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 Lester Bowles Pearson

Lester Bowles Pearson

Birth
Newton Brook, Toronto Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Death 27 Dec 1972 (aged 75)
Ottawa, Ottawa Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Burial Wakefield, Outaouais Region, Quebec, Canada
Memorial ID 2559 · View Source
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14th Prime Minister of Canada, Nobel Peace Prize Winner. He served in the office of Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968 and is generally considered among the most influential Canadians of the 20th century. During his tenure as Prime Minister, his Liberal minority governments introduced universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada, and the new Canadian Maple Leaf Flag (1965). He convened the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, instituted the 40-hour work week, two weeks' vacation time, and a new minimum wage. He also struggled to keep Canada out of the Vietnam War. In 1967 his government abolished capital punishment in Canada by restricting it to a few capital offenses for which it was never used, and which themselves were abolished in 1976. He was born in Newtonbrook (near Toronto), Ontario, Canada, the son of a Methodist (later United Church of Canada) minister. In 1913 he graduated from Hamilton Collegiate Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, and later that same year, he entered Victoria College at the University of Toronto. While at Victoria, he was a noted athlete, excelling in rugby and also playing basketball. He also excelled in baseball and lacrosse as a youth, played golf and tennis as an adult, and as a result had the most intense and wide-ranging sporting interests of any Canadian Prime Minister. When World War I broke out in 1914, he volunteered for service as a medical orderly with the University of Toronto Hospital Unit. In 1915 he entered overseas service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer with the rank of private, and was later commissioned as a lieutenant. During this period of service he spent two years in Egypt and in Greece. He also spent time in the Serbian Army as a corporal and a medical orderly. In 1917 he transferred to the Canadian Royal Flying Corps, where he served as a flying officer until being sent home with injuries from two accidents. After the war, he returned to school and received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Toronto in 1919. The following year he worked in Hamilton, Ontario and Chicago, Illinois, in the meat-packing industry, which he did not enjoy. Upon receiving a scholarship from the Massey Foundation, he studied for two years at Saint John's College at the University of Oxford in England, where he received a Bachelor of Arts Degree with Second-Class honors in modern history in 1923, and a Master of Arts Degree in 1925. While at Saint John's College, he played for the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club. He returned to Canada and taught history at the University of Toronto, where he also coached the Varsity Blues Canadian football team, and the Varsity Blues men's ice hockey team. In 1927 he embarked on a career in the Department of External Affairs. He was assigned to London, England in the late 1930s, and he served there during World War II from 1939 through 1942 as the second-in-command at Canada House, where he coordinated military supply and refugee problems, serving under High Commissioner Vincent Massey. He returned to Canada for a few months, where he was an assistant under secretary from 1941 through 1942. In June 1942 he was posted to the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC, as a ministerial counselor and served as second-in-command for nearly two years. In January 1945 he became the second Canadian Ambassador to the US and remained in that position through September 1946. He nearly became the first Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1945, but it was vetoed by the Soviet Union. Canadian Prime Minister, William Mackenzie King, attempted to recruit him into his government as the war wound down, but he resisted at the time, due to his personal dislike of King's poor personal style and political methods. He did not make the move into politics until a few years later, after King had announced his retirement as the Prime Minister of Canada. In 1948 Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent appointed him Secretary of State for External Affairs (foreign minister) in the Liberal government. Shortly afterward, he won a seat in the Canadian House of Commons, for the federal district of Algoma East in northern Ontario. In 1957 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in resolving the Suez Crisis through the United Nations. After St. Laurent's Liberal party's defeat to the Progressive Conservatives under John Diefenbaker in 1957, he was elected leader of the Liberal Party at its leadership convention of 1958. That year, the Liberal party was badly routed in the federal election, losing over half their seats, while Diefenbaker's Conservatives won the largest majority ever seen in Canada to that point. Not long after the election, he capitalized on the Conservatives' indecision on accepting American nuclear warheads on Canadian BOMARC missiles. Defence Minister Douglas Harkness resigned from Cabinet on February 4, 1963, because of Diefenbaker's opposition to accepting the warheads. The following day, the government lost two non-confidence motions on the issue, forcing a national election. In that election, the Liberals took 129 seats to the Tories' 95. Despite winning 41 percent of the vote, the Liberals came up five seats short of a majority largely because of winning just three seats on the Prairies. With the support of the New Democratic Party, Pearson won enough support to form a minority government, and he was sworn in as the Prime Minister on April 22, 1963. In January 1965 he signed the Canada-United States Automotive Agreement (or Auto Pact), and unemployment fell to its lowest rate in over a decade. In 1967 he introduced a discrimination-free points-based system which encouraged immigration to Canada, a forerunner of the system still in place today. On December 14, 1967 he announced his retirement from politics and was succeeded by Pierre Trudeau, whom he had made Minister of Justice in his cabinet. After his retirement, he served as Chairman of the Commission on International Development (the Pearson Commission) which was sponsored by the World Bank from 1968 to 1969. From 1970 to 1972 he served as the first Chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Development Research Centre. He then served as Chancellor of Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario from 1969 until his death in 1972. He died in Ottawa at the age of 75. Among his honors and awards include the elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1957), the appointment as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, a Companion of the Order of Canada (1968), and appointed to the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II (1971). The Pearson Medal of Peace, first awarded in 1979, is an award given out annually by the United Nations Association in Canada to recognize an individual Canadian's contribution to international service. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, the Sports Hall of Fame at the University of Toronto in 1987, and the Canadian Peace Hall of Fame in 2000. A statue in his honor resides on the grounds of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. During his lifetime, he received Honorary Degrees from 48 different universities.

Bio by: William Bjornstad


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2559
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Lester Bowles Pearson (23 Apr 1897–27 Dec 1972), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2559, citing Maclaren Cemetery, Wakefield, Outaouais Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Find A Grave .