Sir Wilfrid Laurier was elected leader of the Liberal party on June 7, 1887. The Liberals were then in opposition, but in 1896, Laurier won a general election by opposing the Roman Catholic church, of which he was a devout member, over its Manitoba separate schools question.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier remained prime minister until 1911. Although he never again became Prime Minister, he was always a power until his death in 1919. Years after that, there were said to be French-speaking Canadians in the backwoods who believed that Sir Wilfrid was still at the helm!
Laurier’s ancestors came to Canada with Maisonneuve. He was born in humble circumstances (the family home at St. Lin, near Montreal, is now a museum), but his father helped him get an astonishing education. He sent him to school in the village of New Glasgow, a nearby Scottish settlement, where he studied with English-speaking pupils and lived with a Presbyterian family. After L’Assomption he joined a law firm in Montreal, and at the same time took night courses at McGill University.
During this time, young Laurier was making a name for himself as a debater. On one occasion he argued that Huguenots (French Protestants) should have been admitted to early Canada, which led the priests to close the debating society!
He was only thirty years old when he was elected a member of the Quebec Legislature, and three years later he entered the House of Commons in Ottawa.
One of the first important functions Wilfrid Laurier attended after becoming prime minister in 1896 was Queen Victoria‘s Diamond Jubilee and the Colonial Conference in London. His charming personality and beautiful flow of language, in both French and English, won the hearts of everyone. There is a delightful story of how Queen Victoria is said to have tricked him receiving a knighthood, and he returned to Canada as “Sir Wilfrid.”
Do you want to read more about Sir Wilfrid? Well, a few places to look are Encyclopedia.com, and there is a lot at the Canadian Encyclopedia. I also highly suggest going to Library and Archives Canada – the search result for Sir Wilfrid; when you go there, be sure to also scroll down the page, as it’s not obvious that there’s more to be found.