William Lyon Mackenzie King Biography

(The 10th Prime Minister of Canada)

Birthday: December 17, 1874 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Berlin, Ontario, Canada

Canadian Liberal politician William Lyon Mackenzie King was the 10th prime minister of Canada and served for 3 terms: from 1921 to 1926, from 1926 to 1930, and again from 1935 to 1948. He was also the nation’s longest-serving prime minister. The Harvard alumnus was also the only Canadian prime minister with a PhD. The grandson of William Lyon Mackenzie, who led the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, he later made a prominent contribution to boost Canada’s autonomy. He initially unified the party’s factions that disagreed over conscription and later united the country before entering the World War II. He had also been Canada’s first full-time Minister of Labor and the nation’s Secretary of State for External Affairs. He is also remembered for his contribution to the recognition of British dominions as equal Commonwealth members and for strengthening Canada’s post-war economy.

Quick Facts

Canadian Celebrities Born In December

Died At Age: 75


father: John King

mother: Isabel Grace Mackenzie

siblings: Dougall Macdougall King, Isabel Christina Grace King, Janet Lindsey King

Born Country: Canada

Prime Ministers Canadian Men

Died on: July 22, 1950

place of death: Chelsea, Quebec, Canada

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

Notable Alumni: University College, Toronto

More Facts

education: Harvard University, University Of Chicago, University College, Toronto, Osgoode Hall Law School

  • 1

    Why is William Lyon Mackenzie King important in Canadian history?

    William Lyon Mackenzie King is important in Canadian history because he served as the Prime Minister of Canada for a total of 22 years, making him the longest-serving Prime Minister in Canadian history. He played a key role in shaping Canada's social policies and institutions, including the introduction of unemployment insurance and old age pensions.
  • 2

    What were some of the major accomplishments of William Lyon Mackenzie King during his time as Prime Minister?

    Some of the major accomplishments of William Lyon Mackenzie King during his time as Prime Minister include the introduction of employment insurance, the establishment of the Bank of Canada, the negotiation of the Canadian-US trade agreement, and the leadership of Canada during World War II.
  • 3

    How did William Lyon Mackenzie King handle the conscription crisis during World War II?

    During World War II, William Lyon Mackenzie King handled the conscription crisis by implementing a policy of "Selective Service," which allowed for the conscription of soldiers for overseas service but with certain exemptions. This approach helped to maintain national unity during a divisive issue.
  • 4

    What was the role of William Lyon Mackenzie King in the creation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)?

    William Lyon Mackenzie King played a significant role in the creation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) by establishing it as a national public broadcaster in Canada. He believed in the importance of a publicly funded broadcaster to inform and unite Canadians across the country.
  • 5

    How did William Lyon Mackenzie King navigate Canada's economy during the Great Depression?

    During the Great Depression, William Lyon Mackenzie King navigated Canada's economy by implementing various relief programs, such as unemployment insurance and public works projects, to provide assistance to those affected by the economic downturn. He also focused on balancing the budget to maintain economic stability.
Childhood, Early Life & Education

William Lyon Mackenzie King, or Mackenzie King, was born on December 17, 1874, in Berlin (now known as Kitchener), Ontario, Canada, to lawyer John King and Isabel Grace Mackenzie. His mother was the daughter of William Lyon Mackenzie, a prominent leader of the Rebellion of 1837, geared toward establishing independent self-government in Upper Canada.

King joined the University of Toronto in 1891 and graduated with a BA degree in 1895. During this time, he was a major force behind a students' strike at the university.

He then obtained an LLB degree from the Osgoode Hall Law School in 1896, followed by an MA degree in 1897 from the University of Toronto. He was also part of the Kappa Alpha Society.

During his university years, he wrote for university paper, The Varsity. He later also penned articles for The Mail and Empire, The Globe, and the Toronto News.

King joined the University of Chicago later and worked with settlement activist and reformer Jane Addams at Hull House. He then joined Harvard and obtained an MA in political economy in 1898.

In 1909, he received his PhD from Harvard. He thus later scripted history as the only Canadian prime minister with a PhD.

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Personal Life

King remained single till his death but had many close female friends, such as Joan Patteson, a married woman who often hosted his dinner parties. Passages in his diaries hint at King having indulged in physical relationships with many prostitutes.

Others suggest that King was probably in love with Lord Tweedsmuir, whom, in 1935, he chose for appointment as Governor General. He was also known to be markedly eccentric and often tried to connect to his dead mother. His personal diary was later transcribed and published as a series of books.

Early Career

In 1900, King rejected an academic position at Harvard. Instead, he became the Deputy Minister of Labor under Ottawa’s new government department. He worked as an editor of the Labour Gazette too and tried solving industrial disputes.

