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The life and times of sir mackenzie bowell

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Such is the nature of governing Canada. The Manitoba Schools Question was one of the most divisive issues in Canadian history, pitting Catholics against Protestants, English against French, West against East, provincial government against federal, Liberals against Conservatives, church against state.

  1. Quebec staunchly supported Roman Catholic rights, Manitoba defied the federal government to interfere with its laws and Protestant Ontario supported Manitoba. In the midst of his political upheaval, Bowell received a big slice of good news.
  2. Moreover, it was difficult to hold him to a point of policy because he had not sufficiently possessed himself of it in the first place or, if he had, he had forgotten. During this time he led a trade mission to Australia and organized a colonial conference.
  3. That tolerance was born of political necessity. The Australian adventure had been a great fillip to his self-esteem.

Since each of these groups overlapped the other, the shifting loyalties of all involved in the Manitoba Schools Question created a quagmire in which Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell floundered. He bears the unfortunate stigma of being the only prime minister in Canadian history who was forced to resign by his Cabinet.

Mackenzie Bowell was born in Rickinghall, England in 1823 and emigrated with his family in 1832. The Bowells settled in Belleville and young Mackenzie apprenticed with the printer of the local newspaper, The Intelligencer. By 1848, Bowell had become the newspaper's owner and editor, with a brief interlude for schooling at Sydney Normal School in Hastings County.

In 1858, Bowell joined the Belleville Rifle Company, a militia company of 65 men and served with them, guarding the border of Upper Canada during the American Civil War. At the age of nineteen, Bowell joined the Orange order, a Protestant fraternal society, of which he eventually became Grand Master for British North America in 1870.

  • Furthermore, Daly pointed out, if Bowell did not have a government the governor general would soon have to find another one;
  • Young Mackenzie was eight years of age;
  • Since each of these groups overlapped the other, the shifting loyalties of all involved in the Manitoba Schools Question created a quagmire in which Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell floundered;
  • Young Mackenzie was eight years of age.

Nevertheless, his association with extreme Protestantism did not always colour Bowell's politics. In 1863, he ran as a Conservative in Hastings County.

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The Liberals were campaigning against Roman Catholic rights, a position Bowell refused to take, and he subsequently lost the election. He won in 1867 and held his House of Commons seat in 1874, when the Conservatives lost as a result of the Pacific Scandal. In 1878, Bowell became Minister of Customs, charged with imposing the protective tariffs of the new National Policy. During this time he led a trade mission to Australia and organized a colonial conference. By all accounts, Bowell served well in his ministerial duties, but with his elevation to prime minister upon the death of John Thompson, he was promoted beyond his level of competence.

Certainly, the Manitoba Schools Question was more than he could handle. A system of Protestant and Catholic Schools had been established in Manitoba upon its creation as a province in 1870, based on a provision in the BNA Act ensuring minority education rights. In 1890, the Manitoba government abolished public funding for Catholic schools.

The law was challenged and overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada, and the decision was reversed again by the Privy Council in England. By 1895, passions in Canada were inflamed over the issue and parliament had to decide whether or not to override Manitoba's law. Quebec staunchly supported Roman Catholic rights, Manitoba defied the federal government to interfere with its laws and Protestant Ontario supported Manitoba.

These divisions prevailed within Bowell's Cabinet, making decisions impossible. As a Senator, Bowell was further hindered because he could not take part in House of Commons debates, and had no reliable minister to represent him there. The day-to-day business of government ground to a halt. Despite his own religious beliefs, Bowell supported legislation drafted in June 1895 to force Manitoba to reinstate Catholic schools, acknowledging their rights under the BNA Act.

However, opposition within Cabinet and his own indecisiveness caused him to postpone the issue for six months.

  1. At his 90th birthday in 1913 he was still going to his office at the newspaper, still inordinately vain, proud, for example, at people not guessing his age.
  2. Later moving into apprenticeship, Bowell climbed the company ladder to become writer, editor and then partner with his brother-in-law in 1848.
  3. Hidden rifts in the Conservative party appeared.

By January 1896, the Cabinet felt Bowell was not competent to lead. Seven ministers resigned in order to force the prime minister to step down. They prevented Bowell from appointing replacements and a government crisis ensued.

Ten days later, the situation appeared resolved when six ministers were reinstated and Charles Tupper joined the Cabinet.

Sir Mackenzie Bowell

The Governor General had intervened on Bowell's behalf, but Tupper assumed virtual control of the party. At the end of the session, Bowell resigned in favour of Tupper. Despite his ignominious defeat as prime minister, Bowell remained a Senator, serving as the Senate Leader of the Opposition after the Conservatives lost the 1896 election.

He continued in this position until 1906 and remained in the Senate until his death in 1917. National Archives of Canada, [1994].