William Lyon Mackenzie King

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We have gone through nine prime ministers so far, all of whom have had a large impact on Canada. Few though, have had an impact as large as our longest serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. He may have had a long history as prime minister, arguably the most important prime minister of the first half of the 20th century, but he was not a captivating man, and he never brought in radical changes, or had legendary speeches that inspired Canadians. As a result, despite his long role as leader, Canadians are often indifferent to his time in office.

Now, it is time to buckle up because this is going to be a long episode.

William Lyon Mackenzie King was born on Dec. 17, 1874 in Berlin, Ontario, now known as Kitchener to parents John King and Isabel Grace Mackenzie. The grandson of William Lyon Mackenzie, whom he was also named after. His grandfather was the first mayor of Toronto, a member of the Legislative Assembly and a leader in the Rebellions of 1837. His mother was born while Mackenzie was in exile because of the rebellion, and she would eventually teach her son that it was his destiny to vindicate his grandfather.

King’s father, John, was a lawyer who operated a practice that was always struggling. The family never had financial security, but his parents still lived a life with servants and tutors they could barely afford.

As a young man, King would play football, playing for the Berlin High School Boys, who won a championship in 1885. King was also known to get into a fight with players on other teams.

King would attend the University of Toronto, along with Arthur Meighen, graduating in 1895. He then went on to study economics at Chicago and Harvard, excelling academically.

In all, King earned five degrees, including a BA, LLB and MA at the University of Toronto between 1895 and 1897.

At the University of Toronto, he would initiate a students’ strike in 1895 and worked closely with Vice-Chancellor William Mulock behind the scenes. While the strike failed to meet the objective of King, which was to get William Dale, a popular professor, his job back, he did earn political points with Mulock, who would hire him in only a few years’ time.

After he finished school, he began to travel, touring through England and Germany, before coming back to North America and staying in Chicago, living at Hull House, owned by Jane Addams, a leading advocate for women’s suffrage, social work, and world peace.

King then went to London where he began to engage in social settlement work, that would influence him later in his life. It is believed his time working in social settlement would push him to have an interest in the workers in industry.

By 1900, when he was 24, King had been offered an academic post at Harvard, but he chose to turn it down and instead pursued civil service as the deputy minister of labour in the new Department of Labour, hired by Mulock.

In 1901, King would suffer a tragedy when his roommate and best friend, Henry Albert Harper, died saving a woman who fell through the ice on the Ottawa River. King would lead the effort to raise a memorial to his friend, which would result in the Sir Galahad Statue on Parliament Hill in 1905. One year later, King published a memoir of his friend called The Secret of Heroism.

In that role, he was active in several matters including Japanese immigration, to railways, to the Industrial Disputes Investigations Act of 1907 that sought to avert strikes through prior conciliation. It was here he showed a good capacity for reconciling industrial disputes and it would gain him the attention of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the prime minister at the time.

King established himself as an excellent negotiator in labour issues. In 1906, he was sent to Lethbridge to deal with a coal strike, which would have caused many in the west to go without heat in the winter. He negotiated a settlement and his experience with that influenced him to create the Industrial Disputes Investigations Act. Other royal commissions that dealt with industrial conflicts he served on included the Bell Telephone Strike in Toronto in 1907 and the cotton industry strike in Quebec in 1908.

In 1909, Harvard granted King a PhD for his dissertation on Oriental Immigration to Canada. This was a report he had written for the Deputy-Minister of Labour the year previous. In the report, he stated, quote:

“That Canada should desire to restrict immigration from the Orient is regarded as natural, that Canada should remain a white man’s country is believed to be not only desirable for economic and social reasons but highly necessary on political and national grounds.”

King would state regarding the Chinese Head Tax, stating it was not used for revenue, stating quote:

“The tax, however, had been imposed not with this object but to affect the restriction of a certain class without going the length of exclusion. As the number paying the tax increased, it became a considerable revenue, but the tax was never intended as revenue.”

