John George Diefenbaker

John George Diefenbaker

Neustadt, Grey County, Ontario, Canada
Death 16 Aug 1979 (aged 83)
Ottawa, Ottawa Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Burial Saskatoon, Saskatoon Census Division, Saskatchewan, Canada
Plot John G. Diefenbaker Centre
Memorial ID 2558 · View Source
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13th Prime Minister of Canada. He served in this capacity from 1957 to 1963 as a Conservative from the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan. During his time as Prime Minister, he appointed the first female Secretary of State, Ellen Fairclough, in Canadian history to his Cabinet, the first aboriginal member, James Gladstone, to the Senate, obtained passage of the Canadian Bill of Rights, and granted the vote to the First Nations and Inuit peoples. In foreign policy, his stance against apartheid helped secure the departure of South Africa from the Commonwealth of Nations, but his indecision on whether to accept Bomarc nuclear missiles from the United States led to his government's downfall. Born in Neustadt Ontario, Canada, his father was a teacher whose parents immigrated from Germany and his mother was of Scottish ancestry. In 1903 the family moved to the Northwest Territories, near Fort Carlton (now part of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan) as a result of his father accepting a teaching position there and in 1906 his father staked a claim of 160 acres of undeveloped prairie land near the town of Border. In February 1910 they moved to Saskatoon to give him and his brother a greater educational opportunity. In 1912, after graduating from high school in Saskatoon, he entered the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1915, and his Master of Arts the following year. In May 1916, During World War I, he was commissioned a lieutenant into the 196th (Western Universities) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and the following September, he was part of a contingent of 300 junior officers sent to England for pre-deployment training. He left the military in 1917 and returned to Saskatchewan where he returned to the University of Saskatchewan to study law. In 1919 he received his law degree, and became the first student to secure three degrees from the University of Saskatchewan. In June 1919 he was called to the bar and opened a small law practice in the village of Wakaw, Saskatchewan. He became a successful lawyer and in his first year, he was involved in 62 cases, winning almost half of them. In late 1920, he was elected to the village council to serve a three-year term. In May 1924 he moved to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, leaving a law partner in charge of the Wakaw office. In 1935 he publicly came forward as a Conservative, a year in which both federal and Saskatchewan provincial elections were held and he was nominated as the party's candidate from the district of Prince Albert, and he finished third behind the Liberal and Progressive Party candidates. In the 1929 provincial election, he ran for the Legislative assembly and lost. Four years later, he ran for mayor of Prince Albert and was defeated. In 1934, when the Crown prosecutor for Prince Albert resigned to become the Conservative Party's legislative candidate, he took his place as prosecutor, but resigned shortly after the provincial election. Saskatchewan Conservatives eventually arranged a leadership convention for October 28, 1936. Eleven people, including Diefenbaker, were nominated. The other ten candidates all deemed the provincial party in such hopeless shape that they withdrew, and he won the position by default. He asked the federal party for $10,000 in financial support, but the funds were refused, and the Conservatives were shut out of the legislature in the 1938 provincial elections for the second consecutive time and he was again defeated, this time in the Arm River district. In March 1940 he won as the House of Commons representative from Lake Centre, Saskatchewan on what was otherwise a disastrous day for the Conservatives, who won only 39 seats out of the 245 in the House of Commons, their lowest total since the Canadian Confederation. He was appointed to the House Committee on the Defence of Canada Regulations, an all-party committee which examined the wartime rules which allowed arrest and detention without trial. On June 13, 1940, Diefenbaker made his maiden speech as a Member of Parliament, supporting the regulations, and emphatically stating that most Canadians of German descent were loyal. When the Mackenzie King government sought to force Canadians of Japanese descent from the Pacific Coast, he fought against the government's actions but his efforts were unsuccessful, and the forced relocation and internment of many Japanese-Canadians proceeded. In July 1948 he became a candidate for leader of the progressive Conservative party but was defeated on the first ballot. He was returned to the House of Commons in the 1949 and 1953 elections. During his tenure in the House of Commons, he continued to practice law and in 1951, he gained national attention by accepting the Atherton case, in which a young telegraph operator had been accused of negligently causing a train crash by omitting crucial information from a message. 21 people were killed, mostly Canadian troops bound for Korea. He obtained an acquittal, prejudicing the jury against the Crown prosecutor and pointing out a previous case in which interference had caused information to be lost in transmission. In September 1956, when Progressive Conservative Party leader and Ontario Premier George A. Drew resigned for health reasons, he announced his candidacy and won, taking his place as Leader of the Opposition in January 1957. In the 1957 election, he ran on a platform which concentrated on changes in domestic policies. He pledged to work with the provinces to reform the Senate and proposed a vigorous new agricultural policy, seeking to stabilize income for farmers. He sought to reduce dependence on trade with the United States, and to seek closer ties with the Britain. While the Liberals finished some 200,000 votes ahead, the Conservatives gained a plurality, but not a majority, in House of Commons. Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent could have legally stayed in office until he could defeat him on the floor of the Commons. However, with the minor parties pledging to cooperate with a Progressive Conservative government, St. Laurent chose not to do so, making him the Prime Minister-designate of Canada. A year later, he called a snap election and spearheaded the Progressive Conservatives to one of their greatest triumphs. In April 1963 the Progressive Conservatives were defeated in the general election and he relinquished the office of Prime Minister to the Liberal party leader, Lester Bowles Pearson. He continued to lead the Progressive Conservatives, again as Leader of the Opposition. In the 1964 Great Canadian Flag Debate, he led the unsuccessful opposition to the Maple Leaf flag, which the Liberals pushed for after the rejection of Pearson's preferred design showing three maple leaves. He preferred the existing Canadian Red Ensign or another design showing symbols of the nation's heritage. At the Progressive Conservative's 1966 convention, he was voted out of the party's leadership and he announced his retirement in December 1967. However, he was returned to the House of Commons by popular demand from his district and he remained in office until his death in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at the age of 83. A statue by artist Leo Mol is dedicated to his honor on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 2558
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for John George Diefenbaker (18 Sep 1895–16 Aug 1979), Find a Grave Memorial no. 2558, citing University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatoon Census Division, Saskatchewan, Canada ; Maintained by Find A Grave .