Lester B. Pearson
Lester B. Pearson
Pearson in 1957
|14th Prime Minister of Canada|
22 April 1963 – 20 April 1968
|Governor General||Georges Vanier|
|Preceded by||John Diefenbaker|
|Succeeded by||Pierre Trudeau|
|Leader of the Liberal Party|
16 January 1958 – 6 April 1968
|Preceded by||Louis St. Laurent|
|Succeeded by||Pierre Trudeau|
|Leader of the Opposition|
16 January 1958 – 22 April 1963
|Preceded by||Louis St. Laurent|
|Succeeded by||John Diefenbaker|
|8th Secretary of State for External Affairs|
10 September 1948 – 20 June 1957
|Prime Minister||W. L. Mackenzie King|
Louis St. Laurent
|Preceded by||Louis St. Laurent|
|Succeeded by||John Diefenbaker|
|2nd Canadian Ambassador to the United States|
|Prime Minister||W. L. Mackenzie King|
|Preceded by||Leighton McCarthy|
|Succeeded by||H. H. Wrong|
|8th President of the United Nations General Assembly|
|Preceded by||Luis Padilla Nervo|
|Succeeded by||Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit|
|Member of the Canadian Parliament|
for Algoma East
25 October 1948 – 23 April 1968
|Preceded by||Thomas Farquhar|
|Succeeded by||None (district abolished)|
Lester Bowles Pearson
23 April 1897
Newtonbrook, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
|Died||27 December 1972 (aged 75) |
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
|Resting place||MacLaren Cemetery, Wakefield, Quebec|
|Children||2, including Geoffrey Pearson|
|Profession||Diplomat, historian, soldier|
|Awards||Nobel Prize for Peace (1957)|
|Years of service||1915–18|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
Lester Bowles Pearson Canadian scholar, statesman, soldier, prime minister, and diplomat, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis. He was the 14th prime minister of Canada from 1963 to 1968, as the head of two back-to-back Liberal minority governments following elections in 1963 and 1965.(23 April 1897 – 27 December 1972) was a
During Pearson's time as prime minister, his Liberal minority governments introduced universal health care, the Canada Student Loan Program, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada, and the Maple Leaf flag. His Liberal government also unified Canada's armed forces. Pearson convened the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and he kept Canada out of the Vietnam War. In 1967, his government passed Bill C-168, which de facto abolished capital punishment in Canada by restricting it to a few capital offences for which it was never used, and which themselves were abolished in 1976. With these accomplishments, together with his groundbreaking work at the United Nations and in international diplomacy, which included his role in ending the Suez Crisis, Pearson is generally considered among the most influential Canadians of the 20th century and is ranked among the greatest Canadian prime ministers.
Early life, family, and education
Pearson was born in Newtonbrook in the township of York, Ontario (now a part of Toronto), the son of Annie Sarah (née Bowles) and Edwin Arthur Pearson, a Methodist (later United Church of Canada) minister. He was the brother of Vaughan Whitier Pearson and Marmaduke Pearson. Lester Pearson's father moved the young family north of Toronto to Aurora, Ontario, where he was the minister at Aurora Methodist Church on Yonge Street. Lester grew up in Aurora and attended the public school on Church Street. The family lived in the Methodist manse at the corner of Spruce and Catherine Streets. The home still exists but is in private hands. Pearson was a member of the Aurora Rugby team.
Pearson graduated from Hamilton Collegiate Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1913 at the age of 16. Later that same year, after spending three months at his uncle's emu farm in Australia, he entered Victoria College at the University of Toronto, where he lived in residence in Gate House and shared a room with his brother Duke. He was later elected to the Pi Gamma Mu social sciences honour society's chapter at the University of Toronto for his outstanding scholastic performance in history and psychology. Just as Northrop Frye and his storied student Margaret Atwood would, along with other luminaries – such as Norman Jewison and E. J. Pratt – Pearson participated in the sophomore theatrical tradition of The Bob Comedy Revue. After Victoria College, Pearson won a scholarship to study at St John's College, Oxford, from 1921 to 1923.