This view would influence King later in his role as prime minister, as we will see. As deputy minister, he would convey concerns to President Theodore Roosevelt in England about the issue of Japanese immigration to North America.

With the PhD, King became, and still is, the only Prime Minister to have a PhD.

By this point, King was doing well enough and gaining a name for himself that he was able to pay off his father’s debts and provided his mother with money for clothes and housekeeping expenses.

During this time, King was known to be emotional in nature, quick to make life-altering decisions, although he had the appearance of prudence and modesty to those around him. It was that nature to make quick decisions that would result in him suddenly resigning from the civil service and running for election to the House of Commons. He did so in the riding of North Waterloo, which was a Conservative stronghold, and had been since 1896. Nonetheless, it was his home riding and that was where he ran.

Amazingly, he was elected and would serve in the House of Commons as a Liberal, eventually earning the post of Minister of Labour in 1911. He would serve as the first Minister of Labour and implemented two acts that would improve the financial situation for millions of Canadian workers. He also called for the implementation of an eight-hour day. That same year, he lost his seat in the 1911 election as the Conservatives came back into power.

For the next three years, King worked on Liberal Party publicity and continued to attempt to get back into Parliament. In 1914, he began to investigate industrial relations in the United States for the Rockefeller Foundation, resulting in the release of Industry and Humanity in 1918. During this time, the First World War was raging and while King was not a pacifist, he did not show enthusiasm for the war effort and many felt he should have joined the war effort rather than work for the Rockefellers. In King’s defense, he was almost 40 and not in great physical condition.

In 1917, he ran for the House of Commons again in North York, and again lost due to the unpopularity of the Liberals at the time. In the 1911 election, he had lost by only 300 votes, but in 1917, he lost by 1,000. This loss was especially difficult as his mother was on her death bed during the campaign and she told him to stay on the campaign trail. He did, but she died before he returned. This would haunt him for the rest of his life, and likely played a big role in his interest in spiritualism, which I will get to later.

King’s personal life was having difficulties by this point. He was an eligible bachelor, but he was focusing more and more on his family. His sister died in 1915, followed by his father in 1916. His mother became more demanding of his time and King was devoted to her. With her death, he felt deeply alone. It is no exaggeration to say that King cared deeply for his mother. On her 74th birthday, it was reported he gave her 74 kisses. In his diary, he would write, quote:

“I have met no woman so true and lovely a woman in every way as my mother.”

In 1924, when he received a six-month-old Irish Terrier puppy, he named it Pat and doted on the dog. He would read to him, share his nighttime meal of cookies and Ovaltine and in time, he interpreted the dog as being inhabited by the spirit of his mother. When the dog’s health failed in 1940, King postponed a wartime cabinet meeting, and sang “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” to him as he died.

While many English-speaking Liberals defected to the Union Government over the conscription issue, King stayed by Laurier’s side. As a result, King was chosen to be the new leader of the Liberal Party after the death of Laurier. It was not just his loyalty to Laurier that earned him the top job in the party. King, for his faults, was a brilliant politician and while many felt that he was an outsider with a weak base facing a country that was split over many issues, King campaigned in the party on the legacy of Laurier, championing labour interests, calling for welfare reform and being a strong opposition to the Conservatives. This allowed him to be elected leader, defeating four other rivals on the first ballot.

King was not coming into the leader’s position at a time of strength for the party. The First World War and conscription had deeply divided the party with some members forming the Union Party with the Conservatives. In addition, the base of the party in the west was losing ground to the new party of The Progressives. He also embraced the prairies, which was growing quickly due to immigration.

In 1919, soon after becoming leader, Joseph Read died in the Prince Riding on Prince Edward Island. A by-election was held, and King was acclaimed and had returned to the House of Commons.

In the 1921 election, King and the Liberals won a slim majority, making King the 10th Prime Minister of Canada. To put this in context, by this point he had served only six years in the House of Commons and now had the highest post in the land.

