William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s 10th Prime Minister (1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948)

1) One of his elementary school teachers in Berlin (Kitchener) was William Diefenbaker, whose son John also became a Prime Minister. [Note: the author of this blog also attended the same Kitchener school.]

2) Decides to become a Presbyterian minister, but instead ends up working briefly as a police reporter for the Toronto News, then the Globe.

3) In the 1921 election, the York North riding was contested by William Lyon Mackenzie King (Lib.) (the winner), John Alexander Macdonald Armstrong (Cons.) and Ralph Waldo Emerson Burnaby (Progressive).

4) Enjoys 26 years of companionship with his three Irish terriers, first Pat (1924-1941), then Pat (1941-1947), and finally Pat (1948-1950). The first two were gifts from his good friends Godfroy and Joan Patterson. King purportedly cancelled a wartime cabinet meeting to look after his ailing pet.

5) His closest nephew, also named William Lyon Mackenzie King, dies after his ship is torpedoed by the Germans in the Second World War. ‘Lyon’ was a doctor and naval officer.

from Unknown and Unforgettable: A Guide to Canada’s Prime Ministers


Arthur Meighen was Canada’s 9th Prime Minister (1920-1921, 1926)

1) The first Prime Minister born after 1867.

2) Joins a classroom boycott at the University of Toronto, protesting the firing of Professor William Dale. One of the boycott leaders was William Lyon Mackenzie King.

3) Ends his short career as a teacher after the school board chair engineers his dismissal because he disciplined the chair’s daughter. She had been sent home by Meighen for misbehaving in class.

4) Becomes the first — and only — leader of the National Liberal and Conservative Party in 1920. It was, in fact, a rebranding of the Unionist party a few years after the end of the First World War. A year later, the Conservatives dropped “National” from the name, but held on to the word “Liberal” for another 17 years.

5) Prepares a detailed speech about William Shakespeare and his plays for the Vancouver Canadian Club without any access to research materials. Repeats the entire speech from memory for the press corps in Ottawa a few weeks later.

from Unknown and Unforgettable: A Guide to Canada’s Prime Ministers


Sir Robert Borden was Canada’s 8th Prime Minister (1911-1920)

1) Takes on his first legal case in 1879 and is opposed by Nova Scotia’s Attorney General John S.D. Thompson (later Canada’s fourth Prime Minister). He appears to have lost.

2) First Prime Minister to be consistently called ‘Prime Minister’. Previous leaders were more often called ‘Premier’, while the provincial government leaders were often called ‘Prime Minister.”

3) Ushers in the Military Voters Act in 1917 that allows the military to vote for a party instead of a candidate. These votes are then parceled out to ridings where Unionist votes are most needed — helping the government win an additional 14 seats in that year’s election.

4) Although he refuses in September 1917 to acknowledge women as persons with the right to vote, he extends the vote that same month to women serving in the war or having close relatives involved in the fight. He knows they are highly likely to support his government’s war effort.

5) Refuses three attempts to be appointed to the Senate, first by Meighen, followed by King, then by Bennett.

from Unknown and Unforgettable: A Guide to Canada’s Prime Ministers


Sir Wilfrid Laurier was Canada’s 7th Prime Minister (1896-1911)

1) Quickly marries Zoë Lafontaine, even though she is engaged to marry someone else 10 days later. The jilted groom, Pierre Valois, offers the couple a reluctant toast when finding out about the marriage, after the wedding.

2) Tries to resign as Liberal party leader at least five times during his nine years as Leader of the Opposition. Having failed, he is elected Prime Minister and serves for more than 15 years — the longest uninterrupted term in Canadian history.

3) The only Liberal Prime Minister to accept a knighthood. Alexander Mackenzie turned down the title three times. By Mackenzie King’s era, knighthoods in Canada are eliminated.

4) Expels Armand Lavergne from the Liberal caucus in 1907 for opposing party policy. Many gossips in Ottawa consider Lavergne to be Laurier’s illegitimate son, based on the Prime Minister’s former relationship with Émilie Lavergne, his law partner’s wife.

5) Loses the 1911 election partly because of his proposed free trade agreement (unrestricted reciprocity) with the U.S. About 75 years later, it would be the Conservatives who would usher in free trade.

from Unknown and Unforgettable: A Guide to Canada’s Prime Ministers


Sir Charles Tupper was Canada’s 6th Prime Minister (1896)

1) Finishes reading the entire Bible to his father (a Baptist minister) — at age 7.

2) While studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, is saved by a former classmate after a roommate attempts to shoot him during an argument.

3) Never presides over Parliament while Prime Minister. An election is called in 1896 before he assumes office, so Parliament is already dissolved. He loses the election two months later.

4) The last survivor of Canada’s 36 Fathers of Confederation, dying 48 years after Confederation.

5) The only Prime Minister to be inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. Tupper is the first president of the Canadian Medical Association (1867-1870). Turns down a fourth term, having already served longer than anyone else in the organization’s subsequent history. The induction ceremony takes place in Hamilton in 2016.

from Unknown and Unforgettable: A Guide to Canada’s Prime Ministers

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Sir Mackenzie Bowell was Canada’s 5th Prime Minister (1894-1996)

1) Becomes a printshop apprentice at age 10 at the Belleville Intelligencer. He eventually works his way up to owner and publisher of the paper.

2) Serves as the Most Worshipful Grand Master and Sovereign of the Orange Association of British North America for eight years.

3) The third Prime Minister in three years to have nine children. Four of his children die young, while his youngest child, Charlie, succeeds him as publisher of the Belleville Intelligencer.

4) The only Prime Minister who is forced from office by his cabinet.

5) The only Prime Minister to die in Canada without having a state funeral. In fact, no leading politicians turn up for his 1917 funeral service in Belleville.

from Unknown and Unforgettable: A Guide to Canada’s Prime Ministers


Sir John Thompson was Canada’s 4th Prime Minister (1892-1894)

1) The only Prime Minister married in the United States. When he married Annie Affleck in 1870, they required an epsicopal dispensation because he was a Methodist while Annie was Roman Catholic. The Halifax Archbishop was visiting the Vatican, so it was necessary for the young couple to sail to Bangor, Maine, to get the Bishop’s permission. The ceremony took place there.

2) Successfully acts as Charles Tupper’s lawyer after the former premier was accused of corruption in the 1873 election. Both men end up being Prime Minister of Canada and Premier of Nova Scotia.

3) Serves as the first dean of the University of Ottawa’s Law School in 1887 — 66 years before the school was actually launched.

4) Spends a quarter of his term of office in France negotiating seal hunting rights in the Bering Sea. Although he was part of a British delegation rather than participating as a Canadian, it was successful in winning terms from the United States.

5) Dies of a heart attack while having lunch with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle in 1894. Minutes after being inducted into the Imperial Privy Council, he fainted twice, the second attack proving fatal.

from Unknown and Unforgettable: A Guide to Canada’s Prime Ministers