Wilfrid Laurier (1841 – 1919)

Canada’s first francophone prime minister

The descriptor above could probably in and of itself qualify Wilfrid Laurier, BCL 1866, for the title of Greatest McGillian. But he was also a man who made great strides toward unifying Canadians of different stripes – French and English, Catholic and Protestant – during a period when many emotional debates split the country. He also started to establish Canada as a major presence on the world scene. He served as prime minister from 1896 to 1911, the longest unbroken term of office of any prime minister, and all in all served for 45 years in the House of Commons. The 15 years of Laurier's government were marked by unprecedented growth and prosperity. Immigration expanded, especially in the West, leading to the creation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. He also established the Departments of Labour and External Affairs; began two new transcontinental railways; and was an early advocate of free trade with the United States. He is the Greatest McGillian because he went on to become one of the formative influences on Canada’s development in the 20th century.