King immediately got down to work as the leader of the country, working to regain the confidence of farmers in Ontario and Western Canada who had been hurt by Conservative tariff policies and the conscription crisis. It was hoped that he could get more support from the farmers to limit the power of the new Progressive Party, and despite a reduction in tariffs and freight rates, it was not enough.

In 1922, the Chanak Crisis erupted in Turkey and there was an expectation that if it went to war, Canada would follow England automatically. King, even though the British Prime Minister appealed directly, stated that the Canadian Parliament would decide what policy to follow, not London. The issue eventually deescalated without the need for war.

In 1923, King would work out a treaty with the Americans regarding fishing rights in the North Pacific Ocean. Called the Halibut Treaty, it was the first treaty to be independently negotiated and signed by the Canadian government. The British did want to co-sign, but King insisted that it was a matter that only concerned Canada and the United States.

One unfortunate bill passed by the King government dealt with the Chinese Head Tax. Established in 1885 by Sir John A. Macdonald and called the Chinese Immigration Act, its goal was to prevent immigrants from China by charging each immigrant $50. Under the government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, that amount increased to $100 in 1900 and then $500 in 1903. In 1923, the King government abolished the head tax. Before you think that this meant Chinese immigration was open again, think again. The Chinese Exclusion Act was soon passed, closing the doors on Chinese immigration almost completely. It would not be until 1947, that the Act would be repealed.

In the 1925 election, Arthur Meighen and the Conservatives would win 115 seats after their stunning election collapse four years previous. King and the Liberals finished with 100 seats, but King was able to hold onto power as prime minister, despite losing the election, through an alliance with the Progressives.

Unfortunately, a corruption scandal related to misdeeds in Kings first term around the expansion of a canal in Quebec was hurting the image of the Liberal Party and there was a danger the Progressive Party would withdraw their support because of this scandal. In his second term, another corruption scandal, this time in the Department of Customs, further hurt the Liberals image in Canada. That scandal had occurred when collusion was found between smugglers and members of the department to run goods into Canada from the United States.  To trigger an election and hopefully gain more seats, King asked Governor General Lord Byng to dissolve Parliament. Byng refused, feeling that there had just been an election the previous year in 1925. King soon resigned. King would write in his diary on June 27, 1926, quote:

“Meighen too will fall heir to some difficult situations. Western provinces, if he seeks to carry on, I believe he will not go far. Our chances of winning out in a general election are good. I feel I am right and so happy may god guide me in every step.”

Arthur Meighen was called upon to form a Conservative government, which he did. Unfortunately for Meighen, that government would only last a noticeably short time before an election was trigged. I covered the Byng-King affair in more detail in my previous episode on Meighen, but essentially after Byng asked Meighen to form a government, he had too few seats to hold it and another election was triggered.

In that election, King campaigned on the unconstitutionality of Meighen’s government. King pushed the image that the Conservatives were preventing Canadians from governing themselves, being influenced by the Crown instead. King and the Liberals were able to steal votes away from the Progressives, picking up 116 seats, while the Liberals fell to 91 seats.

The 1920s were remembered as The Roaring Twenties, but King and his Liberals did not spend carelessly despite the good financial times. Instead, they reduced the federal debt, while also implementing an old-age pension scheme.

King wanted Canada to be autonomous from the United Kingdom and in 1926 at the Imperial Conference, he contributed to the definition of Dominion status in the Balfour Report. From that point, British dominions were defined as autonomous and equal members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.  For King, this was a victory as he felt loyalty to England but wanted sovereignty for Canada. It also meant that the Governor General was no longer representing the British government, but the British monarch instead.

In his technically third term as prime minister, King expanded on the Department of External Affairs to give Canada more independence from England. This meant that Canada did not need to rely on British diplomats who had loyalty first to England. King also recruited excellent diplomats into the department, including future prime minister Lester B. Pearson.

