The Right Honourable
Sir Wilfrid Laurier

1896-1911
Liberal

"Canada has been modest in its history, in my estimation, is only commencing. It is commencing in this century. The nineteenth century of the United States. I think we can claim that Canada will fill the twentieth century." Sir Wilfrid Laurier, January 18, 1904


Private Life
  • Born: November 20, 1841 in St. Lin, Canada East (Quebec).
  • Sent to near-by New Glasgow to learn English.
  • Education: Studied seven years at a Roman Catholic College.
    • Studied law at McGill University, graduating in 1864.
  • Called to the Bar of Canada East, 1864.
    • Began practicing in Montreal where he became involved in politics.
    • Supported the "Partie Rouge" ('Red Party') as the Liberal party was known in Quebec.
  • Moved to L'Avenir and became editor of le Defricheur, 1866-1867.
    • Supported 'les rouges' ('liberals'), which were fiercely condemned by the clergy.
    • The "Partie Bleu" ('Blue Party') dominated the government of Quebec.
  • Marriage: Zoe Lafontaine (1841-1921) in 1868.
  • Ensign in the Arthabaskaville Infantry, 1869-1878.
  • Elected Member of the Legislative Assembly in Quebec, 1871. Resigned, 1874.
  • Elected to the House of Commons, 1874.
  • Served as Minister of Inland Revenue and defended Louis Riel in 1885.
  • Died: February 17, 1919 in Ottawa, Ontario, of a stroke. Buried in Notre Dame Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario.

Political Career
  • Succeeded Edward Blake (resigned) as Liberal Party Leader, 1887-1919.
  • Constituencies: Drummond-Athabaska, Quebec, 1874-1877; Quebec East, Quebec, 1877-1918
  • Leader of the Opposition, 1887-1896.
    • Liberal platform of 'unrestricted reciprocity with the United States' was unpopular during 1891 election.
    • Conservatives won the election.
    • Death of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald in 1891 started the collapse of the Conservative party.
    • The Manitoba Schools Question virtually destroyed the Tory party.
    • Liberals won the election of 1896, ending 18 years of Tory government.
    • Laurier became Canada's first Francophone Prime Minister, 1896.
  • Adopted the regulations on the Manitoba Schools Question, 1896. (see Bowell)
  • Realized that 'national unity' was of paramount importance to Canada.
    • Understood how issues such as those concerning Louis Riel and the Manitoba Schools Question had almost divided the nation.
    • Sought to use politics to reconcile the French and English Canada interests.
      • Admired the principles of British liberalism.
      • Felt the principles offered the means by which all Canadians could live in one nation.
      • However, Laurier's dedication to Canadian unity took precedence over British traditionalism.
        • Invited to London for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria in 1897 and to be knighted. Laurier had indicted that he didn't wish a knighthood, but preparations had been made. Laurier accepted the invitation.
        • Quickly discovered that Britain was trying to re-establish control over the foreign policy and defence of Canada (and other colonies) but soon discovered that Laurier was determined to maintain control over Canada's destiny and could not be swayed.
        • Britain tried 3 more times between 1902 and 1911 during Imperial Conferences, but Laurier held firm and would not allow Canadian autonomy to be compromised.

    Did You Know?

    In the early morning of July 29, 1910, Laurier arrived in Saskatoon where he was to lay the cornerstone for the University of Saskatchewan. A young newspaper boy stood on the railway platform and Laurier hastened to buy a paper from him. The boy recognized Laurier as Prime Minister of Canada and the two struck up a rather lively conversation. The boy? Future Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker!

  • Created the Yukon Territory, 1898.
  • Canada in the South African War, 1899-1902.
  • Settled the Alaska Boundary Dispute, 1903.
  • Constructed the second transcontinental railway in Canada, 1903.
  • Created the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1905.
  • Formed the Department of Labour, 1900.
  • Formed the Department of External Affairs, 1909.
  • Naval Service Bill, 1910.
  • Liberals lost the election of 1911 on the issue of unrestricted reciprocity with the U.S.
  • Leader of the Opposition, 1911-1919.
    • Maintained the confidence of his party until World War 1.
    • Supported Britain's war efforts and urged all young Canadian males to enlist.
    • Opposed conscription (draft) and the Liberal party became spit over the issue in the 1917 election.
    • Several Liberals formed a 'union' government with the Conservatives for the duration of the War. (see Borden)
  • Laurier had served for 45 years in the House of Commons prior to his death.
    • Over 50,000 people lined the streets of Ottawa.
    • Hundreds of dignitaries and officials from all over Canada followed the funeral procession.
    • Sir Wilfred Laurier's funeral became one of the first Canadian public events to be recorded on film.

*(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

Canadiana