Lester B. Pearson Biography

Lester Bowles Pearson, the 14th Prime Minister of Canada, was a remarkable individual who excelled in various roles such as professor, historian, civil servant, statesman, diplomat, and politician. Despite being discharged early from his services in World War I due to an accident, Pearson went on to lead two consecutive Liberal minority governments. His contributions to international peace and cooperation were recognized when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts in resolving the Suez Canal Crisis through the establishment of the United Nations Emergency Force. Pearson’s commitment to international collaboration was further demonstrated by his instrumental role in the establishment of NATO. As Prime Minister, he implemented significant social reforms, including the introduction of universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Order of Canada. Pearson’s dedication to promoting bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada was evident through his convening of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. Additionally, he played a crucial role in keeping Canada out of the Vietnam War and virtually abolishing capital punishment through the passing of Bill C-168. Pearson’s unwavering commitment to his country’s interests and his bold approach to foreign policy solidify his status as one of the most influential Canadians of the 20th century.

Quick Facts

  • Canadian Celebrities Born In April
  • Also Known As: Lester Bowles Pearson
  • Died At Age: 75
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Maryon Pearson
    • Father: Edwin Arthur Pearson
    • Mother: Annie Sarah
    • Siblings: Marmaduke Pearson, Vaughan Whitier Pearson
    • Children: Geoffrey Pearson
  • Born Country: Canada
  • Prime Ministers
  • Political Leaders
  • Died on: December 27, 1972
  • Place of death: Ottawa, Canada
  • Notable Alumni: Victoria College, University Of Toronto, St John’s College, Oxford
  • Cause of Death: Liver Cancer
  • City: Toronto, Canada
  • More Facts
  • Education: St John’s College, Oxford, Victoria College, University Of Toronto
  • Awards: 1957 – Nobel Peace Prize

Childhood & Early Life

Lester B. Pearson was born on 23 April 1897, in the town of Newtonbrook, Ontario, to Annie Sarah and Edwin Arthur Pearson, a Methodist minister. He was the brother of Vaughan Whitier Pearson and Marmaduke Pearson. Pearson graduated from Hamilton Collegiate Institute in 1913 and entered Victoria College at the University of Toronto. He was elected to the Pi Gamma Mu for his outstanding scholastic performance in history and sociology. He won a scholarship to study at St John’s College, Oxford where he excelled in ice hockey, baseball, and lacrosse. His ability to play baseball enabled him to play semipro with the Ontario Intercounty Baseball League.


When World War I broke out in 1914, Pearson volunteered for service with the University of Toronto Hospital Unit, entered the Canadian Army Medical Corps, and spent two years in Egypt and Greece. Transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, he survived a plane crash during his training maiden flight. In 1918, he was hit by a bus in London during a blackout and was discharged from service. He received his B.A from the University of Toronto in 1919 and joined the Delta Upsilon Fraternity. He then spent a year working in Hamilton and Chicago in the meat-packing industry. With a Massey Foundation scholarship, he studied at Oxford’s St John’s College and completed his M.A. in 1925. He taught history at Toronto University and coached the Varsity Blues Canadian football and ice hockey teams. Topping the Canadian Foreign Service entry exam, he was assigned, from 1939 to 1942, as the second-in-command at Canada House, London, where he coordinated military supply and refugee problems. He was posted to the Canadian Embassy in Washington. As the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S from 1945 to 1946, he played a significant part in establishing the United Nations and NATO. In 1948, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent appointed him Secretary of State for External Affairs in the Liberal government. He won a seat in the Canadian House of Commons representing Algoma East, northern Ontario. Pearson was elected leader of the Liberal Party at its leadership convention of 1958 after stepping down as party leader. Pearson’s party was badly routed in the federal election which he had asked for. Following the federal election of 1962, the Tories formed a minority government. Their indecision on accepting American nuclear warheads on Canadian BOMARC missiles and subsequent non-confidence motions on the issue forced a national election. The Liberals came up five seats short of a majority. With the support of the New Democratic Party, Pearson formed a minority government and became the Prime Minister in 1963. Pearson signed the Canada-United States Automotive Agreement in 1965, which benefitted Canadian workers and consumers by lowering prices and increasing production, creating thousands of jobs and resulting in higher wages. While in office, he declined U.S. requests to send Canadian combat troops into the Vietnam War. On a visit to the U.S, he called for the cessation of American bombing of Vietnam, thereby offending President Johnson. In 1967, he introduced a discrimination-free points-based system which encouraged immigration to Canada, a forerunner of the system still in place today, and also oversaw Canada’s centennial celebrations before retiring. In 1967, the French President, Charles de Gaulle, visited Quebec and delivered his famous “Vive le Québec libre!” An enraged Pearson made it clear that de Gaulle was no longer welcome in Canada. He retired as Prime Minister in 1968. Post-retirement, he chaired the Commission on International Development. From 1970 to 1972, he chaired the Board of Governors of the International Development Research Centre. He lectured and eventually became the Chancellor of Carleton University.

Major Works

Despite heading a minority government, Pearson initiated major social programs, including universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, Canada Student Loans, a 40-hour work week, and a new minimum wage. He set up the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1967 and the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. This helped in creating legal equality for women and brought official bilingualism into being.

Awards & Achievements

In 1957, for his role in resolving the Suez Crisis, Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He created The United Nations Emergency Force, which is considered the father of the modern concept of peacekeeping. He was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada and inducted into the Canadian Peace Hall of Fame in 2000. He was the recipient of Honorary Degrees from 48 Universities.

Personal Life & Legacy

Pearson married Maryon Moody in 1925. They had two children, a daughter named Patricia and a son named Geoffrey. He died due to cancer on 27 December 1972 in Ottawa.


An award instituted in Lester B. Pearson’s honor is given to the National Hockey League’s most outstanding player in the regular season. This peace-loving Canadian Prime Minister once said, “The grim fact is that we prepare for war like precocious giants, and for peace like retarded pygmies”.

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