This week in Canadian History – January Week 1

W.L. Mackenzie King.
W.L. Mackenzie King. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Prime Minister Mackenzie King of Canada
Prime Minister Mackenzie King of Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I am incapable of moderating the spirit of party — I am hot and fiery and age has not yet tempered as much as I could wish my political conduct and opinions.”

– W. L. Mackenzie, 1835

Anyone can make good in Canada regardless of his background. Take William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was prime minister for most of the years between 1921 and 1948, longer than any other leader in the British Commonwealth. Yet his grandfather, William Lyon Mackenzie, probably caused more trouble than any other man in the history of the country.

Like Joseph Howe (see ), Mackenzie was reformer and newspaper editor. In his paper, the Colonial Advocate, he kept bombarding the governor and his advisers with criticisms. He made the ruling classes so angry that a group from the “best families” raided his office, and threw his type (pieces of metal with raised surfaces used in letterpress printing) into Toronto Bay. Mackenzie sued them and used the $3,000 he received in damages to pay off his debts and make a fresh start.

The raid helped him more than financially, though. In 1828 he was elected to the Upper Canada Assembly as one of two members for York. During his parliamentary career he was expelled five times, but was always re-elected! On January 2, 1832, he won a by-election by 119 votes to 1 and was presented with a gold medal. In 1835, the year after York was renamed Toronto, Mackenzie became its first mayor .

Gradually Mackenzie’s emotions overcame his commonsense, and in 1837 he led an armed revolt against the government of Upper Canada. It was a easily crushed, and he fled to the United States. He established a base on Navy Island above Niagara Falls, proclaimed a provisional government, and even attacked a military establishment at Chippawa. Canadian militia led by Allan MacNab, who later became prime minister, set his supply ship Caroline on fire and sent it over the falls. One American was killed in the fighting.

This caused so much indignation that war almost broke between Britain and the United States. Cooler heads prevailed, and Mackenzie was put in jail for a while. Soon after, he was allowed to return to Canada.

William Lyon Mackenzie King, his grandson, was always proud of his rebel ancestor.

To read more about today’s post, I suggest visiting the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and the 123 Help Me (great new site I just found), and finally the Windsor’s Scottish Heritage.

If you prefer to hold an old-fashioned book, I suggest William Lyon Mackenzie King, and William Lyon Mackenzie King, as well as King: William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny.


  1. I love this quote: “I am hot and fiery and age has not yet tempered as much as I could wish my political conduct and opinions.” Talk about standing by your convictions! Happy New Year!


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