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.

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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


Sir John Abbott was Canada’s 3rd Prime Minister (1891-1892)

1) Signed the Annexation Manifesto of 1849, released by a group of Montreal businessmen, calling for union with the United States. It was an act that often caused him embarrassment in later years as he rose through the political ranks.

2) Served as Montreal’s mayor in 1887-1888, the only Prime Minister whose political career included a municipality’s top job.

3) Imported the first European Guernsey cattle to Canada. He was not only a national expert on animal husbandry, but also on raising orchids.

4) Married to Mary Bethune, first cousin, twice removed, to Canadian physician Norman Bethune. Her father, John, was the principal of McGill University where Abbott had been one of its first three Arts students.

5) Resigns as Prime Minister after learning he has stomach cancer. Dies a year after leaving office.

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


Alexander Mackenzie was Canada’s 2nd Prime Minister (1873-1878)

1) Served as Finance minister of Ontario and as an Ottawa MP at the same time. Quebec and Ontario permitted dual representation from 1867 to 1872.

2) Offered a knighthood three times by Queen Victoria and turned it down each time. His working-class pride meant he was the only one of Canada’s first eight PMs who was never a Sir.

3) Failed to win a bid to build Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings for $801,000, losing to a bid that was several thousand dollars lower. The final price tag to build the seat of government ended up being more than $1.5 million.

4) Fell through the ice while walking across a stretch of Lake Ontario to visit his fiancée Helen Neil in Kingston. Arrived at her family’s home soaking wet.

5) Burned a stack of Tory campaign brochures he found sitting in a hotel hallway. The election materials boasted juicy titles like Black Record of the Grit Party. The gesture was out of character for the usually squeaky clean politician.

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


Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada’s 1st Prime Minister (1867-1873, 1878-1891)

1) Successfully defended Abraham Brandt of the Mohawk nation who was accused of murder in 1839, convincing the jury to reduce the conviction to manslaughter.

2) Met, and later married, his cousin Isabella Clark while on a six-month vacation to Scotland and England using $3,500 he won gambling in 1842.

3) Challenged another member of the United Canadas Legislative Assembly to a duel. He accused Reform member William Hume Blake of quoting passages from the Rebellion Losses Bill out of the context during an 1849 debate. The Speaker recalled both men to the legislature and demanded they keep the peace. The duel was averted.

4) In his third month as Canada’s first Prime Minister, one of his major investments evaporated when Kingston’s Commercial Bank folded. He ended up owing 10 times more than he was earning annually as the country’s leader.

5) Ran for re-election in three ridings during the 1878 campaign that returned him to power. Although he was defeated in his hometown, Kingston, he was elected by two ridings in the West he had never visited: Marquette, Manitoba, and Victoria, British Columbia. He chose to represent Victoria, but didn’t visit the area until four years after serving as its Member of Parliament.

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