Who's Who - Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Canadian Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1841-1919) served as Canada's Prime Minister from 1896-11.

Laurier was born in St. Lin, Quebec the son of a farmer in 1841.  He was educated in New Glasgow following a period at elementary school, and then spent seven years at a Roman Catholic college.  His higher education was completed at McGill University where he studied law, graduating in 1864 and establishing a practice in Montreal.

Becoming interested in politics Laurier joined the Liberal Party and in 1866 moved to L'Avenir where he became editor of Le Defricheur, a liberal newspaper.  Winning a seat in the legislature in 1871 Laurier resigned his position three years later, the same year he was elected to the House of Commons.

Laurier served briefly as Minister of Inland Revenue in Liberal Prime Minister Alexander MacKenzie's administration, during which time he grew in party stature.  When party leader Edward Blake resigned in 1887 Laurier was elected his successor.

The general election of 1891 saw the Liberals espouse the unpopular platform of unrestricted reciprocity with the United States, with the consequence that the Conservative Party was once again was returned to power.

With the Conservative Party's support in the country dwindling in the wake of a series of controversial issues (including the Manitoba Schools Question) the 1896 general election swept the Liberals and Laurier to power.  Thus Laurier became his country's first French Canadian Prime Minister.

Aware of the divisiveness of his background Laurier was at pains to stress the importance of national unity in his policies, where he strove to bring French and British Canada closer together.  This was assisted by Laurier's open admiration of British Liberalism.  His genuine respect for Britain and its imperial tradition was never however subjugated to Canada's own self-interest.

1897 brought Laurier to London for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria, during the course of which he was the recipient - somewhat to his surprise - of a knighthood.

The general election of 1911 brought to an end Laurier's run of 15 years as Prime Minister - and once more it was the question of unrestricted reciprocity with the U.S. which caused the Liberal Party to suffer at the ballot box.

As Leader of the Opposition however Laurier supported Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden's decision to pledge immediate military support for Britain upon the outbreak of war in August 1914.  He was however firm in his opposition to Borden's policy of conscription, arguing that enlistment must be voluntary.

The Liberal Party split over the issue of conscription and was consequently heavily defeated at the 1917 general election.  In the Union coalition government Borden formed after the election a number of Liberals accepted posts.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier died on 17 February 1919.  Popular to the end his funeral was witnessed by some 50,000 people who lined the streets of Ottawa.

A Battery was a group of six guns or howitzers.

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