Sir Wilfrid Laurier National Historic Site of Canada

The End of a Long Reign

Black and white picture of Laurier with his hands on his hips. Wilfrid Laurier during his last trip through Western Canada
© National Archives of Canada / C-15568

Wilfrid Laurier's penchant for compromise allowed him to remain in power for 15 years, earning him the nickname of the "Great Conciliator". But in 1911, this talent proved inadequate to the task of winning elections. This campaign proved to be difficult and exhausting for the great 70-year-old political leader. The country was deeply divided over two issues, the treaty of reciprocity (free trade) with the United States, and the creation of the Royal Canadian Navy.

The reciprocity agreement with the United States enjoyed little support in Quebec and Ontario, which feared an invasion of the Canadian market by American products, and ultimately, political annexation. As for the Naval Service Bill (or naval bill), it left "pro" and "anti" hard-liners deeply dissatisfied. The ensuing buildup of discontent led to Laurier's defeat in 1911. It was the end of a long reign at the head of the Canadian government. Sir Robert Borden, a member of the Conservative Party, succeeded him. Laurier would, however, remain opposition leader until his death on February 17, 1919. He was laid to rest in Ottawa on February 22, with all the honours due to the great government leaders.