Nov. 10, 1845 Halifax Halifax County Nova Scotia, Canada
Dec. 12, 1894 Windsor Windsor and Maidenhead Royal Borough Berkshire, England
4th Prime Minister of Canada. He served in this capacity from December 1892 until his death in December 1894. He was the first Roman Catholic to serve as Prime Minister. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he studied law and was called to the Nova Scotia Bar in July 1865, and from 1878 to 1882 served as Attorney General in the provincial government of Simon H. Holmes. In 1882 he briefly held the office of Nova Scotia premier, but his government was defeated in that year's election. He was then appointed to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia by the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald. In this role, he was instrumental in founding the Dalhousie Law School in 1883 and taught law courses there in its early years. He was a reluctant politician, and after several failed overtures, Prime Minister Macdonald finally recruited him as Canada's Minister of Justice in September 1885 and subsequently won a seat in Parliament the following month, representing the town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. At that time, the Riel crisis (a rebellion, also known as the North-West Rebellion in modern-day Canadian province of Saskatchewan, led by Louis Riel in support of the Meits people) was in full swing. The question of what to do with Riel, who had been captured, tried, and sentenced to hang for his part in leading the rebellion, was now the responsibility of Thompson. Although he was ill with kidney stones at the time of Riel's execution, he made his first major speech to Parliament during the subsequent debate, arguing that anyone who encouraged aboriginal Canadians to act against the state could not escape justice. This speech was notable and he gained popularity, quickly rising to become a leading member of the Conservative government. His major achievement as Minister of Justice was the establishment of the first Criminal Code of Canada. When Prime Minister Macdonald fell ill, he was the last minister to see him before the Prime Minister's devastating stroke in May 1891. Following Macdonald's death a week later, a cabinet crisis arose. Governor General Lord Stanley of Preston finally called on Thompson to form a government but he declined. Religious prejudice against the Roman Catholic Thompson, having converted at the time of his marriage to Annie Affleck in 1870, made this course of action politically untenable, and he recommended John Abbott, who ultimately accepted. He assumed office of Prime Minister in December 1892 when Abbott retired due to health issues. He came very close to bringing Newfoundland into Confederation, but this would not be achieved until 1949. In March 1893 he travelled to Paris, France as one of the judges on the tribunal to settle the Canada-US dispute over the seal harvest in the Bering Sea. The result was a victory for Thompson as the tribunal ruled there was no justification for the US claim that the Bering Sea was closed to all but American seal hunters. Other issues during his tenure as Prime Minister included the reduction of trade tariffs and questions over schooling in Manitoba and in the North West Territories, where disputes over the role of Catholics and Protestants in administering the school system existed. Ultimately, the North West school problem was resolved to his satisfaction, but he would not live to see a similar resolution to the Manitoba matter. In December 1894 he travelled to England and while at Windsor Castle in Berkshire, England, Queen Victoria knighted him and made him a member of the Privy Council. Shortly after the ceremony, he died suddenly from a heart attack at Windsor Castle at the age of 49. (bio by: William Bjornstad)
Photos may be scaled. Click on image for full size.
Thank you for your dedicated political service to Canada. May you rest in peace. -
William Bjornstad Added: Sep. 15, 2013
There has been some speculation that if you had had better health and a longer span as Prime Minister you would be among the great ones. You were the first Roman Catholic Canadian Prime Minister, and in your two years showed a good grasp on policy balanc...(Read more) -
J.B. Added: Jan. 14, 2013