The Right Honourable
 Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King 1942.jpg

In office
October 23, 1935 – November 15, 1948
Monarch Template:Plainlist
Governor General Template:Plainlist
Preceded by R. B. Bennett
Succeeded by Louis St. Laurent
In office
September 25, 1926 – August 7, 1930
Monarch George V
Governor General Template:Plainlist
Preceded by Arthur Meighen
Succeeded by R. B. Bennett
In office
December 29, 1921 – June 28, 1926
Monarch George V
Governor General The Lord Byng of Vimy
Preceded by Arthur Meighen
Succeeded by Arthur Meighen

Born December 17, 1874(1874-12-17)
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Died July 22, 1950 (aged 75)
Chelsea, Quebec, Canada
Resting place Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario
Political party Liberal
Signature William Lyon Mackenzie King Signature

William Lyon Mackenzie King (December 17, 1874 – July 22, 1950), also commonly known as Mackenzie King, was the dominant Canadian political leader from the 1920s through the 1940s. He served as the tenth Prime Minister of Canada in 1921–1926, 1926–1930 and 1935–1948. He is best known for his leadership of Canada throughout the Second World War (1939–1945) when he mobilized Canadian money, supplies and volunteers to support Britain while boosting the economy and maintaining home front morale. A Liberal with 21 years and 154 days in office, he was the longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history. Trained in law and social work, he was keenly interested in the human condition (as a boy, his motto was "Help those that cannot help themselves"), and played a major role in laying the foundations of the Canadian welfare state.[1]

King acceded to the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1919. Taking the helm of a party bitterly torn apart during the First World War, he reconciled factions, unifying the Liberal Party and leading it to victory in the 1921 election. His party was out of office during the harshest days of the Great Depression in Canada, 1930–35; he returned when the economy was on an upswing. He personally handled complex relations with the Prairie Provinces, while his top aides Ernest Lapointe and Louis St. Laurent skillfully met the demands of French Canadians. During the Second World War, he carefully avoided the battles over conscription, patriotism and ethnicity that had divided Canada so deeply in the First World War. Though few major policy innovations took place during his premiership, he was able to synthesize and pass a number of measures that had reached a level of broad national support. Scholars attribute King's long tenure as party leader to his wide range of skills that were appropriate to Canada's needs.[2] He understood the workings of capital and labour. Keenly sensitive to the nuances of public policy, he was a workaholic with a shrewd and penetrating intelligence and a profound understanding of the complexities of Canadian society. A modernizing technocrat who regarded managerial mediation as essential to an industrial society, he wanted his Liberal Party to represent liberal corporatism to create social harmony. King worked to bring compromise and harmony to many competing and feuding elements, using politics and government action as his instrument. He led his party for 29 years, and established Canada's international reputation as a middle power fully committed to world order.[3][4][5]

King's biographers agree on the personal characteristics that made him distinctive. He lacked the charisma of such contemporaries as Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, or Charles de Gaulle. He lacked a commanding presence or oratorical skill; his best writing was academic, and did not resonate with the electorate.[6] Cold and tactless in human relations, he had many political allies but very few close personal friends. He never married and lacked a hostess whose charm could substitute for his chill. He kept secret his beliefs in spiritualism and use of mediums to stay in contact with departed associates and particularly with his mother, and allowed his intense spirituality to distort his understanding of Adolf Hitler throughout the late 1930s.[7]

A survey of scholars in 1997 by Maclean's magazine ranked King first among all Canada's prime ministers, ahead of Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. As historian Jack Granatstein notes, "the scholars expressed little admiration for King the man but offered unbounded admiration for his political skills and attention to Canadian unity."[8] On the other hand, political scientist Ian Stewart in 2007 found that even Liberal activists have but a dim memory of him.[9]

Early life, family, and religionEdit

King was born in Berlin, Ontario (now known as Kitchener), to John King and Isabella Grace Mackenzie. His maternal grandfather was William Lyon Mackenzie, first mayor of Toronto and leader of the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837. His father was a lawyer, and later a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. King had three siblings.[Note 1] He attended Berlin Central School (now Suddaby Public School) and Berlin High School (now Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School). Tutors were hired to teach him more politics, science, math, English and French.

