Letters of a passionate politician: Library and Archives Canada’s collection of Wilfrid Laurier’s correspondence

By Théo Martin

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is home to the fascinating correspondence of Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s seventh prime minister and the first French-Canadian to hold that office. Wilfrid Laurier (1841–1919) was born in Saint-Lin, Quebec, and would go on to enjoy an outstanding career as a journalist, a lawyer, a politician and, of course, a prime minister.

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Sir Wilfrid Laurier, ca. 1906, unknown photographer (MIKAN 3623433)

At LAC, there is a considerable quantity of information resources in the Wilfrid Laurier fonds (MG 26 G, R10811) itself. While most of these records relate to his political life, a certain number provide insights into the private life of a French-Canadian man of his era.

The fonds contains a wealth of correspondence (also available on microfilm), the vast majority of which relates to the years 1880 to 1919, when Laurier was a member of Parliament, prime minister and head of the official opposition. This correspondence is of extraordinary importance in that it bears witness to the great events that shook Canada at that time: advancing the cause of Canadian Confederation, the trial of Louis Riel, the completion of the trans-Canadian railway, the creation of Canada’s western provinces, Canada’s place within the British Empire, the Boer War and the First World War. There are also letters on every major and minor aspect of Canadian politics.

The Wilfrid Laurier fonds contains private correspondence that is equally rich and varied. It includes a large collection of letters relating to national and international political figures (W.L. Mackenzie King, Charles Tupper, Lady Aberdeen), cultural and media personalities, and constituents and acquaintances. There is also private correspondence about his family as well as letters to Zoé, his wife.

Copy of a beautifully handwritten letter.

Letter to Zoé, December 26, 1867 (MIKAN 3797648)

It is worth pointing out that the unique series of letters dating from 1863 to 1890 that constitute the correspondence between a young Wilfrid Laurier and his future spouse, Zoé (née Lafontaine), are outstanding examples of the epistolary genre. These letters provide a lot more insight into the life and personality of Wilfrid Laurier, the man of letters and the exceptional politician.

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One thought on “Letters of a passionate politician: Library and Archives Canada’s collection of Wilfrid Laurier’s correspondence

  1. In researching my family history, an aunt said that my grandfather, (surname Hoffmann) who was an educated man from Prussia who came to Canada in 1885 worked for Sir Laurier. (It is true that his family were aristocrats and held positions in governing in Prussia, and that my great grandfather was an Ambassador). I know by 1901 that my grandfather was in Manitoba, working as a land agent. It is said that grandfather left working for Wilfrid Laurier because he couldn’t take the “heat” meaning pressures. If anyone has indexed the names of Sir Laurier’s correspondents I would love to know if the name Hoffmann is included. The Hoffmann’s were a large family in Prussia and had connections to England also. Thanks! April Bell in British Columbia

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