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A Real Companion and Friend:
The diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King

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Behind the Diary

A King's Who's Who Biographies

William Lyon Mackenzie, grandfather (1795-1861)

William Lyon Mackenzie, 1831


William Lyon Mackenzie, 1831

William Lyon Mackenzie, grandfather of Mackenzie King, was publisher of the newspaper The Colonial Advocate and was the first mayor of Toronto. He is probably best known as the leader of the Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada. After the failure of the rebellion, Mackenzie and his family fled to the United States, but later they were able to return. Mackenzie's life was a great inspiration to his grandson, Mackenzie King.

William Lyon Mackenzie was the maternal grandfather of Mackenzie King. Mackenzie was born in Dundee, Scotland, the only child of Daniel Mackenzie and Elizabeth Chalmers. When Mackenzie was only 4 weeks old, his father died suddenly and he was raised by his mother. When he was 25, he immigrated to Canada. He entered the business of printing and began publication of a newspaper, The Colonial Advocate.

In 1822, Mackenzie's mother came to Canada, also bringing Isabel Baxter as a bride for her son. Mackenzie and Isabel were married within three weeks of her arrival. They had 13 children but only 7 lived to adulthood. Their youngest child, Isabel Grace, was the mother of Mackenzie King.

William Lyon Mackenzie was active in politics in Upper Canada, and in 1834 he became the first Mayor of Toronto. He is probably best known as the leader of the Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada. The rebellion failed and Mackenzie fled to the United States, with a price of £1,000 on his head.

He and his family lived in exile in the United States, suffering poverty and hardship, until an amnesty was issued in 1849. Shortly after that, they returned to Canada. Mackenzie again entered politics and was elected to the Assembly for the riding of Haldimand in 1851. He held this seat until his retirement in 1858. He died in 1861.

Mackenzie King was greatly inspired by his grandfather and namesake. Shortly after King took office as Prime Minister, the British government offered him the honour of becoming an Imperial Councillor, with the title of "Right Honourable." King wrote: "In accepting this I have in my thoughts the vindication of dear old grandfather's life & work from the day when a bounty was placed on his head in the name of Queen Victoria to this day when her grandson gives his grandson the title of 'Right Hon.'" (Diary, April 13, 1922)

On New Year's Day, 1937, Mackenzie King wrote: "I feel very strongly that 1937 being the hundredth anniversary of the Rebellion, will be one of exceptional significance for Canada as well as myself. My thoughts naturally have been much of Mackenzie...." (Diary, January 1, 1937) Many times through the year, he commented on the anniversary.

Ten years later, when the new Canadian citizenship act came into effect, King was given the first certificate of citizenship. "To be the first citizen of Canada ... makes me very happy indeed," King wrote. When he got home that evening, he placed the certificate in front of the portrait of his grandfather. (Diary, January 3, 1947)

In the first decade of the twentieth century, a respected author, William Dawson LeSueur (1840-1917), wrote a biography of Mackenzie for the series "The Makers of Canada." The manuscript was rejected by the publisher however and the descendants of the Mackenzie family took legal action to make sure LeSueur did not publish it through another company and to prevent him from using notes he took while doing research on Mackenzie Papers held by the family. Mackenzie King led this action, because he thought LeSueur was not sufficiently sympathetic to his grandfather. Only in 1979, long after the deaths of LeSueur and King, was the manuscript published, edited by the historian A.B. McKillop.

Library and Archives Canada holds some William Lyon Mackenzie Papers (MG24-B18). Library and Archives Canada also holds some William Dawson LeSueur Papers (MG30-D51).

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