This Week in History


Death of Arthur Meighen

For the week of Monday July 31, 2000

Possibly the best debater that parliament has ever seen, and one of Canada's shortest-serving Prime Ministers, Arthur Meighen died on August 5, 1960 at the age of 86.

Born in Anderson, Ontario, Meighen was the son of a farmer. He attended St. Mary’s Collegiate, where he excelled in math and debate. His knack for logic earned him a degree in Mathematics from the University of Toronto.

Arthur Meighen

Arthur Meighen
© LAC / PA-26987 / Topley

He trained to be a teacher, but was fired after a falling out with the school board. He then moved to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba and apprenticed to become a lawyer. His skills in the courtroom led to his winning a seat in the 1908 federal election for the Conservative Party.

Immediately, Meighen made his voice heard from the backbench and was tipped to succeed the party leader, Robert Borden. The Conservatives came to power in 1911 and Meighen became Solicitor General in 1913. He was later Secretary of State and Minister of the Interior.

In 1920, Borden retired, making Meighen Canada’s ninth Prime Minister. This didn’t last. Labour disliked him because of the heavy-handed tactics he used to break-up the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, French-Canadians were critical of his support for Conscription, and Western farmers resented tariffs imposed on them. Consequently, his party was soundly defeated in the election of 1921.

'Preparing for the Plunge'

"Preparing for the Plunge"
© LAC / C-29630

Although the Conservatives won the election of 1925, the Liberals retained the power by forming a coalition with the Progressives. In 1926, Governor-General Viscount Byng dissolved parliament and Meighen was again Prime Minister. However, without proper backing, he was forced to call an election and was defeated.

His reputation was that of a reserved man who recited Shakespeare, but friends knew of his dry wit and eccentric tendencies. Once, he wore slippers to the House of Commons. He also wore the same threadbare green overcoat for years. Colleagues were so sick of it that they tried to steal it. This came to be known as the attempt to "overthrow the overcoat!"

After R.B. Bennett replaced him as party leader in 1930, Meighen was appointed to the Senate, but he made a brief return as Party Leader in 1942. Arthur Meighen is commemorated federally as a Person of National Historic Significance.

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