John G. Diefenbaker

The Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker

Born: September 18, 1895, Neustadt, Ontario.

Education: University of Saskatchewan, B.A., 1915, M.A. in Political Science and Economics, 1916, and LL.B. 1919.

Enlisted in the army, 1916. Served for one year in Britain before being invalidated and returning home. (Returned to university to study law and graduated in 1919.)

Marriage: Edna Bower (1901-1951) in 1929.

Re-Married: Olive Palmer (1902-1976) in 1953.

One step-daughter.

Lieutenant of the 105’th Saskatoon Fusiliers.

Criminal lawyer in Wakaw, near Prince Albert.

Called to Saskatchewan Bar, 1919.

Leader of the Saskatchewan Conservative Party, 1936-1938.

Died: August 16, 1979 in Ottawa, Ontario, of heart failure. Buried beside the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker Centre, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Constituencies: Lake Centre, Saskatchewan, 1940-1953; Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, 1953-1979.


He was elected Conservative Party Leader, 1936; won a Commons seat in the Opposition, 1940; began his campaign for the rights of average Canadians and ethnic minorities; criticized the Liberals’ treatment of Japanese-Canadians in World War II, 1942; blocked a Conservative campaign to outlaw the Communist Party.

Leader of the Opposition, 1956-1957.

Diefenbaker became known as ‘Dief, the Chief’.

He became the Progressive Conservative Party Leader, 1956-1967; won a minority government, 1957.

Diefenbaker’s politics were radical and often contrary to Conservative values. Nonetheless, ‘the Chief’ introduced legislation improving Canada’s social programs.

He became the Minister of External Affairs, 1957; appointed Ellen Fairclough as Canada’s first female Cabinet Minister, 1957; won a majority government with, until this time, the greatest number of seats in Canadian history, 1958; he established the Canadian Bill of Rights, 1958; he appointed James Gladstone as Canada’s first Aboriginal senator, 1958.

Previous prime ministers had attempted to reconcile the French and English cultures in Canada. Diefenbaker attempted to include other ethnics in the ‘national identity’.

Diefenbaker also drew attention to the rights of Canada’s indigenous population. For the first time, People of the First Nations were allowed to vote in federal elections.

He established the Royal Commission on Health Services, 1961; created the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Act, 1961, helping Canadian farmers. He also found a new market for Canadian wheat in China.

He fought for human rights outside Canada by supporting non-white Commonwealth countries in gaining independence. Diefenbaker’s anti-apartheid statement, 1961, contributed to South Africa withdrawing from the Commonwealth.

He also raised the ire of the United States by refusing to support actions against Cuba.

Reduced to a minority government, 1962, a direct result of high unemployment, a devalued dollar, and the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project.

He became President of the Privy Council, 1962-1963; created the National Productivity Council (Economic Council of Canada), 1963; leader of the Opposition, 1963-1967.

The Chief’s radical politics eventually alienated the Conservative Party. A leadership review was called and Diefenbaker lost to Robert Stanfield, 1967.

Continued to represent his riding in the Commons and won his last election, 1979, only 3 months before his death. A special train returned Diefenbaker’s body back to Saskatoon where he was buried.

In order to help pay his way through the University of Saskatchewan law courses, young John Diefenbaker peddled his bicycle for miles from farm to farm selling books.

Over his 20-year career as a successful criminal lawyer, John Diefenbaker defended 18 men seeking to avoid the death penalty.

Ahead of his time:

In September 1960, Diefenbaker addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations condemning communism years before the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall.

Diefenbaker called for nuclear disarmament years before it became an international issue.

In 1961, Diefenbaker denounced apartheid in South Africa, calling for racial equality years before other nations joined the cause.

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