John Diefenbaker Biography

John Diefenbaker was the 13th prime minister of Canada who served from 1957 to 1963. Check out this biography to know about his birthday, childhood, family life, achievements and fun facts about him.

Quick Facts

Birthday: September 18, 1895

Nationality: Canadian, South African

Famous: Prime Ministers Political Leaders

Died At Age: 83

Sun Sign: Virgo

Also Known As: John George Diefenbaker

Born Country: Canada

Born in: Neustadt, Canada

Famous as: Former Prime Minister of Canada


Spouse/Ex-: Edna Diefenbaker (m. 1929–1951), Olive Diefenbaker (m. 1953–1976)

father: William Thomas Diefenbaker

mother: Mary Diefenbaker

siblings: Elmer Diefenbaker

Died on: August 16, 1979

place of death: Ottawa

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

More Facts

education: University of Saskatchewan College of Law, University of Saskatchewan, University of Saskatchewan, Nutana Collegiate

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John Diefenbaker was the 13th prime minister of Canada who served in this post from 1957 to 1963. He was the one to appoint the first female minister in Canadian history to the cabinet. The son of a teacher, he developed interest in politics at a very young age. Following his service in the First World War, Diefenbaker studied law and became a criminal defense lawyer. In 1936, he became the chief of the Saskatchewan Conservative Party and held the post until 1940. His talent got him elected to the House of Commons in 1940. Diefenbaker then went on to become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1956. After becoming the prime minister, he granted the vote to the Inuit peoples and First Nations. On an international level, his position against apartheid resulted in South Africa departing from the Commonwealth of Nations. His government eventually suffered a downfall after his indecision regarding the acceptance of Bomarc nuclear missiles from US. After the end of his tenure as the prime minister, Diefenbaker served as a member of parliament until his death in 1979. On a personal level, he was twice married but didn’t have any children.

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Childhood & Early Life
Early Career
  • In 1919, John Diefenbaker opened a small practice in Wakaw, Saskatchewan. During the first year, he won around half the cases out of 62.
  • In late 1920, he served a three-year term in the village council. In 1924, he moved to Prince Albert to participate in the federal election just to finish third. His Conservative Party lost to the Progressive and Liberal Party candidates.
  • During the 1926 election, John Diefenbaker stood against Mackenzie King. King won easily and resumed his position as prime minister.
  • Diefenbaker didn’t stand for a seat in the House of Commons during the 1930 federal election. On October 28, 1936, Saskatchewan Conservatives arranged a leadership convention which was won by Diefenbaker. He served as the chief of the party until 1940.
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Rise in Parliament
  • John Diefenbaker joined the House of Commons and was appointed to the department of the Defence of Canada Regulations.
  • He stood as a leader at the party's 1942 leadership convention but finished third. Although he lost, he gained national attention by calling for a Bill of Rights.
  • He continued practicing law and handled the infamous Atherton case in 1951. The high profile case involved a young telegraph operator who was accused of neglectfully causing a train crash.
  • Diefenbaker won elections from Prince Albert in 1953. Three years later, he became a candidate of the Progressive Conservatives and eventually won the leadership of the party at the leadership convention.
  • In January 1957, he took his role as the leader of the official opposition. During his tenure, he introduced many domestic reforms. He proposed a new agricultural policy that would stabilize income for farmers.
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Role As Prime Minister
  • The then Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent resigned and John Diefenbaker took his position. He took office as the 13th prime minister of Canada in June 1957.
  • He appointed Ellen Fairclough as the secretary of state for Canada, creating the record of appointing the first woman to a cabinet post in the nation.
  • In October, the 23rd Canadian Parliament was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and John Diefenbaker’s government quickly passed legislation, including increases in old age pensions and tax cuts.
  • During the 1958 election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives earned a majority of the votes. On July 1, 1960, Diefenbaker introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights in the parliament which soon came into effect. Soon, he extended the right to vote to all native people.
  • Shortly after becoming the prime minister, he attended a conference of the Commonwealth prime ministers. He became a national hero after setting conditions against apartheid that resulted in South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth of Nations.
  • In 1959, he cancelled the further development of the supersonic jet, Avro CF-105 Arrow, which was meant to be used to defend the nation in the event of a Soviet attack.
  • In January 1963, his government was warned by NATO Supreme Commander General Lauris Norstad to accept nuclear weapons so as to fulfill its commitments to the organization. Later that month, Diefenbaker made a speech which was later criticized by the state department as he wasn’t able to take a proper stand on the nuclear weapon issue.
  • During the elections of 1963, Lester Pearson, former secretary of state for external affairs, was given the authority to form his government. This eventually led to Diefenbaker’s resignation as the prime minister.
Later Years
  • John Diefenbaker went on to lead the Progressive Conservatives as the leader of the opposition. In the 1964, he led an unsuccessful opposition to the design of the flag of Canada.
  • During early 1964, calls were made to seek his retirement. Following the election, his opponent Dalton Camp started a campaign to oust him.
  • He entered the leadership convention of 1967 and eventually lost it to Nova Scotia Premier Robert Stanfield.
Family & Personal Life
  • John Diefenbaker married Edna Brower in 1929. After her death from leukemia in 1951, he married Olive Palmer. The couple stayed together until Palmer’s death in 1976.
  • Diefenbaker died on August 16, 1979, in Ottawa, at the age of 83.
  • Even after his death, his Bill of Rights remained in effect. The bill changed the Canadian political culture and managed to bring about another law, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • Following his death, Diefenbaker has had many locations named in his honor, including Lake Diefenbaker which is regarded as the largest lake in Southern Saskatchewan.
  • In Prince Albert city, a bridge has been named after him. In 1993, Saskatoon changed its airport’s name to the Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International Airport.

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