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Sir John Thompson: Canada’s little known fourth prime minister

The Story

He's been called "one of the finest men the country produced" but Prime Minister Sir John Thompson is hardly a household name. Professor Peter Waite wants to change that. The author of a biography on Thompson describes Canada's fourth prime minister as a timid academic and lawyer with a passion for law who rose to prominence largely because of his strong-willed wife, Annie Affleck. As heard in this clip, Annie's influence on her husband is undeniable in her letters to her husband.

Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: April 29, 1985
Guest(s): Peter Waite
Host: Valerie Pringle
Duration: 14:17

Did You know?

• Sir John Thompson served as the prime minister from Dec. 5, 1892, to Dec. 12, 1894. The Halifax native and Conservative party member was also the premier of Nova Scotia in 1882.

• Thompson converted to Roman Catholicism at the time of his marriage. He married Annie Affleck in 1870. They had two sons and three daughters with four other children dying in infancy.

• Thompson was the first Roman Catholic prime minister of Canada.

• Thompson was prime minister for just two years which, according to Professor Waite, wasn't enough time for him to make a prominent mark in Canadian politics. His greatest achievements were as the justice minister, which included introducing the first Criminal Code of Canada. He was also a member of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and a key founder of the Dalhousie Law School.

• In his first major speech as Canada's fourth prime minister, in 1893, Thompson talked about tolerance and Canadian nationalism. At the time, Thompson was worried about a possible annexation of Canada by the United States.

• "These Yankee politicians are the lowest race of thieves in existence." Thompson apparently made the statement during diplomatic talks regarding trade with the U.S.

• In 1893, Thompson was one of the judges on the international tribunal to settle the Canada-U.S. dispute over the seal harvest in the Bering Sea. The tribunal sided with Canada ruling that there was no justification for the U.S. to claim that the Bering Sea was reserved for American seal hunters.

• Sir John Thompson died suddenly of a heart attack at Windsor Castle in England on Dec. 12, 1894. Queen Victoria had just made Thompson a member of her Privy Council. He was 49.

• Thompson was buried in January 1895 at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Halifax, N.S., after an elaborate funeral in England staged by Queen Victoria.

• Thompson was one of two Canadian prime ministers to die in office. The first was Sir John A. Macdonald. Thompson was also one of three prime ministers who did not die in Canada. The other two include Sir Charles Tupper, who died in Kent, England, and Richard Bedford Bennett, who died in Mickleham, England.


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