William Lyon Mackenzie King
Bachelor of Arts (BA) 1895, Bachelor of Laws (LLB) 1896, Master of Arts (MA) 1897
From the fall of 1893 until the summer of 1895, William Lyon Mackenzie King wrote for The Varsity while studying at the University of Toronto. This experience spawned a career in journalism, but it was a short one. The Prime Minister of Canada’s seat beckoned.
King’s passion for helping others was exhibited early in his career. Working as a reporter for the Mail and Empire, while completing his Master’s degree at U of T, King wrote about the abysmal working conditions in sweatshops and wanted to start a “newspaper for the poor.”
That led to a job as editor of the Labour Gazette and then an appointment to deputy minister of labour in the federal government. He began writing speeches for the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in particular about fair wages for public sector employees.
In October 1908, King ran in a federal riding that included his home town, Berlin (now Kitchener), and won, and became minister of labour the following year. He lost his seat in the federal election of September 1911.
After losing again in the 1917 election, King became Liberal leader in 1919 after the death of Laurier. He ran in a by-election in Prince Edward Island so he could sit in the House of Commons. He became prime minister in the election of 1921 that also saw Agnes Macphail elected as the first woman MP.
While suffering many defeats over the years, King held office for 22 years, the longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history. In September 1939, Parliament agreed with King to declare war on Germany, after he pledged not to introduce conscription for overseas service.
But after heavy defeats in Europe and the invasion of Normandy, France, in 1944, the conscription policy was reversed, despite opposition in Quebec.
After the war, King introduced family allowances which helped produce a Liberal victory in the election (though King lost his seat and was returned in a by-election later in the year).
King retired in August 1948, with Louis St. Laurent replacing him as prime minister. He died in July 1950. His family plot is in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.
Published Nov. 28, 2013.