Sir Wilfrid Laurier
Wilfrid Laurier was born on novembre 20, 1841, in Saint-Lin (present-day St-Lin-Laurentides), a rather small town north of Montreal. He was the second child of Carolus Laurier and Marcelle Martineaus. His father enjoyed a certain degree of prestige about town. He occupied positions as mayor, justice of the peace, militia lieutenant and school board member.
At the age of 11, Wilfrid Laurier leaves home to study in New Glasgow, a neighbouring town largely inhabited by British immigrants. He continues his education at the L’Assomption College, and then he enrols at the Law Faculty of McGill University. Upon completing his studies in 1864, Laurier is admitted to the bar that same year, and he begins to practise law in Montreal. Wilfrid Laurier moves from town to town as director and editor of newspapers, and he energetically combats the foundation of the Canadian Confederation in 1867. Later, he becomes a staunch defender of national unity and he is called to solve a few major controversies which set Canadians against one another. He becomes the seventh Canadian and the first French Canadian Prime-Minister of Canada, in 1896.
As soon as Laurier takes office, he is confronted to a series of conflicts, such as school organisation in Manitoba, where the provincial government denied the rights of the French-speaking minority, so Laurier proposes a halfway solution which only partially assuaged francophone and anglophone groups. Laurier also tries to find a compromise solution to the issues surrounding the 1899 Boer War, a large conflict which pitted Great Britain against two colonies of Dutch descendants in South Africa.
Whereas most of the English-Canadians made it a point of honour to defend the Great Britain, most French-Canadians were against the war. Laurier attempted to please everyone. He sent 1000 volunteers to South Africa on the condition that the costs of their participation be defrayed by the British army. As Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier opens wide Canada’s gates to immigration, encourages construction of a second transcontinental railway system, and stimulates colonization of new and fertile lands in the Western Canada, known as the Western Boom, which succeeds in stimulating the Canadian economy, and further cements the Confederation by creation of two new provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, in 1905.
Wilfrid Laurier remained in power for 15 years, earning the nickname of the “Great Conciliator”. In 1911, the electoral campaign proved to be too difficult and exhausting for the 70-year-old leader.
The country was deeply divided over the treaty of reciprocity or free trade with the United States, and the creation of the Royal Canadian Navy. Laurier was defeated, and it was the end of a long reign at the head of the Canadian government. He would remain opposition leader until his death on February 17, 1919.
Statue to Sir Wilfrid Laurier in Ottawa. Photo: © Provincequebec.com
Monument to Sir Wilfrid Laurier in Montreal. Photo: © Provincequebec.com