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.
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.
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.