"I do not pretend to be an imperialist. Neither do I pretend to be an anti- imperialist. I am Canadian first, last and all the time." - Wilfrid Laurier
At the start of the 20th century, Canada was a young country trying to define itself at home and on the world stage.
Spirit of compromise
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Seeking an Identity
Dominating the political scene was Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, Canada first francophone leader. He was a charming, shrewd politician who believed he could smooth over Canada's many divisive issues with a spirit of diplomacy. Laurier had opposed Confederation as a young man but now he was the greatest advocate of a united Canada.
Nicknamed the "Great Conciliator," Laurier led the country from 1896 to 1911. He rarely strayed from the middle ground in dealing with issues that ranged from the Manitoba School Crisis to the question of free trade with the United States.
French and English divide
But even Laurier's spirit of diplomacy was sorely tested when it came to French and English relations. During this era, a young French Canadian politician named Henri Bourassa emerged as the prime minister�s greatest adversary.
Bourassa came to embody a new French nationalism, which maintained that French culture should be on equal footing with English culture throughout the country. He also believed Canada should be as independent from Britain as possible.
Ties to Britain
Canada's relationship with the mother country was a key issue during Laurier's tenure. In 1899, young Canadian men marched off to war in South Africa in aid of Britain. And a few years later, Britain came calling again for assistance prompting the creation of the Canadian navy.
Canada's support of Britain imbued a sense of pride and confidence in English Canada. But in French Canada, the ties to Britain underscored Quebec�s feelings of isolation from the rest of the country.
In 1910, Henri Bourassa quit politics, founded the newspaper Le Devoir and led a fierce struggle against Laurier's naval bill, blaming him for Canada's involvement in all imperialist wars to come.
In 1911, the reign of the "Great Conciliator" ended. Laurier had been unable to mend the great divide but Canada's identity was stronger. French Canada and English Canada had starting to find their own voices � although not the united one that Laurier had sought.