Skip to main content

Prime Ministers

Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King

William Lyon Mackenzie King is one of Canada’s most well known Prime Ministers. He was the leader of the Liberal party from 1919 until 1948. He was in power as Prime Minister for three terms: 1921 to June 1926, August 1926 to 1930 and 1935 to 1948 when he resigned because of poor health.

King left his mark on Canadian society and social programs, implementing old age pensions, unemployment insurance benefits, and family allowances.

King led Canada through the Second World War and the transition from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy. He also witnessed the beginning of the Cold War, and grew concerned about Canada having too close a relationship with the United States. He was also not entirely comfortable about Canada’s place in continental defence after the war.

In 1948, King decided not to run for election again, with Louis St. Laurent becoming his successor as both Prime Minister and Liberal Party Leader. King had plans to write his memoirs, but he was unable to complete them before his death in July 1950.

 Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King with Barbara Ann Scott preparing for tour.

Title/Description: Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King with Barbara Ann Scott preparing for tour. Scott was a Canadian, North American, European and World Champion in figure skating. She also won the Olympic gold medal in 1948.
Photographer: Unknown.
Date: July 7, 1949.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-BJ-011826-003.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

Prime Minister Louis St Laurent

Photo Gallery

Political Figures

Louis St. Laurent entered politics as Justice Minister in 1941, after a successful career as a lawyer. He became Prime Minister in 1948 and remained in power until the Liberals were defeated in the 1957 federal election.

St. Laurent was involved with a number of large infrastructure projects during his term including the agreements to build the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Trans – Canada Highway, the Trans -Canada Pipeline and the Canso Causeway, connecting Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia.

St. Laurent was very involved in the negotiations for Newfoundland to join Canada. He also decided that Canada would send troops to the Korean War in December 1950 after South Korea was invaded by North Korea.

In 1951, St. Laurent agreed to purchase a home at 24 Sussex Drive, agreeing to make it the official residence for the Prime Minister. He became the first Prime Minister to live at the home.

During his time on Sussex Drive, St. Laurent nominated Vincent Massey for the post of Governor General, the first Canadian to ever hold the position.

The Liberals lost the 1957 election to the Conservative leader John Diefenbaker. He retained his position as leader of the Liberal Party until 1958, when Lester B. Pearson took over. St. Laurent then withdrew from public life and returned to his law practice. He passed away in July 1973.

Sir Anthony Eden, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent.

Title/Description: Sir Anthony Eden, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent.
Photographer: F. D.
Date: February 4, 1956.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-041310-003.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.

Prime Minister John Diefenbaker

John Diefenbaker was a prominent criminal lawyer in Saskatchewan before becoming an MP in 1940. After two losses, Diefenbaker finally won the position of the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1956. With Diefenbaker at the helm, the Progressive Conservatives won the 1957 election and ended the Liberal Party’s 22 year run in office.

In 1960, Diefenbaker implemented a Bill of Rights to protect the fundamental rights of Canadians. While he was exceedingly proud of the accomplishment, it was less effective than it should have been, as the provincial governments did not consent to the Bill. The Bill was therefore not entrenched in the Constitution.

Diefenbaker was also responsible for changing the laws that made it possible for Aboriginal people to vote in federal elections. Prior to 1960, they were not permitted to.

One of the things Diefenbaker is most remembered for is the cancellation of the Avro CF – 105 Arrow fighter jets after high building costs and low sales. In an unusual move, the government ordered that all of the plans and the prototypes be destroyed. Only small models of the aircraft remain as evidence of this significant part of Canadian aeronautical history.

Diefenbaker’s government ran into political trouble in a number of areas. The use of nuclear weapons was a hot topic, but the government decided that nuclear weapons would not be permitted in Canada. The economy also caused problems for the Progressive Conservatives. At the end of the 1950s, the enthusiastic support for Diefenbaker began to dry up after the employment rate skyrocketed to 11%. He maintained his position as Prime Minister through a shaky election in 1962, later to fall to Lester Pearson’s Liberal Party in 1963. Diefenbaker remained a Member of Parliament until his death in August 1979.

Portrait of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

Title/Description: Portrait of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. Diefenbaker became the leader of the Federal Progressive Conservative Party in 1956 and was the Prime Minister of Canada from 1957 to 1963.
Photographer: Doug Bartlett.
Date: 1956-1957.
Credit: Andrews-Newton Photographers Fonds / City of Ottawa Archives / MG393-AN-P-005285-001.
Copyright: City of Ottawa Archives.