One of Wakefield’s most famous residents is former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Pearson is buried on the top of the hill behind the historic Wakefield Mill in Maclaren’s Cemetery, established in the 1870s as the resting place for Scottish settlers in the area. The view of the Gatineau hills and river are breathtaking and it is easy to see why Pearson chose this beautiful location to spend eternity.
Lester Bowles “Mike” Pearson, was Canada’s 14th Prime Minister serving from April 1963 to April 1968. He was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1897. He died in 1972 and chose Wakefield, Quebec as his final resting grounds. He had spent many years in the area and fell in love with the beauty. Many consider him our greatest Prime Minister and when one looks at the contributions to the development of the modern Canadian nation state it would be hard to cite another as more influential.
Under Pearson’s Liberal government, the following were introduced: the current Canadian flag (maple leaf), universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada and abolishment of capital punishment. Lester B. Pearson won Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his diplomatic efforts in the Suez Canal crisis. He also initiated the Royal Commission on Biculturalism and Bilingualism and the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. These two groundbreaking commissions changed the political landscape in Canada highlighting large groups of disenfranchised citizens and how to remedy the system.
Pearson was the last unilingual Prime Minister and French became an official language of Canada as a result of the Commission’s findings. Some other important recommendations of the report included: Ontario and New Brunswick become officially bilingual, Ottawa become a bilingual city, English and French be declared official languages of Canada, that bilingual districts be created in regions of Canada where members of the minority community, either French or English, made up 10% or more of the local population and that parents be able to have their children attend schools in the language of their choice in regions where there is sufficient demand. These changes helped bring French speaking Canadians language and culture into the mainstream and reflective of the reality of our nation.
The recommendations that came from the Commission on the status of women were equally important. There were over 167 recommendations that were a result including day care, equal pay for equal work, representation in the government, and birth control. These recommendations became huge strides forward in Canadian law to help women achieve a more equal status in the workforce and the nation.
Pearson is a good choice to live on the hills overlooking Wakefield. He helped bring Quebec and its French speaking majority the recognition and respect it accorded. And even though he was born a Toronto boy, he chose to become a citizen of Wakefield for all time.