At the University of Toronto, Pearson became a noted athlete, excelling in rugby union and also playing basketball. He later also played for the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club while on a scholarship at the University of Oxford, a team that won the first Spengler Cup in 1923. Pearson also excelled in baseball and lacrosse as a youth. His baseball talents as an infielder were strong enough for a summer of semi-pro play with the Guelph Maple Leafs of the Ontario Intercounty Baseball League. Pearson toured North America with a combined Oxford and Cambridge Universities lacrosse team in 1923. After he joined the University of Toronto History Department as an instructor, he helped to coach the U of T's football and hockey teams. He played golf and tennis to high standards as an adult.
First World War
During World War I, Pearson volunteered for service as a medical orderly with the University of Toronto Hospital Unit. In 1915, he entered overseas service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps as a stretcher-bearer with the rank of private, and was subsequently promoted to corporal. During this period of service, he spent nearly two years in Southern Europe, being shipped to Egypt and thereafter served on the Salonika Front. He also served alongside the Serbian Army as a medical orderly. On 2 August 1917, Pearson was commissioned a temporary lieutenant. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps that year, since the Royal Canadian Air Force did not exist at that time, where he served as a flying officer until being sent home with injuries from two accidents. Pearson learned to fly at an air training school in Hendon, England. He survived an airplane crash during his first flight.
In 1918, Pearson was hit by a bus in London during a citywide blackout and he was sent home to recuperate, but then he was discharged from the service. It was as a pilot that he received the nickname of "Mike", given to him by a flight instructor who felt that "Lester" was too mild a name for an airman. Thereafter, Pearson would use the name "Lester" on official documents and in public life, but was always addressed as "Mike" by friends and family.
Immediate post-war years
After the war, he returned to school, receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto in 1919. He was able to complete his degree after one more term, under a ruling in force at the time, since he had served in the military during the war. He then spent a year working in Hamilton, Ontario and Chicago, in the meat-packing industry, which he did not enjoy.
Upon receiving a scholarship from the Massey Foundation, he studied for two years at St John's College at the University of Oxford, where he received a B.A. degree with Second-Class honours in modern history in 1923, and the M.A. in 1925. After Oxford, he returned to Canada and taught history at the University of Toronto.
In 1925, he married Maryon Moody, from Winnipeg, who had been one of his students at the University of Toronto. Together, they had one son, Geoffrey, and one daughter, Patricia. Although Maryon was initially a highly critical woman with an occasionally short temper during the first two decades of marriage, she supported her husband in all his political endeavors.
Diplomat, public servant
In 1927, after scoring the top marks on the Canadian foreign service entry exam, he then embarked on a career in the Department of External Affairs. Prime Minister R. B. Bennett was a noted talent spotter. He took note of, and encouraged, the young Lester Pearson in the early 1930s, and appointed Pearson to significant roles on two major government inquiries: the 1931 Royal Commission on Grain Futures, and the 1934 Royal Commission on Price Spreads. Bennett saw that Pearson was recognized with an OBE after he shone in that work, arranged a bonus of $1,800, and invited him to a London conference. Pearson was assigned to the High Commission of Canada to the United Kingdom in 1935, and he served there during World War II from 1939 through 1942 as the second-in-command at Canada House, where he coordinated military supply and refugee problems, serving under High Commissioner Vincent Massey. In his book (published as "Mike: The Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. Lester B. Pearson, Volume One: 1897-1948"), Pearson reveals that during 1940 he was hired by Sir William Stephenson—the enigmatic WWII spymaster known as "Intrepid"—to serve as a "King's Messenger" or courier conveying secret documents to Europe. (Ref. A Man Called Intrepid—The Secret War, by William Stevenson (1976).
Pearson returned to Ottawa for a few months, where he was an assistant under secretary from 1941 through 1942. In June 1942 he was posted to the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., as a ministerial counsellor. He served as second-in-command for nearly two years. Promoted minister plenipotentiary in 1944, he became the second Canadian Ambassador to the United States on 1 January 1945. He remained in this position through September 1946.
Pearson nearly became the first Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1946, but he was vetoed by the Soviet Union. He was also the leading candidate for Secretary-General in the 1953 selection, when the British conducted a vigorous campaign on his behalf. He placed first with 10 out of 11 votes in the Security Council, but the lone negative vote was another Soviet veto. The Security Council instead settled on Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden; all UN Secretaries-General would come from neutral countries for the rest of the Cold War.
The Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, tried to recruit Pearson into his government as the war wound down. Pearson felt honoured by King's approach, but he resisted at the time, due to his personal dislike of King's poor personal style and political methods. Pearson did not make the move into politics until a few years later, after King had announced his retirement as the Prime Minister of Canada.
Early political career
In 1948, before his retirement, Prime Minister King appointed Pearson Secretary of State for External Affairs (foreign minister) in the Liberal government. Shortly afterward, Pearson won a seat in the House of Commons, for the federal riding of Algoma East in Northern Ontario. Pearson then served as Secretary of State for External Affairs for Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, until the defeat of the St. Laurent government in 1957.
Nobel Peace Prize
In 1957, for his role in resolving the Suez Crisis through the United Nations, Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The selection committee argued that Pearson had "saved the world", but critics accused him of betraying the motherland and Canada's ties with the UK. Pearson and UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld are considered the fathers of the modern concept of peacekeeping. Together, they were able to organize the United Nations Emergency Force by way of a five-day fly-around in early November 1956. His Nobel medal is on permanent display in the front lobby of the Lester B. Pearson Building, the headquarters of Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa.
St. Laurent was defeated by the Progressive Conservatives under John Diefenbaker in the election of 1957. After just a few months as Leader of the Opposition, St. Laurent retired, and he endorsed Pearson as his successor. Pearson was elected leader of the Liberal Party at its leadership convention of 1958, defeating his chief rival, former cabinet minister Paul Martin, Sr.
At his first parliamentary session as Opposition Leader, Pearson asked Diefenbaker to give power back to the Liberals without an election, because of a recent economic downturn. This strategy backfired when Diefenbaker showed a classified Liberal document saying that the economy would face a downturn in that year. This contrasted heavily with the Liberals' campaign promises of 1957.
Consequently, Pearson's party was routed in the federal election of 1958. The Liberals lost more than half their seats, while Diefenbaker's Conservatives won the largest majority ever seen in Canada to that point (208 of 265 seats). Furthermore, the election cost the Liberals their stronghold in Quebec. This province had voted largely Liberal in federal elections since the Conscription Crisis of 1917, but Quebec had no favourite son leader, as it had had since 1948.
In the federal election of 1962, the Liberals, led by Pearson, and the surprise election of 30 Social Credit MP's, deprived the Tories of their majority. As a consequence, Diefenbaker now had to preside over a minority government.
Not long after the election, Pearson capitalized on the Conservatives' indecision on accepting American nuclear warheads on Canadian BOMARC missiles. Defence Minister Douglas Harkness resigned from Cabinet on 4 February 1963, because of Diefenbaker's opposition to accepting the warheads. On the next day, the government lost two nonconfidence motions on the issue, forcing a national election. In that election, the Liberals took 129 seats to the Tories' 95. Despite winning 41 percent of the vote, the Liberals came up five seats short of a majority largely because of winning just three seats on the Prairies. With the support of six Social Credit MPs from Quebec, Pearson was able to guarantee stable government to the Governor-General, and Diefenbaker resigned, allowing Pearson to form a minority government. He was sworn in as the Prime Minister on 22 April 1963. Even though the support the Social Credit MPs was soon withdrawn, Pearson was able to maintain government with the support of the New Democratic Party.
Prime Minister (1963–1968)
Pearson campaigned during the election promising "60 Days of Decision" and supported the Bomarc surface-to-air missile program. Pearson never had a majority in the House of Commons, but he brought in many of Canada's major updated social programs, including universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, and Canada Student Loans, and he instituted a new national flag, the Maple Leaf flag. He also instituted the 40-hour work week, two weeks vacation time, and a new minimum wage.
Pearson signed the Canada–United States Automotive Agreement (or Auto Pact) in January 1965, and unemployment fell to its lowest rate in over a decade. While in office, Pearson declined U.S. requests to send Canadian combat troops into the Vietnam War. Pearson spoke at Temple University in Philadelphia on 2 April 1965, while visiting the United States and reportedly voiced his support for a pause in the American bombing of North Vietnam, so that a diplomatic solution to the crisis may unfold. To President Lyndon B. Johnson, this criticism of American foreign policy on American soil was an intolerable sin. Before Pearson had finished his speech, he was summoned to Camp David, Maryland, to meet with Johnson the next day. Johnson, who was notorious for his personal touch in politics, reportedly grabbed Pearson by the lapels and shouted, "Don't you come into my living room and piss on my rug." Text of his Philadelphia speech, however, showed that Pearson in fact supported President Johnson's policy in Vietnam, even stating "The government and great majority of people of my country have supported wholeheartedly the US peacekeeping and peacemaking policies in Vietnam."
