William Lyon Mackenzie King

William Lyon Mackenzie King

Kitchener, Waterloo Regional Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Death 22 Jul 1950 (aged 75)
Chelsea, Outaouais Region, Quebec, Canada
Burial Toronto, Toronto Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Plot Plot L, Section 46, Lot 21
Memorial ID 2556 · View Source
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10th Prime Minister of Canada. He served in this capacity from 1921 to 1930 and 1935 to 1948, as a member of the Liberal party. He was the longest serving prime minister in Canadian history with 22 years in this position. He also served in the House of Commons on three separate times, from 1908 until 1911, 1919 until 1925, and 1926 until 1948, and was the leader of the Liberal party from 1919 until 1948. A cautious politician, he tailored his policies to prevailing opinions. He was not a charismatic person and did not have a large personal following. Born in Berlin (now Kitchner), Ontario, Canada, his father was a lawyer and later a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Ontario. His maternal grandfather was William Lyon Mackenzie, first mayor of Toronto and leader of the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837. He received his pre-college education at Berlin Central School (now Suddaby Public School) and Berlin High School (now Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School). He earned five university degrees, two from the University of Toronto (Bachelor of Arts (1895) and Master of Arts (1897), a Bachelor of Laws in 1896 from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Master of Arts in political economy from Harvard University at Cambridge, Massachusetts (1898), and was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy from Harvard in 1909. Prior to attending Harvard, he studied at the University of Chicago and worked with Jane Addams at her settlement house, Hull House. He holds the distinction of being the only Canadian Prime Minister to have earned a Doctorate Degree. In 1900 he was appointed Deputy Minister at the head of the Canadian government's new Department of Labour, and became active in policy domains from Japanese immigration to railways, notably the Industrial Disputes Investigations Act (1907) which sought to avert labor strikes by prior conciliation. He was first elected to Parliament as a Liberal in a 1908 by-election, and was re-elected by acclamation in a 1909 by-election following his appointment as the first-ever Minister of Labour. After his defeat, he was hired in June 1914 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as a Director of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City, New York, heading their new Department of Industrial Research. He worked for the Foundation until 1918, forming a close working association and friendship with Rockefeller, advising him through the turbulent period of the 1914 strike and Ludlow massacre at a family-owned coal company in Colorado, which subsequently set the stage for a new era in labor management in America. While was not a pacifist, he showed little enthusiasm for World War I and faced criticism for not serving in Canada's military and instead working for the Rockefellers. However, he was nearly 40 years old when the war began, and was not in good physical condition. In 1918 he, assisted by his friend F.A. McGregor, published the far-sighted book "Industry and Humanity: A Study in the Principles Underlying Industrial Reconstruction", a dense, abstract work that went over the head of most readers but revealed the practical idealism behind his political thinking. He emphasized that capital and labor were natural allies, not foes, and that the community at large (represented by the government) should be the third and decisive party in industrial disputes. In February 1918 he left the Rockefeller Foundation and became an independent consultant on labor issues with American corporations until 1919, when he was re-elected to the House of Commons and chosen as the leader of the Liberal party. In the 1921 election, his party defeated Arthur Meighen and the Conservatives, and he became Prime Minister. During his first term in office, he pursued a conservative domestic policy with the object of lowering wartime taxes along with wartime ethnic tensions, as well as defusing postwar labor conflicts. He sought a Canadian voice independent of Britain in foreign affairs, which became evident during the Chanak crisis in September 1922, when British Prime Minister David Lloyd George sought repeatedly for Canadian support, in which a war threatened between Britain and Turkey. In 1926 he advised the Governor General, Lord Byng, to dissolve Parliament and call another election, but Byng refused, the only time in Canadian history that the Governor General has exercised such a power. Instead, Byng called upon the Conservative Party leader, Arthur Meighen, to form a government. Meighen attempted to do so, but was unable to obtain a majority in the House of Commons and he, too, advised dissolution, which this time was accepted. In the ensuing Canadian federal election, he appealed for public support of the constitutional principle that the Governor General must accept the advice of his ministers, though this principle was at most only customary. The Liberals argued that the Governor General had interfered in politics and shown favor to one party over another. He and the Liberal party won the election and a clear majority in the House of Commons. In 1930 election, at the beginning of the Great Depression, the Liberals lost to the Conservative Party, led by Richard Bedford Bennett, who became the new Prime Minister and he stayed on as the Leader of the Opposition. He maintained no enthusiasm for the New Deal policies and programs of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (which Bennett eventually tried to emulate, after floundering without solutions for several years), and he never advocated massive government action to alleviate depression in Canada. In 1935 the Liberals used the slogan "King or Chaos" to win a landslide in the 1935 election and King regained his former