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“An Occasion of Unparalleled Importance to Our Generation”

For the week of Monday, January 9, 2017

On January 10, 1946, a Canadian delegation led by William Lyon Mackenzie King attended the first meeting of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly at Westminster Hall, London, England. The UN was created at the end of the Second World War as a diplomatic forum to encourage peaceful and friendly relations between countries. It also promoted the recognition of human rights and international co-operation on economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian issues. Canada was one of 50 countries that signed the UN charter in 1945.

Paul Martin Sr. (left) and William Lyon Mackenzie King at the first meeting of the UN General Assembly
© Library and Archives Canada / Leo Rosenthal / 3201412

In its first session, the General Assembly passed 107 resolutions that included declarations on women’s rights, international refugee laws, nuclear disarmament, and the definition of genocide as a crime against humanity. The General Assembly also passed resolutions to create the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

A number of prominent Canadians have left their mark on the UN. Paul Martin Sr. helped create the process for incorporating new states into the UN, and John Humphrey was the chief drafter of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1956, Lester B. Pearson pioneered modern peacekeeping during the Suez Canal Crisis. Canadian delegations have also served as non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council six times. Currently, Canada has seven permanent missions with the UN covering a wide range of issues from poverty to the environment. Today the UN has 193 member states and represents 99.5% of the world’s population.

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Stamp celebrating the 50th anniversary of the UN
© Library and Archives Canada / 2266476

William Lyon Mackenzie King and Lester B Pearson were designated persons of national historic significance in 1968 and 1974 respectively. For more information on Canada at the UN, read Canadian Wins the Nobel Prize and Founding the Food and Agricultural Organization in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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