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'Uncle Louis,' the Prime Minister, charms the voters

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.

"Uncle Louis" is a baby-kisser and children flock to him, pulling on his shirtsleeves while enthusiastically appealing for his attention. He's a soft touch with grandfatherly, regal dignity. In this excerpted campaign speech, Liberal Louis St-Laurent speaks soothingly and makes few promises. Instead, the patriarchal politician gently urges Canada to behave as an "adult nation" in the peaceful post-war era. Eager to continue the social reforms of his predecessor, former prime minister Mackenzie King, St-Laurent campaigns on the Liberal record of past achievement.
• In 1948, St-Laurent took the reins of the Liberal leadership following Mackenzie King's retirement. On June 27, 1949, he led his party to victory in the federal election, capturing 190 seats and 50.1 per cent of the popular vote. By comparison, the Conservatives won 41 seats and only 29.7 per cent of the popular vote. The CCF and Social Credit parties claimed 13 and 10 seats respectively.

• While accounts of the nickname "Uncle Louis" differ, it is believed that St-Laurent was first branded "Uncle Louis" in 1949 while campaigning across the country. One reporter observed St-Laurent's bond with small children and remarked "Uncle Louis will be hard to beat."

• Born of humble beginnings on Feb. 1, 1882, Louis Stephen St-Laurent was raised in a bilingual household in Quebec's Eastern Townships. In 1908, he married Jeanne Renault. They raised two sons and three daughters.

• A lawyer by training, St-Laurent successfully practiced corporate and constitutional law for 25 years. But in 1937, St-Laurent entered the political sphere. Appointed as a legal advisor to the 1937 Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations, St-Laurent recommended entrenched federalism to Prime Minister Mackenzie King. In 1941, King appointed St-Laurent justice minister. Astutely intellectual with a keen sense of political wrangling, St-Laurent quickly became the prime minister's right hand man.

• In his first year in office, St-Laurent passed the Trans-Canada Highway Act and welcomed Newfoundland into Confederation.  

• He died at the age of 91 on July 25, 1973 in Quebec City.

• Close to half of Canada's prime ministers have retired before their terms were over, clearing the way for their successors to move into office. But only two politicians, Louis St-Laurent and Pierre Trudeau, have won the party leadership and the keys to the Prime Minister's Office and managed to stay there by winning the next federal election.
Medium: Radio
Program: Political Broadcasts
Broadcast Date: May 9, 1949
Guest(s): Louis St-Laurent
Duration: 8:32
Photo: National Archives of Canada

Last updated: June 18, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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