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.

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

A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in partnership with Parks Canada, is marking the 175th anniversary of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s birth (November 20, 1841) with the exhibition A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The celebrations started this morning at Fairmont Château Laurier, 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa, to coincide with the 104th anniversary of the grand opening of the famous hotel. One of the features is a commemorative display of LAC historical items alongside a Sir Wilfrid Laurier bust from Parks Canada—a perfect opportunity for a selfie!

A colour photograph of a woman leaning over towards a book that is held by a cardboard cutout figure.June 1, 1912, the Lauriers are on their way to the opening ceremony of the Château Laurier Hotel. A modest man, Laurier is said to have initially turned down the offer of having this Grand Trunk Railway hotel named after him.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of peopleA black-and-white photograph showing a group of people sitting in a car. sitting in a car.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Lady Laurier and unidentified passengers arrive for the opening of the Château Laurier Hotel, June 1, 1912 (MIKAN 3191987)

Be sure to visit the Laurier House National Historical Site at 335 Laurier Avenue East, in Ottawa, to see the main display on this prominent politician.

The exhibition features photographs, souvenirs, personal and political correspondence, and original historical records from the collection of Library and Archives Canada—some of which are on display for the first time. This selection of items honours Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was known for his articulate vision of a common purpose, his sense of compromise and interest in national unity. A widely admired dignitary with a strong sense of inclusiveness and cultural acceptance, Sir Wilfrid Laurier was Canada’s longest-serving member of Parliament and the first French-Canadian, bilingual prime minister.

Centered text elaborately framed with gold whiplash lines in the form of rose vines, pink coloured roses and leaves on the bottom corners; below the frame is an illustration of the Ottawa Parliament Buildings.

Luncheon in honour of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1902 (MIKAN 186966)

A hand-drawn embellishment consisting of red roses and green leaves on brown stem at top left corner above text.

Menu, Canada Club Menu, 1897 (MIKAN 186966)

Souvenirs on display highlight part of the prime minister’s role in representing Canada at public international events. Often collected in albums, memorabilia such as invitations, tickets to theatre performances, and menus from formal state dinners and luncheons give a glimpse into the social side of the prime minister’s duties. Visit the exhibition at Laurier House to see what was on the dinner menu over 100 years ago!

A newly discovered treasure from the collection—one recently restored by conservators—this illuminated address on parchment paper recognizes the important efforts by Laurier’s government to populate the West.

An illuminated address showing an elaborate scroll to the left of the text and a Red River Cart in the upper right-hand corner.

Illuminated address from the Mayor and Council of Winnipeg (MIKAN 186966)

Join us in celebrating one of the most pragmatic and eloquent Canadian prime ministers and visit the exhibition, A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier, being held in Ottawa until November 20—Laurier’s birthday!

To learn more about Sir Wilfrid Laurier, view a Flickr set, and to discover Canada’s heritage, go to http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/.

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)

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Prime Ministers’ Speeches

Are you interested in speeches made by Canadian prime ministers? Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a unique collection of resources to help you find speeches given by past prime ministers from the very beginning of our nationhood. LAC’s historical resources complement the Government of Canada resources which include more recent speeches.

The archived website, First Among Equals, contains a section devoted to select speeches made by past prime ministers. From the introduction page of this virtual exhibit, click the “Speeches” link from the left menu, which will take you to a page of speeches organized by topic. To view speeches given by a particular PM, click on “Profiles” in the left menu. Please note that this website is archived and will no longer be updated.

Among the sources originally used for putting together the First Among Equals website was LAC’s collection of speeches on microfiche, a reproduction of a collection of speeches held at the Library of Parliament. This collection is located in the 2nd floor reading room of LAC’s main building at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. In addition to speeches given by PMs, this resource includes speeches delivered by other Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition from 1914 to 1993. Continue reading

Remembering Canada’s 4th Prime Minister, Sir John Thompson

Today marks the birth date of Sir John Thompson, Canada’s fourth prime minister. Thompson, the youngest son born to John Sparrow Thompson and Charlotte Pottinger in 1845, grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was Canada’s first prime minister from Nova Scotia, as well as the first Roman Catholic to serve in the role.

