The Bull Meter: Michael Ignatieff on his family’s flight from Russia

[mac_quote person=”Michael Ignatieff” date=”March 20, 2011″]My family lost everything in the Russian revolution. They started over again in Canada. They came here with nothing.[/mac_quote]

[mac_bull score=”4″]

In his family memoir, The Russian Album, Ignatieff describes his relatives as a group of privileged, well educated, and well-heeled Russians, who seemed to recover quickly from a tumultuous decade of resettlement following the Bolshevik Revolution. Paul, his grandfather, served as the last Minister of Education in the last Cabinet of the Tsar Nicholas II, and was friends with the likes of Vladimir Nabokov. Paul’s father was a Russian diplomat. Paul’s wife (Ignatieff’s grandmother) was born Princess Natasha Mestchersky on an estate, and travelled to Paris to learn the “rudiments of cooking” at Le Cordon Bleu.

According to the memoirs of Ignatieff’s late father George, The Making of a Peacemonger, when the family fled Russia as the revolution was unfolding, they ended up in London in 1919 with £25,000 in the bank. After living on a country estate for almost a decade, they moved to a rented farm in Montreal, with much of their wealth depleted. But by the time George reached high school, the Ignatieffs had the financial wherewithal to send him to the prestigious prep school, Lower Canada College. They also had connections: a contact of prime minister Mackenzie King fast tracked the family’s citizenship so George could go off to Oxford University on the Rhodes Scholarship in 1936. As Michael Ignatieff notes in The Russian Album, “[My father] presented himself to the world throughout my childhood as the model of an assimilated Canadian professional.”

Alas, it’s a stretch for Ignatieff to say his family came to Canada with “nothing.” To their credit, they made a seemingly successful transition to Canadian life, and rose quickly up the social ladder here.

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Michael Ignatieff on CTV’s Question Period

The Russian Album by Michael Ignatieff

The Making of a Peacemonger by George Ignatieff

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