In 1930, only a few months after the Persons Case was resolved, King would appoint Cairine Wilson as the first female senator in Canadian history. That same year, he would also increase the powers of provincial governments by transferring the ownership of crown lands to Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

The good times would not last for King, nor for many others. With the stock market crash of 1929, The Great Depression would soon begin. King, according to his diary, did not feel that the depression would impact Canada greatly. As a result, he refused to provide federal funds to provinces that were struggling with rising unemployment. In a quote that would sink him, he said he would not give a five-cent piece to Conservative provincial governments. The opposition quickly used this in the election campaign, which seriously hurt the Liberals nationwide. This would prove disastrous as the Conservatives under R.B. Bennett promised aggressive action. In the 1930 election, the Liberals lost 27 seats, falling into Official Opposition status while R.B. Bennett and the Conservatives roared back with 135 seats, 44 more than the last election. Ironically, losing when he did likely ensure the long-term career of King, saving him from a lot of the early criticism that hit Bennett during the Depression.

As the Leader of the Opposition, King continually attacked Bennett for not fulfilling his promises, and for the rising unemployment problem. Throughout those five years in opposition, King gave the impression of sympathy for liberal and progressive causes, but he did not approve of the New Deal program put forward by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Thanks to the dislike of Bennett among the unemployed throughout Canada, the election was an overwhelming victory for the Liberals, who picked up 83 seats to finish with 171 seats, while the Conservatives collapsed losing 95 seats, falling to 39. This would be the first time King, now in his fourth term, would have an undisputed majority government.

Soon after the election win, King would sum up his governmental policy as, quote:

“It was what we prevent, rather than what we do that counts most in government.”

In October 1935, King would visit Queenston, and see the poor state of his grandfather’s residence and print shop. He would write in his diary, quote:

“It was a deeply impressive sight. I felt I walked about where grandfather began his great battle for political liberty in Canada. The stone near the building carries the words The House of William Mackenzie. The birthplace of Responsible Government in Canada. What could be finer than this? I felt pride beyond all words. I feel continually the injustice done by Mackenzie’s memory and the need to give it its true place in history.”

King would have his grandfather’s home refurbished, and three years later visited it once again, in a much better state.

With a strong majority, King would negotiate a new trade agreement with the United States in 1935, and with the United States and England in 1938. The Great Depression still raged on, causing a rising amount of relief costs and no clear plan to clear up the economy. Luckily for King, the worst of the Depression happened prior to the Liberals returning to power. During this term, he would bring in several Canadian institutions that would change Canada forever. In 1936, his government established the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1937, Trans-Canada Airlines, what would become Air Canada, was established, followed by the National Film Board of Canada in 1939.

In 1936, King was losing patience with the premiers of western provinces, who came from parties such as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and Social Credit, and King would say that the west was, quote:

“part of the U.S. desert area. I doubt if it will be of any real use again.”

As a result, King focused on the industrial regions of Ontario and Quebec instead. He was also highly resistant to federal relief for the unemployed, only eventually accepting a solution that involved federal deficit spending, housing market subsidies and tax cuts.

In 1937, he would bring in some programs including the Federal Home Improvement Plan of 1937 that provided subsidized rates of interest on rehabilitation to 66,900 homes. In 1938, the Federal Unemployment and Agricultural Assistance Act were created, followed by the Youth Training Act in 1939.

At the same time, Nazi Germany was rising in power and King expressed a hope that war with Germany would be averted through appeasement. King would meet with Adolph Hitler in Berlin on June 29, 1937. In his diary, he wrote that Hitler was, quote:

“one who truly loves his fellow man.”

The two men discussed many topics, but King did not bring up the anti-Jewish policies during the meeting. One reason for this may have been the widespread discrimination against Jews in Canada. At the time, Canada’s immigration policy was influenced by severe anti-Semitic views. King saw Hitler as a man who had good and evil struggling within him, but King believed that good would win and Hitler would redeem his people.