His father was a lawyer with a struggling practice in a small city, and never enjoyed financial security. His parents lived a life of shabby gentility, employing servants and tutors they could scarcely afford, although their financial situation improved somewhat following a move to Toronto around 1890, where King lived with them for several years in a duplex located on Beverley Street while studying at the University of Toronto.[10]

King became a lifelong practising Presbyterian with a dedication to applying Christian virtues to social issues in the style of the Social Gospel. He never favoured socialism.[11]

Prime Minister: sixth Parliament, post-war CanadaEdit

With the war winding down, King held a federal election in 1945 and won a minority, but formed a functioning coalition to continue governing. As King was defeated in his own riding of Prince Albert, fellow Liberal William MacDiarmid, who was re-elected in the safe seat of Glengarry, resigned so that a by-election could be held, which was subsequently won by King.

The main opposition party Conservatives were weak for most of the two decades after R. B. Bennett lost the 1935 election, and King had virtually unchallenged power for much of his later years; this expanded still further during the War. He promoted engineer C. D. Howe into positions of great power and influence during the War, but was hit hard by the 1940 death of key minister and protege Norman McLeod Rogers. After this setback, and the 1941 death of his Quebec lieutenant Ernest Lapointe, King sought out the reluctant Louis St. Laurent, a leading Quebec lawyer, to take over Lapointe's role, and eventually persuaded St. Laurent to serve as a top aide.[12]

King helped found the United Nations in 1945 and attended the opening meetings in San Francisco. However, he became pessimistic about the organization's future possibilities. After the war, King quickly dismantled wartime controls. Unlike World War I, press censorship ended with the hostilities. He began an ambitious program of social programs and laid the groundwork for Newfoundland's later entry into Canada.

King moved Canada into the deepening Cold War in alliance with the U.S. and Britain. He dealt with the espionage revelations of Soviet cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko, who defected in Ottawa in September 1945, by quickly appointing a Royal Commission to investigate Gouzenko's allegations of a Canadian Communist spy-ring transmitting top-secret documents to Moscow. External Affairs Minister Louis St. Laurent dealt decisively with this crisis, the first of its type in Canada's history. St. Laurent's leadership deepened King's respect, and helped make St. Laurent the next Canadian Prime Minister three years later.[13]

Retirement and deathEdit

Grave of William Lyon Mackenzie King

King's grave and memorial plaque

On January 20, 1948, King called on the Liberal Party to hold its first national convention since 1919 to choose a new leader. The August convention chose St. Laurent as the new leader of the Liberal Party. Three months later, King retired after 22 years as prime minister. King also had the most terms (six) as Prime Minister. Sir John A. Macdonald was second-in-line, with 19 years, as the longest-serving Prime Minister in Canadian history (1867–1873, 1878–1891). King was not charismatic and did not have a large personal following. Only eight Canadians in 100 picked him when the Canadian Gallup (CIPO) poll asked in September 1946, "What person living in any part of the world today do you admire?" Nevertheless, his Liberal Party was easily re-elected in the election of 1945.

King died on July 22, 1950, at Kingsmere from pneumonia, with his retirement plans to write his memoirs unfulfilled. He is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto.[14]


  1. Template:Cite encyclopedia
  2. Neatby, H. Blair (1977). "King and the Historians". Mackenzie King: Widening the Debate. Macmillan of Canada. 
  3. Template:Cite DCB
  4. Bliss, Michael (1994). [[[:Template:Google books]] Right Honourable Men: The Descent of Canadian Politics from MacDonald to Mulroney]. Harper Collins. Template:Google books. 
  5. Courtney, John C. (1976). "Prime Ministerial Character: An Examination of Mackenzie King's Political Leadership". Canadian Journal of Political Science 9 (1). doi:10.1017/S0008423900043195. 
  6. Mackenzie King: Widening the Debate. Macmillan of Canada. 1977. 
  7. Granatstein, J. L. (1977). Mackenzie King: His life and world. McGraw-Hill Ryerson. 
  8. Template:Cite encyclopedia
  9. Stewart, Ian (Winter 2007). "Names Written in Water: Canadian National Leaders and Their Reputations among Party Members". Journal of Canadian Studies 41 (1): 31–50. Archived from the original. You must specify the date the archive was made using the |archivedate= parameter. 
  10. Stacey, C.P. (1976). A Very Double Life: The Private World of Mackenzie King. 46 (1 ed.). Macmillan. ISBN 0-7705-1509-6. , photo between pages 96–97
  11. Dawson, Robert Macgregor (1958). William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Political Biography 1874–1923. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-1083-4. , Ch. 1
  12. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Hutchison
  13. Hutchison, Bruce (1964). Mr. Prime Minister 1867–1964. Toronto: Longmans Canada. 
  14. "The Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King". Parks Canada. February 24, 2011. Retrieved on June 10, 2015. 

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