Sunday November 05, 2017

'Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King's Secret Life'

William Mackenzie King eyes a portrait of his mother Isabel Grace King in the library in Laurier House in Ottawa. During his lifetime, Canada's 10th prime minister was viewed as sober, serious and competent. But when his diaries were made public after his death, the world learned that he communed with prostitutes, the spirit world and his deceased mother, earning him the nickname, "Weird Willie."

William Mackenzie King eyes a portrait of his mother Isabel Grace King in the library in Laurier House in Ottawa. During his lifetime, Canada's 10th prime minister was viewed as sober, serious and competent. But when his diaries were made public after his death, the world learned that he communed with prostitutes, the spirit world and his deceased mother, earning him the nickname, "Weird Willie." (The Canadian Press)

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PEOPLE

William Lyon Mackenzie King and his dog Pat. (Canadian Press)

William Lyon Mackenzie King wasn't Canada's most charismatic Prime Minister. Nor was he the most popular.  

But he was the longest serving, holding office for 22 years. And he was a respected statesman when he stepped down in 1948 — so much so that when he died two years later, tens of thousands of people stood in line to visit his coffin as he lay in state.

And then, in the 1970's, his most private thoughts began to leak into the public sphere.

Unbuttoned

Christopher Dummitt's new book traces the transformation of the public’s knowledge and opinion of Mackenzie King's character.

Thousands of pages of diaries, spanning half a century, exposed him as an oddball and eccentric — a lifelong bachelor who was extremely close to his mother, adored his dog, availed himself of hookers, and communed with the spiritual world.

Suddenly the "statesman" earned a slew of new nicknames, including Weird Willie and the "dingbat in the Canadian belfry".

The story of the diaries —and the secrets, melodrama and backroom dealings associated with them — is revealed in Christopher Dummit's new book, called Unbuttoned, A History of Mackenzie King's Secret Life. 

Professor Dummitt teaches history at Trent University in Peterborough. 

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