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Robert Borden

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Robert Borden

The Right Honourable
Sir Robert Borden
8th Prime Minister of Canada
In office
October 10, 1911 – July 10, 1920
Monarch George V
Governor General Earl Grey
Duke of Connaught
Duke of Devonshire
Preceded by Wilfrid Laurier
Succeeded by Arthur Meighen
Personal details
Born June 26, 1854
Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia
Died June 10, 1937(1937-06-10) (aged 82)
Ottawa, Ontario
Resting place Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario
Political party Liberal
(1891-1917, 1922-1937)
Spouse(s) Laura Bond
(1889-1937, his death)
Religion Anglican

Sir Robert Laird Borden, 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 1
  • Lawyer 2
  • Conservative Party in opposition 3
  • Prime Minister (1911-1920) 4
    • First World War 4.1
    • Borden and the Treaty of Versailles 4.2
    • Post-war government 4.3
  • Post-political career 5
  • Family 6
  • Honours 7
  • Supreme Court appointments 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13

Early life and career

Robert Laird Borden was born and educated in Grand-Pré, 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 Sir Frederick Borden was a prominent Liberal politician.


William Orpen: Portrait of Sir Robert Laird Borden, Oil on canvas, 1919

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]

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, respectively. His financial future guaranteed, on September 25, 1889, he married 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 and Winston Churchill in 1912

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. He was defeated in his Halifax seat in the 1904 federal election and re-entered the House of Commons the next year via a by-election in Carleton. 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 fears of British Columbians that resented the increasing presence of cheap Asian labour and the resulting depression in wages.[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

Borden at a Victory Bonds campaign in Toronto, 1915

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.

Sir Robert Borden (right) at the official opening of No. 6 Canadian General Hospital, Joinville-le-Pont, France, July 1918

Sir Robert Borden pledged himself during the campaign to equal suffrage for women. With his return to power, he introduced a bill in 1918 for extending the franchise to women. This passed without division.

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 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 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

Laura, Lady Borden by William James Topley
Sir Robert and Lady Borden
Statue on Parliament Hill, Ottawa

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. Borden also served as Vice-President of The Champlain Society between 1923 and 1925. He was the Society's first Honorary President between 1925 and 1938. [8] Borden's successor Arthur Meighen was defeated by the new Liberal leader William Lyon Mackenzie King in the 1921 election. Nevertheless, Borden would go on to represent Canada once more on the international stage when he attended the Washington Naval Conference in 1922 and signed the resulting arms reduction treaty on Canada's behalf.

At the time of his death, Borden stood as president of two financial institutions: Barclays 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.[9]


Robert Laird Borden married Laura Bond, youngest daughter of the late T. H. Bond, September 1889. She served as president of the Local Council of Women of Halifax, until her resignation in 1901. She served as President of the Aberdeen Association, Vice-President of the Women's Work Exchange in Halifax, and Corresponding Secretary of the Associated Charities of the United States.[10] He is a distant relative of American accused murderer Lizzie Borden.[11]


  • Borden was the last Canadian Prime Minister to be knighted (in 1915) since, in deference to The Nickle Resolution, no others have been. However R.B. Bennett (prime minister from 1930–35) was created 1st Viscount Bennett after leaving office.
  • Sir Robert Borden is depicted on the Canadian $100 bill.
  • Sir Robert Borden was honoured by having two high schools named after him, in the Nepean part of Ottawa, and in the Scarborough section of Toronto.
  • 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.[12]
  • 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:

See also


  1. ^ Sir Robert Laird Borden at
  2. ^ a b Brown, Robert Craig (1979–2005). "Borden, Sir Robert Laird".  
  3. ^ "The Canadian Encyclopedia". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  4. ^ Last Steps to Freedom by John Boyko pg.46
  5. ^ MacMillan p.71
  6. ^ MacMillan p.107-14
  7. ^ MacMillan
  8. ^ The Champlain Society. "Former Officers of the Champlain Society (1905-2012)". 
  9. ^ Heritage Recording Services (December 20, 2010). "The Right Honourable Sir Robert Laird Borden". Former Prime Ministers and Their Grave Sites. Parks Canada. Retrieved May 25, 2013. 
  10. ^ Morgan, Henry James Types of Canadian women and of women who are or have been connected with Canada : (Toronto, 1903) [1]
  11. ^ "Special Feature: Lizzie Borden". Retrieved September 25, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Albany Gateway - Borden". Retrieved June 30, 2008. 


By Sir Robert
  • 1938: Borden, Robert (1938). Robert Laird Borden: his memoirs; edited and with an introduction by Henry Borden. 2 vols. (xxii, 1061 p) London: Macmillan
  • by Robert Borden at archive.orgCanadian Constitutional Studies
  • by Robert Borden at archive.orgComments on the Senate's rejection of the Naval Aid Bill
By others
  • Brown, Robert Craig (1975) Robert Laird Borden: a biography. 2 vols. v. 1. 1854-1914.--v. 2. 1914-1937. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, c1975-c1980. ISBN 0-7705-1317-4 (v. 1) ISBN 0-7705-1854-0 (v. 2) (the major scholarly biography)
  • Brown, Robert Craig, & Cook, Ramsay (1974). Canada: 1896-1921.
  • Granatstein, J. L. & Hillmer, Norman (1999). Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders. HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-200027-X; pp. 61–74.
  • MacMillan, Margaret (2003). Peacemakers: Six Months that Changed the World. London: John Murray (on the Paris Peace Conference of 1919)
  • Macquarrie, Heath. "Robert Borden and the Election of 1911." Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, 1959, Vol. 25 Issue 3, pp. 271–286 in JSTOR

Byzewski, Marty (2011). "Beechwood Cemetery Ottawa, Ontario, Canada". Clear Digital Media, Inc.. Archived from the original on November 23, 2011. Retrieved November 23, 2011.

Further reading

  • Borden, Robert (1971) Letters to Limbo. Toronto; Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press ISBN 0-8020-1839-4
  • Cook, Tim. Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King and Canada's World Wars (2012) 472pp excerpt and text search

External links

  • Comments on the Senate's rejection of the Naval Aid Bill
  • Historic plaque at Grand-Pré
  • Photograph:Robert L. Borden, 1905 - McCord Museum
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