While Canada did have anti-Semitic views when it came to immigration, King would write in his diary, quote:

“The world will yet come to see a very great man-mystic in Hitler. I cannot abide in Nazism, the regimentation, cruelty, oppression of Jews, attitudes towards religion, etc., but Hitler will rank some day with Joan of Arc among the deliverers of his people.”

King would also tell British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain that Canada would go to war if Britain were attacked, but not if Britain became involved in a continental war without provocation.

Hitler assured King that Germany had no desire for war, but world events quickly displayed to King that this was not the case. King, knowing that war was coming, insisted that the Canadian Parliament would decide if Canada joined the war, not the British government. King promised that if war came, there would be no conscription.

The views of Hitler could be influenced by King’s admiration for the German people. On Sept. 25, 1897, King wrote an article for The Daily Mail and Empire that praised the Germans, saying quote:

“They are a very decidedly a law-abiding people. During the year 1896, the total number of German offenders apprehended or summoned by the city police did not exceed 80, and this number would be even less did it not include some cases of repetition of offences by the same individuals.”

After praising their memberships in trade unions, he continues, quote:

“These facts are sufficient to show that the German element in Toronto is a most desirable one, and it is natural, therefore, to enquire what probability there is of augmentation to its numbers.”

In June of 1939, the MS St. Louis was denied entry into Canada. Carrying 900 Jewish refugees, most would wind up back in Europe and over 200 would die in the Holocaust.

In 1939, Britain declared war on Germany and the Canadian Parliament was recalled in an emergency session and voted to go to war.

On Sept. 8, 1939, two days before Canada declared war on Germany, King would say to the House of Commons, quote:

“I never dreamed that the day would come when, after spending a lifetime in a continuous effort to promote and to preserve peace and goodwill, in international as well as in industrial relations, it should fall to my lot to be the one to lead this Dominion of Canada into a great war. But that responsibility I assume with a sense of being true to the very blood that is in my veins. I assume it in the defence of freedom, the freedom of my fellow-countrymen, the freedom of those whose lives is unprotected in other countries, the freedom of mankind itself.”

In 1940, another election was held, and King enjoyed an even larger majority, seeing his Liberals rise six seats to 179, while the National Government Party, a new party, formed the Official Opposition with 39 seats. In August of that year, King and Roosevelt signed an agreement that provided for the close cooperation of Canadian and American forces.

With Canada now at war, and with co-operation between government leaders, business leaders and labour leaders, the Canadian economy and industrial production shifted to war. Unemployment fell extremely fast and through industrial expansion and financial arrangements with the United States, Canada’s economy began to boom.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese Canadian internment process would begin under the government of King. Japanese Canadians were viewed as enemy aliens and they would have their property and business confiscated, and then moved to the interior of British Columbia to internment camps or given the choice of going back to Japan. The Japanese Canadians would not become enfranchised citizens again until 1947 and would be barred from entering Canada as new immigrants until 1967. In all, 27,000 Japanese Canadians were detained without charge or trial. The RCMP and Major General Ken Stuart gave reports that said there was no risk from Japanese Canadians. Stuart would say quote:

“I cannot see that the Japanese-Canadians constitute the slightest menace to national security.”

King ignored these reports, which falls in line with his earlier dealings and views of Asian Canadians.

The War Measures Act was also implemented, and in June of 1940, when Italy joined the Germans in the war, all designate Italian Canadians and Canadian fascist sympathizers were enemy aliens. By the end of the year, many were in internment camps around Canada. Their properties were also confiscated by the Office of the Custodian of Alien Property.

After the attack on Pearl Harbour, King allowed the Americans to take control of the Yukon to build the Alaska Highway.

Throughout the war, King and Canada were mostly ignored by Winston Churchill, even though Canada was playing a huge role in the war effort, while also guarding the North Atlantic Ocean’s western half against German U-Boats.

During the war, King rebuilt the Royal Canadian Air Force as its own separate entity from the Royal Air Force. He also obtained the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Agreement in December of 1939, which eventually trained half the airmen of Canada, Britain, New Zealand, and Australia during the war.