position as Prime Minister. Promising a much-desired trade treaty with the US, his government passed the 1935 Reciprocal Trade Agreement, which marked the turning point in Canadian-American economic relations, reversing the disastrous trade war of 1930-31, lowering tariffs, and yielding a dramatic increase in trade. He also implemented relief programs such as the National Housing Act and National Employment Commission. In March 1936, in response to the German remilitarization of the Rhineland, he had the Canadian High Commissioner in London inform the British government that if Britain went to war with Germany over the Rhineland issue that Canada would remain neutral. In June 1937, during an Imperial Conference of all the United Kingdom Prime Ministers in London convened during the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, he informed British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain that Canada would only go to war if Britain were directly attacked, and that if Britain were to become involved in a continental war then Chamberlain was not to expect Canadian support. Also during 1937, King visited Germany and met with Adolf Hitler, becoming the only North American head of government to do so. He was strongly influenced by German composer Richard Wagner's operas (also Hitler's favorite composer), and was of the opinion that Hitler was akin to mythical Wagnerian heroes within whom good and evil were struggling. He thought that good would eventually triumph and Hitler would redeem his people and lead them to a harmonious, uplifting future. These spiritual attitudes not only guided Canada's relations with Hitler but gave the prime minister the comforting sense of a higher mission, that of helping to lead Hitler to peace. In August 1939, with the prospects of another world war looming, he began mobilizing, with full mobilization on September 1. Unlike World War I, however, when Canada was automatically at war as soon as Britain joined, he asserted Canadian autonomy by waiting until September 10, a full week after Britain's declaration of war, when a vote in the House of Commons took place to support the government's decision to declare war. In August 1940 he signed an agreement with US President Roosevelt at Ogdensburg, New York, that provided for the close cooperation of Canadian and American forces, despite the fact that the US remained officially neutral until the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. During World War II, under his leadership, Canada training airmen for the Commonwealth, guarded the western half of the North Atlantic Ocean against German U-boats, and providing combat troops for the invasions of Italy, France and Germany in 1943 through 1945. He proved highly successful in mobilizing the economy for war, with impressive results in industrial and agricultural output. To re-arm Canada he built the Royal Canadian Air Force as a viable military power, while at the same time keeping it separate from Britain's Royal Air Force, and was instrumental in obtaining the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Agreement, which was signed in Ottawa in December 1939, binding Canada, Britain, New Zealand, and Australia to a program that eventually trained half the airmen from those four nations in World War II. After the start of war with Japan in December 1941 the government oversaw the Japanese-Canadian internment on Canada's west coast, which sent 22,000 British Columbia residents of Japanese descent to relocation camps, in response to intense public demand for removal over fears of espionage or sabotage. He and his Cabinet ignored reports from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian military that most of the Japanese were law-abiding and not a considered a threat. In 1943 he hosted the First Quebec Conference with British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, the Earl of Athlone (Alexander Cambridge, the 16th Governor General of Canada) and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the following year, he hosted the Second Quebec Conference with the same principals. In 1945 he won the Canadian federal election with a minority, but formed a functioning coalition to continue governing. The same year, he helped found the United Nations and attended the opening meetings in San Francisco, but he became pessimistic about the organization's future possibilities. After the war, he quickly dismantled wartime controls and began an ambitious program of social programs and laid the groundwork for Newfoundland and Labrador's entry into Canada, which did not take place until 1949, the year after he retired. In January 1948 he called on the Liberal Party to hold its first national convention since 1919 to choose a leader. In the August convention that year, they chose Louis St. Laurent as the new leader of the Liberal Party. Three months later, he retired after 22 years as Canada's Prime Minister. In private life he was highly eccentric, with his preference for communing with spirits, including those of Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, his dead mother, and several of his Irish Terrier dogs. He also claimed to communicate with the spirit of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He sought personal reassurance from the spirit world, rather than seeking political advice. After his death, one of his mediums stated that she had not realized he was a politician. His occult interests were kept secret during his years in office, and only became publicized later. In 1953 "Time" magazine stated that he owned and used an Ouija board and a crystal ball. He died of pneumonia in Kingsmere, Quebec, Canada, at the age of 75, with his retirement plans to write his memoirs unfulfilled. His portrait is displayed on the Canadian $50 dollar note.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2556
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for William Lyon Mackenzie King (17 Dec 1874–22 Jul 1950), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2556, citing Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Toronto Municipality, Ontario, Canada ; Maintained by Find A Grave .