Sir Robert Laird
Borden (1854 – 1937)
He was born and educated in Grand Pre Nova
Scotia, an agricultural 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.
From 1869 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 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. His financial future guaranteed, on September 25, 1889, he
married Laura Bond (1863-1940), the daughter of a Halifax hardware
merchant. They would have no children. In 1894 he bought a large
property and home on the south side of Quinpool Road which the couple
called "Pinehurst". In 1893 Borden successfully argued the first of two
cases which he took to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He
represented many of the important Halifax businesses and sat on the
boards of Nova Scotian companies including the Bank of Nova Scotia and
the Crown Life Insurance Company. President of the Nova Scotia
Barristers' Society in 1896, he took the initiative in organizing the
founding meetings of the 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.
He was elected as a Member of Parliament for the Halifax riding in the
1896 federal election, the same election in which Laurier became PM.
Borden became leader of the Conservative opposition in 1901. He slowly
rebuilt the party, which had lost power and influence after the defeat
of Sir Charles Tupper in 1896. In the 1911 election, he swept to power,
campaigning against Sir Wilfrid Laurier's plan for free trade in natural
products with the United States. Borden and the Conservatives argued in
favour of Imperial preference which would use tariffs to diminish
imports from outside the British Empire.
As Prime Minister of Canada during the First World War, Borden
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. The unpopular conscription issue would likely have
meant defeat in the election of 1917, but Borden recruited members of
the Liberals (with the notable exception of 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
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. 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, and 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.
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
Convinced that Canada had become a nation on the battlefields of Europe,
Borden demanded that it have a separate seat at the Paris Peace
Conference. This was initially opposed not only by Britain but also by
the United States, who perceived such a delegation as an extra British
vote. Borden responded by pointing out that since Canada had lost more
men than the U.S. in the war, she at least had the right to the
representation of a "minor" power. British Prime Minister David Lloyd
George eventually relented, and convinced the reluctant Americans to
accept the presence of separate Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and
South African delegations. Not only did Borden's persistence allow him
to represent Canada in Paris as a nation, it also ensured that each of
the dominions could sign the Treaty of Versailles in its own right, and
receive a separate membership in the League of Nations. 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. That same year, Borden approved the use of troops to put
down the Winnipeg General Strike. It should also be remembered that
between 1914 and 1917, in response to xenophobia aimed at citizens of
the Austro-Hungarian empire arising out of the First World War, 8,579
Eastern Europeans were interned. This number included about 5,000
Ukrainian-Canadians, some of whom were born in Canada. A further 80,000
were registered, thereby losing basic civil rights. They were stripped
of the right to vote in 1917. Borden's government also nationalised the
Canadian Northern Railway and Grand Trunk Railway to create what would
become the Canadian National Railways.
Sir Robert Borden retired from office in 1920. He was the Chancellor of
Queen's University from 1924 to 1930, and stood as president of two
financial institutions. Borden died in Ottawa on June 10, 1937. He is
buried in the Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario.
Borden was the last Canadian Prime Minister born before Confederation.
Sir Robert Borden is depicted on the Canadian $100 bill.
Here Borden writes to Louis Simpson, Esq. at the Rideau Club in Ottawa,
likely a staunch Conservative Unionist who supported his views on
Imperial Union and Empire. A view that would be tempered by World War I
and Canada's growth into a world power recognized at the international
This is an extremely fine one sheet document on
batonne laid paper, signed "RL Borden"
as Prime Minister of Canada and measuring 8" wide and 10" tall (205mm x
260mm). Typewritten Letter in blue ribbon on Red Embossed Prime
Ministerial Seal Letterhead. Dated Ottawa December 6th, 1912. A
Fine example of Borden's Prime Minister signature while in Office.
by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd. .................................