CBC Digital Archives

St-Laurent returns home

Louis Stephen St-Laurent never cared much for politics, its gamesmanship or its pretense. Yet under the leadership of this reluctant but passionate visionary, Canada witnessed an era of unprecedented prosperity and international influence. Accusations of arrogance would eventually cause St-Laurent to retire an embattled and disillusioned man. But the golden age would forever be the legacy of "Uncle Louis." The CBC Archives looks back at Canada's unassuming prime minister.

Though exhausted and embattled, St-Laurent wages a tough campaign in his third and last election, in June 1957. But after nine consecutive years in power, the public has grown weary too. After a Liberal defeat at the hand of John Diefenbaker and his Progressive Conservatives, St-Laurent resigns and three months later passes the baton of party leadership to Lester B. Pearson. And with that, at age 75, St-Laurent retires from politics, resuming the practice of law and living a life of relative quiet and obscurity in his beloved Quebec.

Though public appearances and interviews are rare for the retired P.M., in this 1961 clip St-Laurent sits down with the CBC's Jeanne Sauvé and reminisces on life in politics and after.

(To view the entire half-hour interview, see the clip "St-Laurent speaks to Jeanne Sauvé.")
• St-Laurent admitted to Sauvé that the pipeline debate had played a major role in his eventual defeat. When she inquired about his regrets over the incident, he replied, "Perhaps I didn't say as much as I should have; people do make mistakes you know. I did my best and, as a matter of fact, we had become accustomed to carry on as a board of directors and that displeased a part of the Canadian public."

• It took St-Laurent a while to resume his good mood after a draining electoral loss. But soon enough his sense of humour returned. In his response to someone who had inquired about the secret to his good health and spirits, he said, "Get defeated in an election!"

• Though he returned to relative anonymity in Grand-Allée, Que., St-Laurent still maintained an active and involved life in retirement. In addition to full days at a law firm, he accepted several directorships, delivered a few lectures on national unity in Quebec and agreed to serve as president of the Canadian Heart Foundation.

• In 1967 Louis St-Laurent received the Order of Canada at a ceremony marking Confederation's centennial anniversary.
• He died on July 25, 1973, at the age of 91. He is buried in Compton, Que.

• Desmond Morton, historian and author, summed up St-Laurent's legacy as follows, "His era was such a golden age that many Canadians believed that peace, order and good government were their destiny."

• Born on April 26, 1922, Jeanne Sauvé was a broadcast journalist from 1952 until 1972. In 1972 she was elected to the House of Commons. Sauvé then became the first woman appointed governor general, a role she held from 1984 to 1990. On Jan. 26, 1993, she died in Montreal.
Medium: Television
Program: Inquiry
Broadcast Date: Oct. 17, 1961
Guest(s): Louis St-Laurent
Reporter: Jeanne Sauvé
Duration: 3:39

Last updated: June 19, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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