The Honourable
Sir Mackenzie Bowell


"I am quite convinced from the utterances made by most of the Brethren in the press and on the platform, that they do not understand the question, nor draw the distinction which exists between this matter and the Jesuits' Estates Act." Mackenzie Bowell, on Protestant sentiments regarding the Manitoba Schools Question, March 1895.

Private Life

Did You Know?

The extremely volatile nature of the Manitoba Schools Question effectively divided the new Dominion of Canada, pitting friend against friend, province against province, Catholics against Protestants, English against French, Liberals against Conservatives, the Church against the State. Each group overlapped another, and loyalties changed from minute to minute. Canada was caught in a quicksand of tension.

  • Born: December 27, 1823, Rickinghall, England.
  • Emigrated to Canada in 1832.
  • Apprenticed as a printer with the Belleville Intelligencer, Belleville, Ontario in 1834.
  • Education: Attained his teaching diploma from Sydney Normal School in Hastings, Ontario, 1841.
  • Marriage: Harriet Moore (1829-1884) in 1847.
    • Four sons and five daughters were born.
  • Became editor and later owner of the Belleville Intelligencer, 1848.
  • Ensign in the Belleville Rifle Company, 1858-1865 (65-man militia unit guarding the border of Upper Canada during the American Civil War).
  • Major in the 49'th Hastings Battalion, 1867-1872
  • Grandmaster of the Orange Order of British North America, 1870-1878
  • Died: December 10, 1917, in Belleville, Ontario, of pneumonia. Buried in Belleville Cemetery, Belleville, Ontario.

Political Career
  • Minister of Customs, 1867-1892, and imposed protective tariffs of the new National Policy.
  • Minister of Militia and Defence, 1892.
  • Constituencies: North Hastings, Ontario, 1867-1892.
  • Liberal-Conservative Party Leader and President of the Privy Council, 1894-1896.
  • Became Prime Minister on the death of John Thompson and was faced with the Manitoba Schools Question which proved too much for Bowell's abilities:
    • When Manitoba became a province in 1870, a system of Protestant and Catholic Schools was established based on a provision in the British North America Act to ensure minorities the right to education.
    • In 1890, Manitoba government abolished funding of Catholic schools.
      • The law was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada.
      • Decision was reversed by the Privy Council in England.
    • The task fell to Parliament to make a final ruling and became the most controversial issue in Canadian history.
      • Quebec supported the Catholic rights.
      • Protestant Ontario supported Manitoba.
      • Manitoba defied the federal government's interference.
    • These divisions overflowed into Bowell's Cabinet, which made any decisions impossible.
    • Bowell was also hampered by the fact that, as a Senator, he could not take part in House of Commons debates.
    • The Canadian government ground to a halt.
    • In June 1895, legislation was drafted to force Manitoba to reinstate Catholic School support under the BNA Act, but Cabinet opposition caused Bowell to postpone the issue for 6 months.
    • By January 1896, with the Cabinet questioning Bowell's competence, 7 ministers resigned in order to force Bowell to step down as Prime Minister.
    • The Cabinet also prevented Bowell from appointing a replacement ministers and the government fell into crisis.
    • Governor General The Earl of Aberdeen intervened and reinstated 6 ministers and Charles Tupper joined the cabinet and assumed virtual control of the party.
    • Bowell was forced to resign in favour of Charles Tupper, the only prime minister forced to resign by his own Cabinet. He remained in the Senate until his death in 1917.

*(Progressive) Conservative *Liberal *Unionist/Conservative

* Macdonald * Mackenzie * Abbott * Thompson * Bowell
* Tupper * Laurier * Borden * Meighen * King
* Bennett * St. Laurent * Diefenbaker * Pearson * Trudeau
* Clark * Turner * Mulroney * Campbell * Chrétien