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1937: Remembering Robert Borden

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Sir Robert Laird Borden, Canada's eighth prime minister, passed away on June 10, 1937. On a chilly January day almost 20 years later, a bronze statue of Borden is erected on Parliament Hill. In this 1957 radio clip, Mac Lipson reports on the unveiling of what he calls a "statue of heroic proportions." At the ceremony, Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent and Opposition leader John Diefenbaker both pay glowing tribute to Borden -- the Conservative prime minister who led Canada through the First World War.
• Robert Borden was born in Grand Pre, N.S., on June 26, 1854.

• Borden entered the working world at a young age. At 14, the bright young man became an assistant schoolmaster, teaching classical studies at the local school he had attended. At 19, he left Nova Scotia to teach at a school in New Jersey.

• He returned to Nova Scotia in 1874 and started articling at a Halifax law firm. At the time, a formal education wasn't necessary to become a lawyer -- one could become a lawyer after several years of articling under a practicing lawyer. Borden passed the bar in 1878. He then embarked on a successful law career in Halifax.

• Borden became a member of Parliament for his Halifax riding in 1896.

• In 1901, he became Conservative Party leader, in opposition to Wilfrid Laurier's Liberal government.

• He was elected Canada's eighth prime minister on Oct. 10, 1911.

• Borden was knighted by King George V in 1914. He was the last prime minister in Canadian history to be knighted. In 1919, Canada passed a regulation prohibiting the Crown from granting knighthoods, baronetcies or peerages to Canadian citizens.

• During the First World War, Borden's dogged determination to implement conscription (compulsory military service) led to a great deal of controversy. While much of English Canada supported conscription, French Canada was strongly opposed. In order to pass conscription into law, Borden created a new Unionist party made up of Conservatives and pro-conscription Liberals, and then called an election. The Unionist party won and conscription was passed in 1917. This move alienated most of Quebec.

• By the next election, in 1921, the Unionist party had essentially fizzled out.

• Borden passed and invoked the War Measures Act in 1914. It allowed the government to assume emergency powers during wartime or national crises. The act made it possible to put thousands of people believed to be "enemy aliens," a large number of whom were Ukrainian Canadians, into internment camps during the war. The Act was only invoked two other times: during the Second World War and the October Crisis of 1970. (See the CBC Archives topics The October Crisis: Civil Liberties Suspended and Relocation to Redress: The Internment of Japanese Canadians.)

• During Borden's term as prime minister, he also:
-Instituted the first federal income tax in 1917 (which was supposed to be a temporary wartime measure).
-Gave Canadian women the same voting rights as men in 1918.
-Represented Canada at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

• The 1999 book Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders by historians J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer put Borden at number 7 (out of 20 ranked). The book said Borden was a "weak prime minister" during the pre-war years, but "during the dark days of war, his grim determination to prevail, to do everything that was needed to secure victory, showed the man's true grit." However, the authors added that because of conscription, "no prime minister in our history before or since left his country so divided."

• Borden stepped down from office in July 1920. (Note: The reporter in this clip makes an error when he says Borden was prime minister until 1917.) Arthur Meighen succeeded Borden as prime minister and Conservative leader.

• After resigning, Borden kept busy delivering lectures, writing books and pursuing business interests.

• Robert Laird Borden is buried in Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery.

• The bronze statue of Borden on Parliament Hill was designed by Canadian sculptor Frances Loring. There are numerous other statues and monuments on Parliament Hill, including five other prime ministers: Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, John Diefenbaker, John A. Macdonald and Lester B. Pearson.

• Borden's image has been featured on Canada's $100 bill since 1969.

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Jan. 9, 1957
Guest(s): Henry Borden, John Diefenbaker, Louis St-Laurent
Reporter: Mac Lipson
Duration: 7:31
Photo: William James Topley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-027948

Last updated: March 20, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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