It was in this situation that King introduced unemployment insurance to reassure Canadians who feared that The Great Depression would return after the war, and who wanted to have some sort of security if that was the case. In addition, he also introduced a family allowance in 1944. For King, the goal was national unity and he realized that meant not forcing Canadians to follow one single vision, but to accommodate multiple, often conflicting, viewpoints.

During the war, King hosted two conferences on Canadian soil, both in Quebec City, with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 1944, King expanded the role of the National Research Council of Canada, moving into full-scale research into nuclear power and nuclear physics. He also moved the nuclear group from Montreal to Chalk River, Ontario, and established the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories.

As the war waged on and Germany continued to conquer more of Europe, there were calls for conscription, something King had said he would not do. His exact quote on the matter was quote:

“Not necessarily conscription, but conscription if necessary.”

As a compromise, he introduced conscription for the defense of Canada only, rather than overseas. In 1942, a referendum was held, and most Canadians were in favour of conscription for overseas service, with Quebec opposed. One poll showed that 70 per cent of French Canadians opposed conscription, while 80 per cent of English Canadians supported it. In 1944, high casualties and a decline in enlistment led to debates in within government about conscription. In November of 1944, King agreed to send some of the conscripted home-defense forces to Europe, which was only slightly popular in Canada. In all, 15,000 conscripts went to Europe but only a few hundred saw any sort of combat.

In the 1945 election, the Liberals would lose 59 seats, while the Conservatives bounced back with 67 seats. The 118 seats were enough to have a majority, but it was far from what the Liberals had before. In that election, King lost his own riding, so William MacDiarmid resigned from his safe seat and King won it in a by-election.

Even though Canada had hosted two major Allied conferences, King, nor his generals and admirals, were invited to take part in any discussions about peace.

In 1945, King helped to found the United Nations, with Canada becoming a founding member. He also attended the opening meetings in San Francisco. King also dismantled the wartime controls, including press censorship and began to work on social programs and work towards bringing Newfoundland into Confederation.

In 1946, King would introduce the Canadian Citizenship Act, which created Canadian citizens and not British subjects. On Jan. 3, 1947, King became the first Canadian citizen with the certificate number 0001.

On Jan. 20, 1948, King resigned as prime minister and was succeeded by Louis St. Laurent, who would serve for eight years as prime minister. Laurent was chosen as the first national convention of the Liberal Party to be held since 1919.

King died on July 22, 1950.

Upon his death, the Globe and Mail wrote, quote:

“Next to Confederation itself, no single factor has been more significant in the shaping of national affairs than the career of Mackenzie King.”

Looking back on his life before his death, King would write in his diary, quote:

“The path to success lies along lines of being true to certain teachings and right activities. Integrity, good will, initiative, disinterestedness vs self-seeking.”

Upon his death, King bequeathed his private retreat at Kingsmere, Quebec to the government, and it has since become Gatineau Park. His summer home there now serves as the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada.

In 1974, Dennis Lee mentioned King in his book Alligator Pie, as the subject of a children’s poem, which goes as follows:

“William Lyon Mackenzie King, he sat in the middle and played with string, he loved his mother like anything, William Lyon Mackenzie King.”

No episode about King can be complete without talking about his interest in spiritualism. As a lifelong Presbyterian, he was not into spiritualism as a religion, but he believed in life after death and saw it as a fact because he believed he had communicated with the dead through mediums throughout his life, including speaking to his long-dead dogs, his mother, brother and sister, and others such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. All of this was unknown during his life, but it was only after his death that Kings interest in spiritualism became known to the public. Others he claimed to have talked to included Leonardo da Vinci, and his grandfather.

After his first séance, King would write, quote:

“This is something too wonderful for words. It is all part of divine leading, I believe.”

