What has Wilfie done for you?

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the seventh Prime
Minister of Canada, has many tributes to
him across the country; high schools, avenues
and electoral districts are all named
after him. Then there is Wilfrid Laurier
University.

The university was known before as Waterloo
Lutheran College until 1973 when it
adopted its current name. There was some
outcry over the choice because Sir Wilfrid
had no ties to Waterloo.

Even if the name seems a little random
from a historical perspective, it’s not a bad
name to have attached to one’s university.

Laurier will always be thought of as one
of Canada’s toughest prime ministers. Being
Canada’s prime minister at the turn of
the century is not an easy job because you
have so many people to please.

At the same time the United States was
looking up at every move and ready to
pounce; meanwhile Britain controlled the
slack of its former colony’s movement.

That was just external relations.

Inside was a melting pot of two cultures
looking for a rumble. It was French Canadians
versus English Canadians and Canada
needed a moderator.

It always needed a leader who could
bind so many ideals into one nationalist
concept. Looking back over 22 prime ministers,
not all were suited for the job but
Laurier does have his face on a five-dollar
bill for a reason.

His first test came in 1899 during the
Boer War in South Africa. It was Britain’s
fight and they assumed all colonies (former
and existing) would feel obliged to tag
along.

This sentiment was not exactly off-centre.
Many English-Canadians were raring
to go because they had recently immigrated
and their heart still beat for Queen Victoria;
but most French-Canadians wanted no
part of this.

Rather than give in to England’s request
for 500 conscripted soldiers, Laurier stood
his ground and announced that he would
send 1,000 volunteers.

Laurier’s next problem was Alaska. The
small piece of land was under dispute between
Canada and the United States because
it contained important waterways
for travel. Britain, the United States and
Canada all made up a panel that would
make a legal decision. In the end Britain
and the U.S. coerced, leaving Canada feeling
betrayed by Britain and alone in North
America.

Bruised but not broken, Laurier continued
to fight for Canada. He oversaw the induction
of Saskatchewan and Alberta into
confederation in 1905.

This solidified Canada’s borders with the
United States. He also progressed Canada’s
military independence by appointing Canadian
instead of British citizens to lead
Canuck armies.

If you look at his record it seems like
Laurier did not accomplish a lot of things.

He failed to get a piece of Alaska for
Canada and he failed to fulfill his dream of
a full-fledged Canadian navy, but the point
is that he was always there for Canada.

When Britain wanted Canadian resources
for their imperial conquests he did it on
Canada’s terms.

When Americans wanted access to Canada’s
waterways for the Great Lakes, Laurier
made his position known.

Laurier was one of Canada’s greatest
ambassadors to the world because he was a
good negotiator.

Canada’s struggle has been external relations,
whether it was trying to get Britain
to loosen its iron fist or dealing with inferiority
complex with the U.S. head on.

Laurier took the first step towards a solution
by creating a Department of Public
Affairs. He knew the importance of a
strong country on the inside, projecting a
strong image to the rest of the world.

In one of his speeches Laurier said: “Two
races share today the soil of Canada. These
people had not always been friends. But
I hasten to say it. There is no longer any
family here but the human family. It matters
not the language people speak, or the
altars at which they kneel.”

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