Sir Robert Laird Borden, Prime Minister of Canada

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Robert Laird Borden, Prime Minister of Canada

Birthplace: Grand Pré, Kings County, Nova Scotia, Canada
Death: June 10, 1937 (82)
Ottawa, Ottawa Division, Ontario, Canada
Place of Burial: Ottawa, Ottawa Division, Ontario, Canada
Immediate Family:

Son of Andrew Borden and Eunice Jane Borden
Husband of Lady Laura Borden (Bond)
Half brother of sophia amelia maclatchy

Managed by: Private User
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About Sir Robert Laird Borden, Prime Minister of Canada

Sir Robert Laird Borden, PC, GCMG, KC (June 26, 1854 – June 10, 1937) was a Canadian lawyer and politician. He served as the eighth Prime Minister of Canada from October 10, 1911 to July 10, 1920, and was the third Nova Scotian to hold this office. After retiring from public life, he served as the chancellor of Queen's University.

Early life and career

Robert Laird Borden was born and educated in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, a farming community at the eastern end of the Annapolis Valley, where his great-grandfather Perry Borden, Sr. of Tiverton, Rhode Island had taken up Acadian land in 1760. Perry had accompanied his father, Samuel Borden, the chief surveyor chosen by the government of Massachusetts to survey the former Acadian land and draw up new lots for the Planters in Nova Scotia. Robert Borden was the last Canadian Prime Minister born before Confederation. Borden's father Andrew Borden was judged by his son to be "a man of good ability and excellent judgement", of a "calm, contemplative and philosophical" turn of mind, but "He lacked energy and had no great aptitude for affairs". His mother Eunice Jane Laird was more driven, possessing "very strong character, remarkable energy, high ambition and unusual ability". Her ambition was transmitted to her first-born child who applied himself to his studies while assisting his parents with the farm work he found so disagreeable. His cousin was Sir Frederick Borden a prominent Liberal politician.

From 1868 to 1874, he worked as a teacher in Grand Pré and Matawan, New Jersey. Seeing no future in teaching, he returned to Nova Scotia in 1874 to article for four years at a Halifax law firm (without a formal university education) and was called to the Nova Scotia Bar in August 1878, placing first in the bar examinations. Borden went to Kentville, Nova Scotia as the junior partner of the Conservative lawyer John P. Chipman. In 1880 he was inducted into the Freemasons - (St Andrew's lodge #1)[1] and in 1882 he was asked by Wallace Graham to move to Halifax and join the Conservative law firm headed by Graham and Charles Hibbert Tupper. Borden became the senior partner in fall 1889 when he was only 35 following the departure of Graham and Tupper for the bench and politics. His financial future guaranteed, on September 25, 1889, he married Laura Bond (1863–1940), the daughter of a Halifax hardware merchant. They would have no children (Borden does have descendants, namely Jean Borden and her son Robert Borden II). In 1894 he bought a large property and home on the south side of Quinpool Road which the couple called "Pinehurst". In 1893 Borden successfully argued the first of two cases which he took to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He represented many of the important Halifax businesses and sat on the boards of Nova Scotian companies including the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Crown Life Insurance Company. President of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society in 1896, he took the initiative in organizing the founding meetings of the Canadian Bar Association in 1896 in Montreal. By the time he was prevailed upon to enter politics, Borden had what some judged to be the largest legal practice in the Maritime Provinces, and had become a wealthy man.

Conservative Party in opposition

Borden was a Liberal until he broke with the party in 1891 over the issue of Reciprocity.

He was elected to Parliament in the 1896 federal election as a Conservative and in 1901 was selected by the Conservative caucus to succeed Sir Charles Tupper as leader of the Conservative Party. Over the next decade he worked to rebuild the party and establish a reform policy, the Halifax Platform of 1907 which he described as "the most advanced and progressive policy ever put forward in Federal affairs". It called for reform of the Senate and the civil service, a more selective immigration policy, free rural mail delivery, and government regulation of telegraphs, telephones, and railways and eventually national ownership of telegraphs and telephones. Despite his efforts, his party lost the 1908 federal election to Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals.[2][3] His party's fortunes turned around in the 1911 federal election, however, when the Conservatives successfully campaigned against Laurier's proposals for a Reciprocity (free trade) agreement with the United States. Borden countered with a revised version of John A. Macdonald's National Policy and appeals of loyalty to the British Empire and ran on the slogan "Canadianism or Continentalism".[2] In British Columbia, the party ran on the slogan "A White Canada," playing to the racist fears of white British Columbians that resented the increasing presence of Asian immigrants.[4] In Quebec, concurrently, Henri Bourassa led a campaign against what he saw as Laurier's capitulation to British imperialism, playing a part in the defeat of Laurier's government and the election of Borden's Tories.

