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When Lester Pearson became the 1st Canadian Nobel Peace Prize laureate

On Oct. 14, 1957, Lester Pearson became the first Canadian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Award recognized Pearson's role in resolving the Suez Crisis of 1956

Lester Pearson speaks to Canadians about the honour that has been bestowed upon him by the Nobel committee for his work as "the representative of Canada"." 1:10

On Oct. 14, 1957, Lester Pearson became the first Canadian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

But some other Canadians heard news of his award before he learned about it himself.

Lester Pearson arrives in Oslo, Dec. 1957, to receive his Nobel Peace Prize. (CBC Archives)

It was reported by the Toronto Star the next day, that the cable had been sent to an incorrect address. And so Pearson was informed of the honour by reporters looking for an interview. 

When told that the award brought with it just over $40,000, Pearson told the Star that "for a former university professor, civil servant and cabinet minister, that is an awful lot of money."

Pearson told CBC he was "almost overcome" by the honour, stating that he did the work "as a representative of Canada."

Recognized for Suez Crisis work

With the Nobel Prize, Pearson was being recognized for being instrumental in brokering a peace in Egypt in 1956, when he was still serving as Canada's secretary of state for external affairs. 

Canada's minister of external affairs makes a proposal to solve the Suez Crisis – one that will win him the Nobel Peace Prize. 7:43

The Suez Canal was at the centre of an armed crisis in 1956 when Britain, France, and Israel joined forces in an attempt to reclaim the vital shipping route after control of it was seized by the Egyptian government on July 26, 1956. 

In an era of cold war politics, the bombing of the Canal zone by Britain and France on Oct. 31 was perceived as a threat that could escalate to a broader war. Pearson's solution was the creation of a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) which allowed UN troops to enter the area, upon the withdrawal of the forces of the three aggressors. 

Pearson on the world stage

On Dec. 10, 1957, when Pearson was in Oslo to accept his award, he reflected upon the necessity of working "with all other men of goodwill in all countries of the world" for peace.

Lester Pearson, in Oslo to receive his Nobel, speaks of the award as an incentive to work toward "the empire of peace." 1:18

Before he was elected to Parliament in 1948, Pearson had followed a career path in diplomacy, with positions in the Canadian High Commission in London, as ambassador to the U.S. (when he attended the 1945 founding conference of the United Nations) and as deputy minister of external affairs. After he entered politics, his interest in the UN continued, and he was president of the UN General Assembly in 1952. 

In 1960, Pearson, who was by that time leader of the Official Opposition, appeared on CBC-TV's Front Page Challenge, where he was quickly identified as "a very prominent Canadian" and questioned at length about his stance on nuclear disarmament and whether he believed that a continuing peace was achievable.

And of course he did go on to become Canada's 14th prime minister, in office from 1963 to 1968.

Paul Martin, Lester B. Pearson and Louis St-Laurent are seen in Ottawa, on Dec. 17, 1957, after Pearson's return from Norway with the Nobel Peace Prize. (Duncan Cameron/Library and Archives Canada)