of 1903-04 in a dugout in the side of the hill near where the old school stands today. The district was then known as Snorum. It was surveyed about 1885. When the village was incorporated in 1906, a C.P.R. [ed., Canadian Pacific Railroad] official suggested that it be called Earl Grey in honor of the Governor-General, Earl Grey.

This particular Earl Grey was also Sir Albert Henry George Grey, 4th Earl Grey and more importantly for this story, Governor General of Canada between 1904 and 1911. "He is probably best remembered as the donor of the Grey Cup, the trophy awarded to the champion team of the Canadian Football League."

Earl Grey Pass, British Columbia

The Canadian Geographical Names Data Base included one other Earl Grey, a mountain pass bearing the name in British Columbia. The Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park explained the origin on its guide to the Earl Grey Pass Trail.

During a visit to British Columbia in 1908, Earl Grey, Canada’s Governor General… crossed the Purcell Mountains on a trail that connected the East and West Kootenays. He traveled up Toby and down Hamill Creeks, over a 2,256m pass which was later named in his honor… The Purcell’s so impressed Earl Grey that he had a cabin built for his family’s vacation in 1909. The remains of the structure still stand on Toby Creek, one kilometer from the Eastern trailhead.

These two Canadian geographic features along with numerous roads and schools spread throughout the Provinces were all named for Albert Grey.

Grey or Orange?

bergamotto by mariella44, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

Earl Grey Tea, however, was named for a different Earl Grey. I figured I should check that out since I was already examining geographic features named Earl Grey. The tea referred to UK Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who was the grandfather of Albert Grey, the former Governor General of Canada.

Lord Grey’s most remarkable achievement was the Reform Act of 1832, which set in train a gradual process of electoral change, sowing the seeds of the system we recognise today… One of his other legacies is the blend of tea known as Earl Grey. He reputedly received a gift, probably a diplomatic present, of tea that was flavoured with bergamot oil. It became so popular that he asked British tea merchants to recreate it.

Bergamot oil came from the pressed peel of the Bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia), an infrequently encountered sour citrus grown commercially in a small handful of places. The majority of those orange groves concentrated historically around the Calabria region of Italy, especially within the Province of Reggio Calabria (map), also recognized informally as the "toe" of the Italian boot. According to the Consorzio del Bergamotto (Consortium of Bergamot),

The bergamot is cultivated along the Ionian coast of the Province of Reggio Calabria, specifically between the towns of Villa San Giovanni and Gioiosa Jonica;  an area of about 1,500 hectares produces 20,000 tonnes of fruit, which yield an average of 100,000 kg of essence.

The Consortium provided an English-language video with much more information.

So remember,

  • Black tea infused with obscure citrus: 2nd Earl Grey
  • Canadian Football League championship: 4th Earl Grey

Feel free to drop those distinctions into your next cocktail party conversation if you need to disperse a crowd.

One Reply to “Earl Grey”

  1. The 2nd Earl Grey’s actions in the reform act are also the reason why there’s a very large column as a memorial to him in Newcastle.

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