Helen Hughes, a medium from Glasgow, would sit with King as a medium for several years whenever he made trips to Britain. She would say in 1951, quote:

“It was as if he had his mother living over here in Britain. What would any son do if he came here on business? He would look her up. He would want to see her and talk to her. He did not want advice about public affairs, for he knew more about them than she did. He wanted to know how she was. He wanted to talk to her about family matters.”

It is important to show that distinction that he was never reported to look for advice on political matters during seances, but more to speak with this who had passed on and who he missed.

Hughes would go on to say, quote:

“He was warned. At least three years before he died. His mother told him he was doing too much; his heart would not stand it. He took her advice in the end, but not soon enough.”

Interestingly, during a séance with a medium named Miss Cummins in which she apparently communicated with Roosevelt, he was told, quote:

“Don’t retire, stay on the job. Your country needs you there.”

Hughes would talk about how King would speak to his beloved dogs, including his Irish terrier, Pat. She said quote to him,

“Your sister is here, and she has a beautiful dog with her. The dog doesn’t seem to have been very long over there.”

King would tell her that the night before Pat died, his watch fell off his bedside table for no reason, and he found it face down in the morning, stopped at 4:20 a.m. He would say quote:

“I am not psychic, but I knew then, as if a voice were speaking to me, that Pat would die before another 24 hours went by.”

According to King, that night, his dog got out of his basket with his last effort, climbed onto the bed and died. When King looked at his watch, it was 4:20 a.m.

One night in early 1929, King awoke having had nocturnal visions. He called his personal secretary and dictated his account. This document was then sent off to King’s medium in Kingston for interpretation. She told him that honours would be coming to him and a trip to England was about to happen. She signed it, “your most sincere and true spiritual friend and advisor.”

Mercy Phillimore, who was the secretary of the London Spiritual Alliance also stated that King never sought spirit guidance in affairs of state. She would say quote:

“Mr. King was an investigator. He did accept the spirit hypothesis and he had the courage to say so, but he never ceased to be critical in appraising evidence. He was a highly intelligent man with shrewd judgement, and to say he consulted mediums for advice in statecraft is preposterous. It is also outrageous, an insult to his memory.”

During the Second World War, King rarely visited a medium.

Following his death, King was honoured throughout Canada. In 1997, a group of historians ranked him first out of the first 20 prime ministers in Canadian history. He would be named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1968 and was the only prime minister along with Sir Wilfrid Laurier to serve in office during the reigns of three Canadian monarchs. Since 1975, his image has been on the Canadian $50 bill. Several locations are named for King including the Mackenzie King Bridge. His boyhood home is now the Woodside National Historic Site.

Overall, considering the length of time he served as prime minister, there are a surprisingly limited number of places or honours for King in Canada. Likely this is because of his reserved nature, and lack of political charisma. King never wrote any memoirs but upon his death, the diary he had written from 1893 to 1950 comprised several volumes. Stacked in a row, those volumes spanned seven metres and 50,000 manuscript pages of typed transcribed text of 7.5 million words.

In a Canadian Gallup poll done in September 1946, asking Canadians to choose what person living today do you admire, only eight per cent of respondents picked King. In 1998, when a memorial to the Quebec Conference was created, it did not feature King, because it was felt that he was merely the host between Churchill and Roosevelt. A lot of this was because King did not have a commanding presence, nor excellent speaking skills, and he did not shine when on the radio. He had very few close friends, never married and many saw him as cold and tactless.  While he never married, he had several close female friends and when he hosted an event, he would hire a hostess.

Nonetheless, he was skilled at public policy and was a workaholic who understood the complexities of Canadian society. On top of that, he did lead Canada through two of its most difficult periods in the 20th century, The Great Depression, and the Second World War.

Information comes from Britannica, Juno Beach Centre, Library and Archives Canada, Wikipedia, Macleans, Biographi, UpperCanadaHistory.ca, Toronto’s People, A History of Kitchener Ontario, The Chinese in Ontario, the Toronto Star, the Peterborough Examiner.

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