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Prime Ministers of Canada since Confederation up to Lester B. Pearson
Since 1867, the Prime Minister has been the head of government in Canada. She or he usually assumes that role as the leader of the party with the most members elected to the House of Commons and remains in office so long as she or he maintains the confidence of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister also is the head of Canada's political executive, the Cabinet, and plays a decisive role in the operation of Canadian government by selecting Cabinet members, organizing the Privy Council Office and Prime Minister's Office, and controlling the government's legislative and policy agendas.
In the twenty years before Confederation, the head of government in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and the Province of Canada had been known as the premier. As a consequence of the British government's decision to allow colonies the right to Responsible Government, the first British North American colony to have a premier take office was Nova Scotia in 1848. Until this time, appointed governors had been the colonial leaders, and partisan politics had been too unstable and generally unpopular for a single leader to be selected as the premier. Library and Archives Canada collects and preserves the documentary collections of both pre-Confederation premiers and of Canadian Prime Ministers since Sir John A. Macdonald, as well as personal papers produced and accumulated by individuals who have worked closely with the Prime Ministers.
The following list identifies the records created by some colonial premiers in British North America before Confederation. This material may include official documents created or accumulated during the individual's career as well as private documents of a personal or political nature. The collections below are a sample of the holdings at LAC. Where LAC does not hold records for a particular individual, the researcher should look in the appropriate provincial archives.
The following list identifies the records of Canadian Prime Ministers. In all but two cases, LAC holds the public and private papers of Canada's Prime Ministers. This material may include official documents created or accumulated over the individual's career as well as private documents of a personal or political nature. While earlier Prime Minister collections contain only textual and photographic material, more recent collections are made up of information stored on a variety of media.
Researchers should note that many collections span hundreds of volumes; others, such as the Abbott fonds and the Meighen fonds, are incomplete. Additionally, it should be noted that the collections from more recent Prime Ministers are still coming under archival control or have not yet been fully opened; therefore, all records may not be available for consultation.
The following list outlines archival collections created by some of the assistants, secretaries, and advisors who worked with or aided the Prime Ministers of Canada. The collections below are a sample of the holdings at LAC.
As a national catalogue, AMICUS not only shows the published materials held at Library and Archives Canada but also those located in over 1300 libraries across Canada. AMICUS contains over 30 million records for books, magazines, newspapers, government documents, theses, sound recordings, maps, electronic texts, as well as items in braille and large print.
Using the Advanced Search option in AMICUS and selecting "Publication Type", you can limit your search to "Government publications – Federal/national" or "Government publications – State, prov., terr. etc." You can also narrow your search by language and date, as well as format. Specifying "Web documents" in the latter will limit the search to full-text electronic publications.
Here are some sample Subject Keyword searches:
The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King
There are approximately 50 000 pages available for you to access in this on-line database of the Diaries of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. You have two options for researching the database: Browse by Date, and Search by Word or Phrase.
ARCHIVED - Sir John A. Macdonald: Canada's Patriot Statesman
Sir John A. Macdonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada, serving from 1867 to 1873 and from 1878 until his death on June 6, 1891. This research tool provides access to more than 17,000 references to the Sir John A. Macdonald fonds (MG 26-A). This fond consists of political and personal papers divided into subject files, correspondence files, legal and financial papers, family papers and letterbooks.
ARCHIVED - Canadian Confederation: Sir John Alexander Macdonald
Canadian Confederation website tells the story of how Canada came to be, from the original four provinces in 1867 to the present. Historical essays showcase documents, articles and photographs of the people, places and events that have shaped our country. The site features material from the collection of Library and Archives Canada, including a number of rare items that would otherwise be difficult to access. The following page is dedicated to Sir John A. MacDonald:
ARCHIVED - Canadian Confederation: Sir Charles Tupper
Canadian Confederation website tells the story of how Canada came to be, from the original four provinces in 1867 to the present. Historical essays showcase documents, articles and photographs of the people, places and events that have shaped our country. The site features material from the collection of Library and Archives Canada, including a number of rare items that would otherwise be difficult to access. The following page is dedicated to Sir Charles Tupper:
First Among Equals: The Prime Minister in Canadian Life and Politics
Drawing on a wide variety of documents and artifacts, this site explores five main themes (see the menu at left) relating to Canada's prime ministers. The site examines our leaders' political careers as well as their private lives. It also sheds light on Canadians' perceptions of our prime ministers.
ARCHIVED - Laurier House
In 2002, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Parks Canada and the National Archives of Canada to create a virtual tour showcasing the splendour of this nationally significant Victorian residence and its archival holdings. The creation of this virtual tour reaffirms the longstanding tradition of co-operation between the two institutions and brings the legacy of King to Canadians in an unparalleled and powerful way, unimaginable during his lifetime.
Sir John A. Macdonald: Canada's Patriot Statesman
Sir John A. Macdonald: Canada's Patriot Statesman is a tribute to this great Canadian. As well as presenting an exhibition of photographs, documentary art and other unique records held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), this Web project introduces tens of thousands of pages from Macdonald's political papers and correspondence that will be made available online for the first time in 2008, enabling all Canadians to learn about Macdonald's life, career and legacy.
First Among Equals: The Prime Minister in Canadian Life and Politics - Children's site
This website is primarily intended for children from grades 4 to 6. It is derived from the site First Among Equals: The Prime Minister in Canadian Life and Politics.
Political Junkie Café
Get your fix at the Political Junkie Café, where the hot topics of the past and present are on the table for discussion and debate. This series brings together LAC resources and expertise to promote the study and discussion of Canada's democratic experience. Each event is recorded and made available online.
Prime Ministers series
Former Prime Ministers speak on issues of concern to them, highlighting lessons and insights from their experience and drawing attention to the importance of the collections held by LAC. The Prime Ministers Series is a joint effort between the Forum on Canadian Democracy and the University of Ottawa Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Read more
Legacies and Legends: Prime Ministers and Their Memoirs
On Thursday, November 29, 2007, the LAC Forum on Canadian Democracy was launched at an event entitled Legacies and Legends: Prime Ministers and Their Memoirs. Held in partnership with the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, the event took place at the University's Tabaret Hall, with students, scholars and public officials in attendance. Read more
The Archivist No. 19, Laurier and the Prairie West,
by Peter Russell
No other Prime Minister had so much impact on the prairie West as Wilfrid Laurier. In turn, few other Prime Ministers have been so much affected by it. Not only did he greatly effect the contemporary issues of day-to-day politics in the West, but he also contributed to the economic and especially the political configuration of the Prairies. ARCHIVED - Read more
John A. Macdonald: An Undemocratic Democrat
Essay by Richard Gwyn
Beyond much argument, John A. Macdonald was the least democratic of all of Canada's leaders. Read more
Lester Bowles Pearson and the Nobel Peace Prize
Lester Bowles Pearson (1897-1972) distinguished himself on the world stage long before becoming the leader of the federal Liberal Party and prime minister of Canada. Read more
You'll Never Die, John A.!
Essay by Thomas S. Axworthy
First-time leaders of new nations matter. Just think of the difference it has made to their respective countries having Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa, while neighbouring Zimbabwe has had to endure Robert Mugabe. Among Canada's manifold blessings, one of the most significant (and least appreciated) is that Sir John A. Macdonald was our first Prime Minister. Read more