The Death of Wilfrid Laurier

world 1919-02-19 front page laurier cartoon ufo candidate wins north ontario riding

Toronto World, February 19, 1919.

“When the hour of final rest comes, when my eyes close forever, if I may pay myself this tribute, this simple tribute of having contributed to healing a single patriotic wound in the heart of a single one of my compatriots, of having thus advanced, as little as may be, the cause of unity, concord and harmony among the citizens of this country, then I will believe that my life has not been entirely in vain.”–Wilfrid Laurier, 1887.

On February 17, 1919, Toronto’s morning newspaper readers were informed that Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s health was declining following a series of strokes. Regardless of political affiliation, the early papers wished Laurier a speedy recovery.

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The Globe (Liberal-leaning paper), February 17, 1919.

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Mail and Empire (Conservative-leaning paper), February 17, 1919.

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Toronto World (“independent” Conservative leaning), February 17, 1919.

The most pessimistic was the Daily News, which declared “NO HOPE HELD OUT FOR THE RECOVERY OF LIBERAL CHIEF.” The paper’s early afternoon update indicated that as of noon, doctors gave the federal opposition leader two hours to live. Another story speculated on who might replace him as Liberal leader after 32 years in charge, leaning toward Saskatchewan premier William Martin thanks to his support of Robert Borden’s Union government, which might help him woo fellow Liberal Unionists back into the fold. Among the other possibilities, former Renfrew South MP George Graham “proved such a wobbler last election that his name does not arouse enthusiasm” while William Lyon Mackenzie King “although able, was never popular and does not appeal to the rank and file of the party.”

Yup, Mackenzie King will never lead the Liberal party.

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Toronto Daily News, February 17, 1919.

By the time the evening papers hit the streets of Toronto, Canada’s seventh prime minister (and then current leader of the opposition) was dead.

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Toronto Star, February 17, 1919.

Among the tidbits the Star included was a column listing 30 titles Laurier had held during his life, from the federal seats he represented to numerous honorary degrees.

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Toronto Star, February 17, 1919.

You may have noticed that the Telegram hasn’t been mentioned yet. Unless there was a special edition published which was not microfilm, the paper had very little to say. Given the rage the Tely had shown Laurier over the years, especially during the 1917 federal election, this isn’t surprising.

Over the next few days, there was little about Laurier’s passing in the Telegram. February 18’s front page editorial cartoon was about the League of Nations, while the following days returned to the usual gripes about local issues, politicians, and rival newspaper publishers. On the editorial page, Laurier isn’t mentioned until the fourth item, via a tribute which attacks his anti-conscription stance in 1917 by mentioning the sacrifices of those who died during the First World War. It was probably written by editor-in-chief “Black Jack” Robinson, one of the angriest, hyper-imperialist editorialists in Toronto history.

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Evening Telegram, February 18, 1919.

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The Globe, February 18, 1919.

If the Telegram attacked, then ignored, Laurier, the Globe praised his career with many pages of tributes. One article even praised his love of children.

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The Globe, February 18, 1919.

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Mail and Empire, February 18, 1919.

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Toronto Daily News, February 18, 1919.

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Toronto World, February 18, 1919.

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Toronto Star, February 18, 1919.

The Star published numerous tributes from local dignitaries ranging from Chief Justice of Ontario Sir William Meredith (“he possessed to a remarkable degree the confidence of a century”) to University of Toronto president Sir Robert Falconer (“his personality was most charming”).

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Toronto Star, February 18, 1919.

As with the passing of any major figure of the era, poems, such as this one by cartoonist J.W. Bengough.

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The Globe, February 21, 1919.

The final word goes to the Mail and Empire‘s “Flaneur,”  who brings up a term often used in association with Laurier: “the first Canadian.”

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Mail and Empire, February 22, 1919.

Additional material from Wilfrid Laurier by André Pratte (Toronto: Penguin, 2011).

 

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