He was the prime figure behind the 1907 Industrial Disputes Investigation Act, which brought in legislation to delay strikes or lockouts in mines or public utilities until a settlement was approached or a report was published by a conciliation board.

In 1908, he resigned from his civil service position and contested as the Liberal candidate for the Parliament, for North Waterloo, which was his native county. He was elected and joined Liberal prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s cabinet as Canada’s first full-time Minister of Labor on June 2, 1909. In 1911, he lost his seat when his government lost the election.

He focused on his party’s publicity for the next 3 years. In 1914, King joined Rockefeller Foundation to study industrial relations in the US. His research resulted in the publication of Industry and Humanity in 1918.

He remained in Canada. In 1917, he ran for the North York constituency as a Liberal but lost.

Political Career

After Laurier died in 1919, King took over as the leader of the Liberal Party. During World War I, the party had developed cracks over conscription along the English-French lines. Following this, many leading Liberals had joined the Conservatives to form a Union Government.

Additionally, the Liberals were threatened by the rise of the agrarian party, the Progressives. In 1921, the Union Government lost the election.

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Following this, King took over as the 10th Prime Minister of Canada on December 29, 1921, although his party lacked a majority in the Parliament. In the 1925 election, King appealed for a majority but ended up with fewer seats than the Conservatives. Despite this, the Conservatives, too, failed to get a majority.

Thus, King, instead of resigning, met with the Parliament and, with the support of the Independent and Progressive members, managed to win a vote of confidence. The government continued.

However, a customs department scandal harmed the image of his party. The support for his party declined, as a result.

King then requested the governor general to dissolve the Parliament, though his advice was not accepted. Following this, King resigned and Conservative leader Arthur Meighen formed a new government. Nevertheless, Meighen’s government was defeated in 2 days after it was formed.

The Parliament was dissolved. In the 1926 election, the country witnessed alliances between the Liberals and the Progressives in many constituencies. King eventually won with a decisive majority in the Parliament.

He started his new term as the prime minister on September 25, 1926. King’s government soon reduced the federal debt but introduced an old-age pension scheme.

King focused on improving Canada’s autonomy in its relations with the UK. At the 1926 Imperial Conference, he had a significant contribution to the definition of the Dominion status, thus resulting in the recognition of British dominions as equal members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

In 1930, King’s party lost the election. He was the leader of the opposition during the worst period of the Great Depression. In 1935, he won with a huge margin.

King took over as the prime minister for the third time, on October 23, 1935 and continued in the position till his retirement on November 15, 1948. His exemplary leadership during 6 years of war and 3 years of post-war rehabilitation and reconstruction made him an influential figure in Canadian history.

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Though Canada was split over external policies, King managed to unite its people and enter World War II in 1939. His government organized strong military, financial, and industrial supplies during the war and focused on economic development and social welfare in the post-war period, too. After King’s, retirement, Louis Saint Laurent succeeded him.

King’s 22-year stint as the prime minister of Canada also made him the nation’s longest-serving prime minister. By the time he resigned, owing to his policies as the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State of External Affairs, Canada was less dependent on Britain and had acquired a prominent place in the international political scene.

Apart from avoiding an economic relapse, King introduced unemployment insurance in 1940. The national debt remained under control, while King launched a national child benefits plan and put in efforts for the rehabilitation of war veterans and their absorption into civilian life.

Death & Legacy

King died on July 22, 1950, in Chelsea, Quebec, Canada, at age 75. He lies buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, Ontario.

King appears on the Canadian 50-dollar note. Several fictional works, such as Elizabeth Gourlay's novel Isabel, Allan Stratton's play Rexy, and Donald Jack's novel Me Too, feature King.

The 1988 miniseries The King Chronicle and the 2019 film The Twentieth Century feature him, too. Several places in Canada, such as the Mackenzie King Bridge, have been named after him.

Facts About William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King was known for his belief in spiritualism and regularly held seances in an attempt to communicate with deceased loved ones and seek guidance.

King was an avid diary-keeper, documenting his thoughts and experiences in great detail throughout his life.

His diaries provide valuable insights into his personal life and political career.
King had a strong interest in the environment and was instrumental in the establishment of national parks and conservation efforts in Canada during his time as Prime Minister.

King was known for his love of pets, particularly his three Irish Terriers named Pat, Pat II, and Pat III.

He often referred to them as his "little friends" and they were a source of comfort to him during his time in office.

King was a skilled mediator and negotiator, known for his ability to navigate complex political situations and bring opposing parties together to find common ground.

His diplomatic skills were instrumental in resolving conflicts and maintaining peace during his time in office.

See the events in life of William Lyon Mackenzie King in Chronological Order

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