Pearson later recounted that the meeting was acrimonious, but insisted the two parted cordially. After this incident, L.B.J. and Pearson did have further contacts, including two more meetings together, both times in Canada as the United States relied on Canada's raw materials and resources to fuel and sustain its efforts in the Vietnam War.
Pearson also started a number of Royal Commissions, including the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. These suggested changes that helped create legal equality for women, and brought official bilingualism into being. After Pearson's term in office, French was made an official language, and the Canadian government provided services in both English and French. Pearson himself had hoped that he would be the last unilingual Prime Minister of Canada and fluency in both English and French became an unofficial requirement for candidates for Prime Minister after Pearson left office.
Pearson's government endured significant controversy in Canada's military services throughout the mid-1960s, following the tabling of the White Paper on Defence in March 1964. This document laid out a plan to merge the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Canadian Army to form a single service called the Canadian Forces. Military unification took effect on 1 February 1968, when The Canadian Forces Reorganization Act received Royal Assent.
Pearson has been credited with instituting the world's first race-free immigration system. Credit for who created the policy, however, is disputed, and likely should be shared with John Diefenbaker. Diefenbaker's government in 1962 introduced a new race-free policy; however, under the 1962 policy, Americans were still given an advantage. It was in 1967 that Pearson introduced a discrimination-free points-based system which encouraged immigration to Canada, a forerunner of the system still in place today.
Pearson also oversaw Canada's centennial celebrations in 1967 before retiring. The Canadian news agency, The Canadian Press, named him "Newsmaker of the Year" that year, citing his leadership during the centennial celebrations, which brought the Centennial Flame to Parliament Hill.
Also in 1967, the President of France, Charles de Gaulle, made a visit to Quebec. During that visit, de Gaulle was a staunch advocate of Quebec separatism, even going so far as to say that his procession in Montreal reminded him of his return to Paris after it was freed from the Nazis during the Second World War. President de Gaulle also gave his "Vive le Québec libre" speech during the visit. Given Canada's efforts in aiding France during both world wars, Pearson was enraged. He rebuked de Gaulle in a speech the following day, remarking that "Canadians do not need to be liberated" and made it clear that de Gaulle was no longer welcome in Canada.
Supreme Court appointments
- Robert Taschereau (as Chief Justice, 22 April 1963 – 1 September 1967; appointed a Puisne Justice under Prime Minister King, 9 February 1940)
- Wishart Flett Spence (30 May 1963 – 29 December 1978)
- John Robert Cartwright (as Chief Justice, 1 September 1967 – 23 March 1970; appointed a Puisne Justice under Prime Minister St. Laurent, 22 December 1949)
- Louis-Philippe Pigeon (21 September 1967 – 8 February 1980)
After his 14 December 1967 announcement that he was retiring from politics, a leadership convention was held. Pearson's successor was Pierre Trudeau, whom Pearson had recruited and made justice minister in his cabinet. Two other cabinet ministers Pearson had recruited, John Turner and Jean Chrétien, served as prime ministers following Trudeau's retirement.
From 1968 to 1969, Pearson served as chairman of the Commission on International Development (the Pearson Commission), which was sponsored by the World Bank. Immediately following his retirement, he lectured in history and political science at Carleton University while writing his memoirs. From 1970 to 1972, he was the first chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Development Research Centre. From 1969 until his death in 1972, he was chancellor of Carleton University in Ottawa.
Illness and death
In 1970, Pearson underwent a surgery to have his right eye removed in order to remove a tumor in that area.
Pearson had planned at the time to write a three-volume set of memoirs, and had published Volume One by 1972. He had finished but a few chapters of Volume Two when, in November 1972, it was reported that he was admitted to the hospital for further unspecified treatment, but the prognosis was poor. He tried to write at this juncture the story of his prime ministerial career, but his condition, which was already precarious, deteriorated rapidly by Christmas Eve.
