Sir Wilfrid Laurier
Full name: Sir Wilfrid Laurier
Born: November 20, 1841, Saint-Lin, Quebec
Died: February 17, 1919, Ottawa, Ontario
Served: July 11, 1896 to October 10, 1911 (15 years)
Holding office for 15 straight years and winning four back-to-back elections, Sir Wilfrid Laurier served a longer unbroken reign than any other prime minister in Canadian history, yet his achievements are not always easy to summarize. Remembered primarily as the man who presided over Canada’s early 20th century economic boom, his administration ushered in an era of stability, ending the political turmoil that had followed John A. MacDonald‘s (1815-1891) death.
A ninth-generation Quebecer, Laurier served briefly in the cabinet of Alexander Mackenzie (1822-1892) before succeeding him as Liberal leader in 1887, where he would go on to unseat Conservative Charles Tupper (1821-1915) as prime minister in 1896.
As PM, Laurier continued many of MacDonald’s nation-building policies and actively promoted mass immigration to encourage settlement of Canada’s vast western territories. Two new provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, were created under his watch in 1905 while his laissez-faire approach to managing the economy allowed for the development of new industry and business (libertarians in Canada continue to idolize the Laurier era as a golden era of capitalism). His proposal for free trade with the United States was a step too far, however, and cost him his bid for a fifth term in the bitterly anti-American election of 1911.
As the first French-Canadian to lead Canada, Laurier often struggled to overcome accusations that he was either a traitor (to the English) or a sell-out (to Quebec). Though his calm, compromise solutions to the divisive problems of his time, such as whether Catholicism should be taught in schools, angered hardliners on both sides, Laurier’s belief that there existed a moderate common ground between French and English interests helped make him a lasting role model of Canadian tolerance.
Links About Wilfrid Laurier:
- Biography and timeline, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute
- Biography and podcast on Laurier, Canada’s History magazine