Prime Minister 1911-1920

First World War

As Prime Minister of Canada during the First World War, he transformed his government to a wartime administration, passing the War Measures Act in 1914. Borden committed Canada to provide half a million soldiers for the war effort. However, volunteers had quickly dried up when Canadians realized there would be no quick end to the war. Borden's determination to meet that huge commitment led to the Military Service Act and the Conscription Crisis of 1917, which split the country on linguistic lines. In 1917 Borden recruited members of the Liberals (with the notable exception of leader Wilfrid Laurier) to create a Unionist government. The 1917 election saw the "Government" candidates (including a number of Liberal-Unionists) crush the Opposition "Laurier Liberals" in English Canada resulting in a large parliamentary majority for Borden.

The war effort also enabled Canada to assert itself as an independent power. Borden wanted to create a single Canadian army, rather than have Canadian soldiers split up and assigned to British divisions as had happened during the Boer War. Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia, generally ensured that Canadians were well-trained and prepared to fight in their own divisions, although with mixed results such as the Ross Rifle. Arthur Currie provided sensible leadership for the Canadian divisions in Europe, although they were still under overall British command. Nevertheless Canadian troops proved themselves to be among the best in the world, fighting at the Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele, and especially at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

During Borden's first term as prime minister, the National Research Council of Canada was established in 1916.

Borden and the Treaty of Versailles

In world affairs, Borden played a crucial role in transforming the British Empire into a partnership of equal states, the Commonwealth of Nations, a term that was first discussed at an Imperial Conference in London during the war. Borden also introduced the first Canadian income tax, which at the time was meant to be temporary, but was never repealed.

Convinced that Canada had become a nation on the battlefields of Europe, Borden demanded that it have a separate seat at the Paris Peace Conference. This was initially opposed not only by Britain but also by the United States, who perceived such a delegation as an extra British vote. Borden responded by pointing out that since Canada had lost more men than the U.S. in the war, she at least had the right to the representation of a "minor" power. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George eventually relented, and convinced the reluctant Americans to accept the presence of separate Canadian, Indian, Australian, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South African delegations. Despite this, Borden boycotted the opening ceremony, protesting at the precedence given to the prime minister of the much smaller Newfoundland over him.[5]

Not only did Borden's persistence allow him to represent Canada in Paris as a nation, it also ensured that each of the dominions could sign the Treaty of Versailles in its own right, and receive a separate membership in the League of Nations. During the conference Borden tried to act as an intermediary between the United States and other members of the British Empire delegation, particularly Australia and New Zealand over the issue of Mandates.[6] Borden also discussed with Lloyd George, the possibility of Canada taking over the administration of Belize and the West Indies, but no agreement was reached.

At Borden's insistence, the treaty was ratified by the Canadian Parliament. Borden was the last prime minister to be knighted after the House of Commons indicated its desire for the discontinuation of the granting of any future titles to Canadians in 1919 with the adoption of the Nickle Resolution.

Post-war government

That same year, Borden approved the use of troops to put down the Winnipeg General Strike, which was feared to be the result of Bolshevik agitation from the Soviet Union.[7]

Post-political career

Sir Robert Borden retired from office in 1920. He was the Chancellor of Queen's University from 1924 to 1930 and also was Chancellor of McGill University from 1918 to 1920 while still Prime Minister. At his death he stood as president of two financial institutions Barclay's Bank of Canada and the Crown Life Insurance Company. Borden died on June 10, 1937 in Ottawa and is buried in the Beechwood Cemetery marked by a simple stone cross.[8]


Borden was the last Canadian Prime Minister to be knighted (in 1915) since, due to The Nickle Resolution, no others have been.

Sir Robert Borden is depicted on the Canadian $100 bill.

Sir Robert Borden was honoured by having a high school named after him in the Nepean part of Ottawa & Scarborough, Ontario

Sir Robert Borden was also honoured by having a junior high school named after him in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

The town of Borden, Saskatchewan was named after him.

The town of Borden in Western Australia was named after him.

In their book Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders, J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer include the results of a survey of Canadian historians regarding all the Prime Ministers through Jean Chrétien. Borden was ranked #7.

Supreme Court appointments

Borden chose the following jurists to sit as justices of the Supreme Court of Canada:

Sir Louis Henry Davies (as Chief Justice, November 23, 1918 – May 1, 1924; appointed a Puisne Justice under Prime Minister Laurier, September 25, 1901)

Pierre-Basile Mignault (October 25, 1918 – September 30, 1929)

Former Prime Minister

Robert Laird Borden was the 8th Prime Minister of Canada. He was the first Canadian Prime Minister to attend a British cabinet meeting.

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Sir Robert Laird Borden, Prime Minister of Canada's Timeline

July 26, 1854
Grand Pré, Kings County, Nova Scotia, Canada
June 10, 1937
Age 82
Ottawa, Ottawa Division, Ontario, Canada
Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ottawa Division, Ontario, Canada