Louis St-Laurent, Canada’s foreign policy pioneer

By Bruno Sauvagnat

July 25, 2018, marked 45 years since the death of Louis St-Laurent, the 12th prime minister of Canada (1948–1957) and a very active participant on the international scene.

Louis St-Laurent was born on February 1, 1882, in the small village of Compton, Quebec, where he was raised by parents Jean-Baptiste Moïse St-Laurent and Mary Ann Broderick. During his youth, he was introduced to politics by his father, who ran unsuccessfully as a provincial Liberal candidate. However, Louis St-Laurent had little interest in politics and instead concentrated on law. In 1905, he completed his studies at Université Laval and began a prestigious law career, which he pursued until 1941.

That year, at the request of Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Louis St-Laurent agreed to leave his lucrative career to become the Minister of Justice in the Liberal federal government. He helped develop several policies to support the war effort during the Second World War. St-Laurent played a crucial role in implementing the National Resources Mobilization Act, which brought about conscription to address the Canadian Army’s need for personnel.

In 1946, St-Laurent became the Minister of External Affairs. One of his highlights in this capacity was a speech to students and professors at the University of Toronto entitled “The Foundations of Canadian Policy in World Affairs.” The speech was not revolutionary, but it was the first to clearly articulate Canada’s international policies.

Black-and-white photograph showing Louis St-Laurent seated on a couch, reading a newspaper to two young girls sitting on either side of him.

Louis St-Laurent reading to children, 1947. Photos like this one served to reinforce his image as a kind, accessible person. Source: a125907

Two years later, St-Laurent succeeded Prime Minister Mackenzie King as the country’s leader. He owed his success in part to a change in his image: from a discreet lawyer to an approachable man who was close to the Canadian people. During this time, he acquired the nickname of “Uncle Louis” in the English-language media.

Black-and-white photograph of Louis St-Laurent flanked by soldiers. Two South Korean soldiers are on his left and two others on his right. Two Canadian soldiers can be seen in the background. In the foreground, on the left, is the partial profile of a Canadian soldier wearing glasses and a cap.

Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent visiting Canadian troops in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Canada on the battlefield in Korea, March 1954. Source: e011185001

While in power, St-Laurent worked to make Canada a key player in the international arena. In particular, he supported the United Nations in sending forces to intervene in Korea. It was also during his administration that the Blue Berets were created as peacekeepers to resolve the political crisis over the Suez Canal.

St-Laurent called on international institutions when they could support his initiatives. Although his decisions on foreign policy sometimes appeared to be based on a humanitarian vision, they actually stemmed from a pragmatic approach. Canada benefited both economically and politically from a more stable world, one that was able to purchase surpluses produced by Canada.

St-Laurent was also passionate about Canadian unity. It was during his time in office that Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) joined Confederation. He also sought to reduce the tensions between English‑speaking and French‑speaking communities that had followed conscription.

When he was 75 and exhausted, St-Laurent lost the 1957 election to the Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker. St-Laurent’s legacy to Canadians was a nation able to meet the challenges of the Cold War. He retired from politics but resumed his law career and died in 1973.

You can learn more about Louis St-Laurent by consulting the fonds with his name at Library and Archives Canada.

Sources:


Bruno Sauvagnat is a student archivist in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

The 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Ursulines in Quebec City

Quebec City is celebrating a number of significant anniversaries in 2014, including the 350th anniversary of the founding of the parish of Notre-Dame de Québec, and the 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Ursuline Sisters—pioneers in education in Quebec — and the Augustinian Sisters.

The origins of the Ursulines in Europe

The Company of St. Ursula was founded by Angela Merici in 1535, at Brescia, Italy, to promote Christian values within the family, society and the Church. After the Council of Trent, the Company was restructured to become a cloistered order, devoted primarily to educating young girls. Ursuline convents soon sprang up across Europe, in particular throughout France.

The establishment of the Ursulines in New France

In 1639, Madame de La Peltrie financed the founding of a convent and the first school for girls in New France. She left France aboard the St. Joseph with three nuns from the Ursuline convent at Tours: Marie (Guyart) de l’Incarnation, who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2014, Marie de Saint-Joseph and Cécile de Sainte-Croix. They, along with a group of Augustinian nuns, endured an arduous crossing that took three months.

Earliest Ursuline sisters with Amerindian pupils at Quebec City

Earliest Ursuline sisters with Amerindian pupils at Quebec City. (MIKAN 2895625)

The first Ursuline school, established in Quebec City’s Lower Town, received about 18 French and Amerindian boarders. Like their Augustinian counterparts, the Ursuline Sisters moved to the Upper Town in 1642, to a site their order still occupies today. The Ursulines provided accommodation for the Filles du Roi when they first landed in Quebec City, as well as for English captives in the early 18th century. One of those captives was Esther Wheelwright, who would eventually become the community’s superior. From Quebec City, the Ursulines expanded to found convents and schools around Quebec and New Brunswick, as well as in Japan and Peru.

To learn more

Library and Archives Canada has a number historical documents on the Ursuline community, mainly in the Fonds de la Congrégation de Sainte-Ursule and the Marie de l’Incarnation Fonds. You can also do an archives search to find other documents or images. For a definitive history of the Ursulines (in French only), we recommend Les Ursulines de Québec 1639–1953, by Dom Guy-Marie Oury.