7 June

Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1841-1919)

Laurier Heads Liberals

Sir Wilfrid Laurier was elected leader of the Liberal party on June 7, 1887. The Liberals were then in opposition, but in 1896 Laurier won a general election by opposing the Roman Catholic church, of which he was a devout member, over its Manitoba separate schools question.

Sir Wilfrid remained prime minister until 1911. Although he never again became Prime Minister, he was always a power until his death in 1919. Years after that, there were said to be French-speaking Canadians in the backwoods who believed that Sir Wilfrid was still at the helm!

Laurier's ancestors came to Canada with Maisonneuve. He was born in humble circumstances (the family home at St. Lin, near Montreal, is a museum), but his father helped him obtain an astonishing education. He sent him to school in the village of New Glasgow, a nearby Scottish settlement, where he studied with English-speaking pupils and lived with a Presbyterian family. After a classical education at the College of L'Assomption he joined a law firm in Montreal, and at the same time took night courses at McGill University.

During this time, young Laurier was making a name for himself as a debater. On one occasion he argued that Huguenots (French Protestants) should have been admitted to early Canada, which led the priests to close the debating society!

He was only thirty years old when he was elected a member of the Quebec Legislature, and three years later he entered the House of Commons in Ottawa.

One of the first important functions Wilfrid Laurier attended after becoming prime minister in 1896 was Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the Colonial Conference in London. His charming manner and beautiful flow of language, in both French and English, won the hearts of everyone. There is a delightful story of how Queen Victoria is said to have tricked him into receiving a knighthood, and he returned to Canada as "Sir Wilfrid."


7 June

-1376    Martin Frobisher began his first voyage to Baffin Land.

-1585    John Davis made his first voyage to Davis Strait.

-1677    La Durantaye claimed the Lake Huron-Lake Erie area for France.

-1819    The fourth session of the Seventh Parliament opened. Legislation included a validity act for married women.

-1870    The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Canada was held.

-1886    Archbishop Taschereau was made the first Canadian Cardinal.

-1904    Lord Dundonald was dismissed as commander-in-chief of forces in Canada for criticizing the Minister of Militia. This ended the practice of having Imperial officers command forces in Canada.