Honours and awards
|Order of Merit (OM)||
|Companion of the Order of Canada (CC)||
|Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)||
|British War Medal||
|Victory Medal (United Kingdom)||
|Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal|
|Centennial Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal|
- Elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1957.
- The Canadian Press named Pearson "Newsmaker of the Year" nine times, a record he held until his successor, Pierre Trudeau, surpassed it in 2000. He was also only one of two prime ministers to have received the honour both before and when prime minister (the other being Brian Mulroney).
- Pearson was inducted into the Canadian Peace Hall of Fame in 2000.
- The Pearson Medal of Peace, first awarded in 1979, is an award given out annually by the United Nations Association in Canada to recognize an individual Canadian's "contribution to international service".
- A plaque at the north end of the North American Life building in North York, placed by the Willowdale Federal Liberal Party Association commemorates the location where the manse in which Pearson was born previously stood. Another plaque, placed by the Ontario Heritage Trust, is on the grounds of Newtonbrook United Church, the successor congregation to the one that owned the manse.
- In a survey by Canadian historians of the first 20 Prime Ministers through Jean Chrétien, Pearson ranked No. 6.
- In a survey by Canadian historians of the Canadian prime ministers who served after World War II, Pearson was ranked first "by a landslide".
Order of Canada Citation
Former Prime Minister of Canada. For his services to Canada at home and abroad.
Educational and academic institutions
- Lester B. Pearson College, opened in 1974, is a United World College near Victoria, British Columbia.
- The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, established in 1994, is an independent not-for-profit institution providing research and training on all aspects of peace operations.
- The Lester B. Pearson School Board is the largest English-language school board in Quebec. The majority of the schools of the Lester B. Pearson School Board are located on the western half of the island of Montreal, while a few of its schools located off the island.
- Lester B. Pearson High School lists five so-named schools, in Burlington, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto.
- There are Lester B. Pearson elementary schools in Ajax, Ontario; Aurora, Ontario; Brampton, Ontario; London, Ontario; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Waterloo, Ontario and Wesleyville, Newfoundland.
- Mike's Place, the Graduate Student Pub at Carleton University was named in 1973 in honour of Lester B. Pearson with permission of his estate.
Civic and civil infrastructure
- Toronto Pearson International Airport, first opened in 1939 and re-christened with its current name in 1984, is Canada's busiest airport.
- The Lester B. Pearson Building, completed in 1973, is the headquarters for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, a tribute to his service as external affairs minister.
- Lester B. Pearson Civic Centre in Elliot Lake, Ontario was heavily damaged in February 2019.
- Lester B. Pearson Garden for Peace and Understanding, E.J. Pratt Library in the University of Toronto, completed in 2004 
- Lester B. Pearson Place, completed in 2006, is a four-storey affordable housing building in Newtonbrook, Toronto, near his place of birth, and adjacent to Newtonbrook United Church.
- Lester B. Pearson Park in St. Catharines, Ontario.
- Pearson Avenue is located near Highway 407 and Yonge Street in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada; less than five miles from his place of birth.
- Pearson Way is an arterial access road located in a new subdivision in Milton, Ontario; many ex-prime ministers are being honoured in this growing community, including Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau and Wilfrid Laurier.
- Pearson Plaza, a mall being developed in Elliot Lake to replace the Algo Centre Mall.
- Pearson Park, a playground built in 2013 in Wesleyville, Newfoundland.
- The award for the best National Hockey League player as voted by members of the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) was known as the Lester B. Pearson Award from its inception in 1971 to 2010, when its name was changed to the Ted Lindsay Award to honour one of the union's pioneers.
- Pearson was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame at the University of Toronto in 1987.
- Pearson was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
- The Pearson Cup was a baseball competition between the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos. Pearson also served as Expos' Honorary Club President from 1969–72.
- Honorary Degrees
- List of Prime Ministers of Canada
- Canada and the Vietnam War
- Great Canadian Flag Debate
- Landon Pearson
- Canada and the United Nations
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Strong exports to the United States resulting from the mounting demands of the war in Vietnam, combined with a booming domestic market, made 1966 a year of impressive economic growth for Canada.Also OCLC 19056858.
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