The Right Honourable Sir Wilfrid Laurier
7th Prime Minister of Canada
11 July 1896 – 6 October 1911
Born: November 20, 1841 at Saint-Lin, Quebec
Died: February 17, 1919 in Ottawa, Ontario
Resting place: Notre Dame Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario
Political party: Liberal
Alma mater: McGill University
Religion: Roman Catholic
Laurier was Canada’s first francophone prime minister. He is well known, among other things, for his compromise between the French and English, and argued for an English-French partnership in Canada.
“I have had before me as a pillar of fire, a policy of true Canadianism, of moderation, of reconciliation… Canada is free and freedom is its nationality. Nothing will prevent me from continuing my task of preserving at all cost our civil liberty.”
Laurier was also well regarded for his efforts to establish Canada as an autonomous country within the British Empire, though he supported the continuation of the British Empire if it was based on “absolute liberty political and commercial“.
He is the fourth-longest serving Prime Minister of Canada, behind William Lyon Mackenzie King, John A. Macdonald, and Pierre Trudeau. Laurier also holds the record for the most consecutive federal elections won (4), and his 15 year tenure remains the longest unbroken term of office among Prime Ministers. Plus at 31 years, 8 months, Laurier was the longest-serving leader of a major Canadian political party, surpassing King by over two years.
Laurier died of a stroke on February 17, 1919, while still in office as Leader of the Opposition. Though he had lost a bitter election two years earlier, he was loved nationwide for his “warm smile, his sense of style, and his “sunny ways“.” 50,000 people jammed the streets of Ottawa as his funeral procession marched to his final resting place at Notre Dame Cemetery. His remains would eventually be placed in a stone sarcophagus, adorned by sculptures of nine mourning female figures, representing each of the provinces in the union. His wife, Zoé Laurier, died in 1921 and was placed in the same tomb.
On a personal note:
Married: Zoé Lafontaine in 1868.
More on Laurier:
His portrait is displayed on the Canadian five-dollar bill. Laurier has appeared on at least three postage stamps, issued in 1927 (two) and 1973.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier Day is observed each year on November 20th to commemorate his birth date.
He realized that ‘national unity’ was of paramount importance to Canada; he understood how issues such as those concerning Louis Riel and the Manitoba Schools Question had almost divided the nation. And so he sought to use politics to reconcile the French and English Canada interests.
He 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. Ge 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.
Laurier 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; the Naval Service Bill, 1910.
The Liberals lost the election of 1911 on the issue of unrestricted reciprocity with the U.S.; he maintained the confidence of his party until World War 1.; supported Britain’s war efforts and urged all young Canadian males to enlist; he opposed conscription and the Liberal party became spit over the issue in the 1917 election.
Laurier had served for 45 years in the House of Commons prior to his death.
Sir Wilfred Laurier’s funeral became one of the first Canadian public events to be recorded on film.