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Snapshots in History: December 17: Remembering William Lyon Mackenzie King

December 18, 2013 | John P. | Comments (0)

 

(Credit: William Lyon Mackenzie King – 1946 UN Conference)

On December 17 and beyond, take a moment to remember the Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King (Born: December 17, 1874 at Kitchener (previously Berlin), Ontario; Died: July 22, 1950 at Kingsmere, Québec), who was Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister (for approximately 22 years and 5 months) from December 29, 1921 - June 28, 1926, September 25, 1926 - August 7, 1930, and October 23, 1935 - November 15, 1948. King’s governments implemented a variety of social programs including old age pensions in 1926, unemployment insurance in 1940, and family allowances in 1944. King was Prime Minister during World War Two. Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939, fully one week after Great Britain and France had done so as Prime Minister King wanted a vote of war declaration from Canada’s Parliament on its own timetable as a means of asserting Canada’s independence. Canada’s role in the war is well-known through its military participation in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 and through the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 1942 and the invasion of Hong Kong in 1941. Arguably, less known might be the important role that Canada played in the implementation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in which some 131,500 Canadian and Allied air personnel received flying, navigational, bomb aiming, air gunning, and wireless operator training across Canada during the Second World War. Canada was also a major player in nuclear research with the establishment of the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories in Deep River, Ontario in 1944 and the subsequent operation of the NRX reactor in 1947.

Prime Minister King and his government had to weather the Conscription Crisis of 1944 that followed up on a 1942 plebiscite asking Canadians to release the Canadian government from its pledge not to send any troops overseas (that was made in the 1940 Canadian general election campaign). The country was divided at that time with English-speaking Canada voting 83% in favour of sending troops overseas as needed and French-speaking Canada voting 73% against sending troops overseas with 63% of Canadians in favour overall of instituting conscription. Mr. King had a penchant for getting out of tough spots politically and rebounding from political defeats as in the elections of 1917, 1925 and 1930. The government also imposed the internment of Japanese-Canadians (and seizure of their property) in 1942 following the air attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Empire on December 7, 1941. (The government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally apologized for this injustice carried out against the Japanese-Canadian people in September 1988 and instituted a compensation package.) On a happier note, Canada was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 with Prime Minister King (who also served as his own Secretary of State for External Affairs for many years) in attendance.

William Lyon Mackenzie King has served as a puzzle to many Canadians with some familiarity of Canadian history. Arguably, he is the best educated Prime Minister to date with a total of five university degrees (B.A., M.A. (University of Toronto); LL.B (Osgoode Hall Law School); M.A., Ph.D (Harvard University), and the only Prime Minister to date to have earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree. On the other hand, some have learned of Mr. King’s connection with the occult and communing with spirits of dead individuals from his past, including his mother and former Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and his use of an ouija board and a crystal ball.

 

Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:

 

Prime Ministers: ranking Canada’s leaders / J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer, 1999. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 971.0099 GRA

This book by historians Granatstein and Hillmer was a result of a Maclean’s magazine study that consulted 25 Canadian historians and political scientists on ranking all of Canada’s Prime Ministers up to the late 1990s but listed in chronological order of service. Despite perceived personal peculiarities, William Lyon Mackenzie King was ranked first as the best Prime Minister in the “Great” category. Kim Campbell was evaluated to be the worst Prime Minister. Brian Mulroney placed eighth in the “Average” category whilst Joe Clark finished fifteenth in the “Below Average” category.

 

Winston Churchill and Mackenzie King so similar so different

Winston Churchill and Mackenzie King: so similar, so different / Terry Reardon, 2012. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 941.08409 REA

Winston S. Churchill and W.L. Mackenzie King were contemporaries as they were born about two weeks apart in 1874. However, each took a different path into politics, viz.: King through academics and Churchill through military adventure. In the 1930s, Churchill, an isolated backbencher, was extremely prescient about the dangers of fascism and Nazism while King tended towards appeasement of the Nazis. Nonetheless, King came around to the dangers of the fascists and gave full support to Great Britain’s war effort once Canada’s Parliament had declared war first.

Also available in eBook format.

 

Consider watching the following interview with author Terry Reardon:

 

(Credit: The Agenda with Steve Paikin/TVO - Terry Reardon: Churchill and King, A 50-Year Relationship)

 

King William Lyon Mackenzie King a life guided by the hand of destiny

King: William Lyon Mackenzie King: a life guided by the hand of destiny / Allan Gerald Levine, 2011. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 971.0622 KIN LEV

Levine offered the reader the first biographical review of Canada’s best educated (Ph.D, Harvard University) and longest-serving (and arguably the most unusual) Prime Minister in many years. On the one hand, King consulted mediums to gain contact with deceased family members and political mentors. On the other hand, he showed great political foresight in outmanoeuvring political opponents and keeping the country together.

(This review also appeared in: Pick a PM: Prime Ministerial Biographies and Memoirs)

Also available in eBook and Talking Book (Restricted to Print Disabled Patrons) formats.

 

Consider watching the following book review about this book and an interview with author Allan Levine:

 

 

(Credit: Biography Book Review: King: William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny by Allan Levine)

 

 

(Credit: Allan Gregg/TVO – Allan Levine on Mackenzie King)

 

Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King and Canada's world wars / Tim Cook, 2012. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 971.0612 COO

Read historian Tim Cook’s dual biography of Canada’s two world war Prime Ministers: Robert Laird Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Despite a lack of charisma, the author contended that both leaders were “warlords” in a Canadian way and had to navigate a number of similar issues: developing armed forces from a civilian base, conscription, mobilizing war finances and production, and keeping labour peace. On the issue of conscription, Borden was prepared to divide the country to achieve victory while King was very much concerned with keeping the country together. Both Prime Ministers’ governments used internment of people as an instrument during wartime: King’s government interned Japanese-Canadian people while Borden’s government interned the Ukrainian-Canadians under the pretext of being “enemy aliens”.

Read the review from Quill and Quire. Read the review from Digital Journal.

Consider watching this video of author Tim Cook discussing this book:

 

 

(Credit: Canada’s History:  Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King and Canada's World Wars by Tim Cook - Author and Historian Tim Cook discusses his new book Warlords and the wartime leadership of Prime Ministers Robert Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Tim Cook is the First World War historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.)

 

Consider borrowing the following DVD from Toronto Public Library collections:

Mackenzie King and the conscription crisis [DVD] / Erna Buffie et al.; National Film Board of Canada, 2006. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.5371 MACK PPR (Public Performance Rights)

This documentary combined archival footage with excerpts from The King Chronicles, a dramatic series written and directed by Donald Brittain. Faced with a divided country on the conscription issue during the Second World War, W.L. Mackenzie King could only put off the decision for so long even though he was deeply concerned about the potential fracturing of the country. Some scenes included graphic language.

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