CBC Digital Archives

1957: Diplomat Lester Pearson wins Nobel Peace Prize

Canada has enjoyed a reputation for diplomacy ever since Lester B. Pearson came up with a novel solution – peacekeepers – for the Suez Crisis in 1956. We've also been recognized for our involvement in human rights issues, nuclear disarmament, and the International Criminal Court. But have our efforts made for a more peaceful world, or is the image of the "good diplomat" a convenient holdover from the days when Canada actually made a difference?

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A cable is sent from Oslo to inform Liberal Member of Parliament Lester B. Pearson that he has won the Nobel Peace Prize. It arrives, but at the wrong house. Four hours later a reporter calls Pearson for an interview and unknowingly becomes the bearer of marvellous news. Pearson is shocked and honoured. The prize honours Pearson's creation of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), deployed the previous year to help bring peace in Egypt, following the Suez Crisis.

• At the time of the award, 60-year-old former cabinet minister Lester B. Pearson was the author of a weekly column on international affairs, published by newspapers across Canada. He was also former president of the United Nations general assembly (1952), and former secretary of external affairs.

• Pearson was unaware that he had even been nominated for the award. "Gosh, I am thunderstruck and overwhelmed," a very surprised Pearson told reporters.

• The Suez Crisis erupted after Egypt's President Nasser decided to nationalize the Suez Canal. Under the new regulations, passing ships would pay a toll. France and Britain did not want Egypt to control this important waterway. Together with Israel, they fought against Egypt during 1956. To settle the rising violence, Pearson proposed that a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) be formed to act as a buffer between the two sides.

• The UNEF eventually succeeded in creating a cease-fire and subsequently, complete troop withdrawals. Pearson was honoured for his initiative with the Nobel Peace Prize.

• Pearson became Canada's 14th Prime Minister in 1963 and spent four years in office, until 1968, when he stepped down as leader. He died of cancer in 1972.

For more on Lester Pearson, see the CBC Digital Archives topic Lester B. Pearson: From Peacemaker to Prime Minister.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Oct. 17, 1957
Reporter: Bill Beatty
Guest: Lester B. Pearson
Duration: 3:33

Last updated: October 11, 2013

Page consulted on October 22, 2014

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