This Week in History


A King is born!

For the week of Monday December 14, 1998

On December 17, 1874, William Lyon Mackenzie King was born in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario. Influenced by his mother and grandfather (1837 Rebellion leader William Lyon Mackenzie), young 'Willie' took an early interest in politics. In 1921, he became Canada's 10th Prime Minister.

Young 'Willie'

Young 'Willie'
© Library and Archives Canada / C-7315

In the 22 years that he led Canada, King encountered both challenges and accomplishments. His government worked to lower the national debt, and introduced the 'welfare state' in Canada. For the first time, programs such as old-age pension, unemployment insurance and family allowances were made available to all Canadians.

Throughout the First World War, Canada was bitterly divided over conscription. With the Second World War raging in Europe, King was faced with a similar problem. Canada desperately needed more troops, but Canadians remained divided. King understood the importance of national unity and refused to let conscription split the country! He promised Canadians "conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription." When it later became unavoidable, his ability to compromise saved national unity.

Although Canada had been a nation for nearly one hundred years, Canadians were still recognized as British subjects. On January 1, 1947, King's government passed the Canadian Citizenship Act, and William Lyon Mackenzie King became the very first Canadian citizen. The following year he retired from politics and, in 1950, died at Kingsmere, his home in Quebec.

King campaigning, 1926

King campaigning, 1926
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-13886

When King's journals were discovered after his death, many were shocked to learn that this 'stuffy old bachelor' was in fact a spiritualist. Like many others of this period, King frequently held seances to communicate with his deceased mother, grandfather, and even his dog. Although people snickered, William Lyon Mackenzie King is remembered as one of Canada's greatest Prime Ministers.

With a career spanning the Roaring Twenties, the Depression and the war years, King's place in Canadian history remains unparalleled. Woodside National Historic Site, his childhood home in Kitchener, is operated by Parks Canada. Laurier House, home to Sir Wilfrid Laurier and King during their terms as Prime Minister, has also been declared a national historic site and is open to the public.

For more information on William Lyon Mackenzie King, visit the Parks Canada, Woodside National Historic Site Web Page.

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