CBC Digital Archives CBC butterfly logo

CBC Archives has a new look: Please go to cbc.ca/archives to access the new site.

The page you are looking at will not be updated.

Mackenzie King is Canada’s first citizen

The Story

"I speak as a citizen of Canada," says Mackenzie King, and the audience applauds. He's speaking at the very first Canadian citizenship ceremony, at which King has been issued the very first Canadian citizenship certificate. Prior to this day in 1947, Canadians were simply British subjects living in Canada. Although his speech is rather formal, King's pleasure with this advancement in Canadian autonomy shines through. "Without citizenship, much else is meaningless," he says.

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: Jan. 3, 1947
Guest(s): William Lyon Mackenzie King
Duration: 9:52
Photo: National Archives of Canada

Did You know?

• There was a growing sense of Canadian nationalism after the Second World War. Canada was now firmly establishing its place on the world stage. As a result, the fact that there was no such thing as a Canadian citizen was regarded as an embarrassment.
• The Canadian Citizenship Act was first proposed by King's Liberal cabinet member Paul Martin Sr., father of former Prime Minister Paul Martin. The Act was enacted on June 27, 1946 and came into force Jan. 1, 1947.

• Mackenzie King received the first citizenship certificate, number 0001, at the official ceremony on Jan. 3, 1947. A total of 26 citizenship certificates were presented at this ceremony.
• Canada was the first Commonwealth country to create its own citizenship, separate from Britain.

• Although he always remained loyal to the British Commonwealth, King was a champion of Canadian autonomy throughout his prime ministerial career. Most Canadian historians recognize King's work towards autonomy as one of his great legacies.

• The grandson of a rebel, King had always held certain ideas about Canadian self-government. But in 1922, a specific event strengthened King's determination that Canada should make its own decisions on matters of war or foreign policy. Britain publicly called for Canadian troops to fight in England's conflict with Turkey over the city of Chanak - a conflict that had nothing to do with Canada - without first consulting King about it. King was infuriated by this assumption that Canada would participate.

• King made his desire for a new autonomous relationship with Britain clear at several of the Imperial Conferences he attended throughout the 1920s. In 1926, a new relationship with Britain was recognized, but wasn't put into law until the Statute of Westminster was passed in 1931. This statute made Canada's legal status clear: it was to be a self-governing nation - both internally and externally - although it remained a loyal member of the British Commonwealth by choice.


Mackenzie King: Public Life, Private Man more