After being called to the Nova Scotia bar in 1865, Thompson’s career was marked by participation in municipal and provincial politics. First elected as a Halifax alderman in 1871, Thompson then served as Nova Scotia’s Attorney General in 1878, and became the province’s premier in 1882. After the defeat of the Conservative government later in 1882, Thompson was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

In 1885, Thompson was courted by Sir John A. Macdonald to serve as his Minister of Justice. While reluctant, Thompson was persuaded and was elected to the riding of Antigonish. Thompson’s reputation garnered him the support of the Liberal-Conservative Party, and after Macdonald’s death in 1891 and Sir John Abbott’s resignation in November 1892, Thompson was designated as prime minister on December 5, 1892. Continue reading

William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Fine Balance

William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874–1950) was the Prime Minister of Canada for 22 years—from 1921 to 1930 (except for a few months in 1926), and from 1935 to 1948. A specialist in industrial relations and an heir to the Liberal party’s tradition of Laurier, his conciliation and political skills helped him stay in power longer than anyone in the history of Canada since Confederation. These talents also helped him preserve the unity of the country and of his party, despite both being threatened during his mandate by some of the most dramatic times in Canadian history, including the Depression in the 1930s and the Second World War.

Black-and-white photo of William Lyon Mackenzie King seated at a desk and prepared to sign papers

The Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King (MIKAN 3217524)

Borrowing a number of ideas from political opponents, such as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, King greatly contributed to transforming Canada into a welfare state. Under his leadership, the country also gained, although progressively and without any radical breaks, significant independence from Great Britain.

Black-and-white photo of W.L. Mackenzie King standing and holding the lapel of his suit jacket with his right hand

Portrait of the Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, 1921–1926; 1926–1930; 1935–1948 (MIKAN 3217560)

He was an extremely skilled politician, but in his private life, he was a man with strange and original habits. A single man and a believer in spiritualism, he visited mediums and claimed to be in contact with his mother, who died in 1917, in the afterlife.

Black-and-white photo of a man speaking through a microphone and standing on a podium that is decorated with the flag of Great Britain

The Right Honourable W.L. Mackenzie King addressing a crowd outside during his tour of the Western provinces in 1941 (MIKAN 3401452)

Throughout his entire adult life, King kept a personal diary in which he wrote daily, or almost daily, his impressions of events, both large and small, that marked his life. This exceptional document provides an inside perspective on the complex personality of the man, showing the fundamental reasons for his decisions, his personal and professional concerns, and his impressions of the complicated and numerous interpersonal relationships that a politician of his level had to maintain. Library and Archives Canada has the William Lyon Mackenzie King collection and has digitized his personal diary. The full text search offers unparalleled access to the document, one of the most remarkable sources of information on Canadian political history in the first half of the 20th century.

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Sir John A. Macdonald: Rare and intriguing treasures from the vaults of Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada holds Canada’s most comprehensive collection of material related to the life, times and continuing appeal of Sir John A. Macdonald (1815–1891)—charismatic firebrand, architect of Canadian Confederation and Canada’s first prime minister. The year 2015 will mark the bicentennial of Macdonald’s birth.

Take a look at our Flickr album to browse a selection of original documents, art and ephemera related to Macdonald, from historical and modern periods. Acquired over the years and from a variety of sources, these unique records document the public face, private life, and enduring power of one of Canada’s most iconic cultural figures.

This material represents only a small portion of Library and Archives Canada’s holdings related to significant Canadians and important events that will be showcased in the lead-up to the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017.

Journal recording the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald and preserving a lock of hair

By Hugh Macdonald, 1820. View of writing and human hair on the left side and marble endpaper on the right side of the journal. Library and Archives Canada, e008295645.

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