On this date in 1891, two days after the passing of Sir John A. Macdonald, and with an entire nation in mourning, Wilfrid Laurier rose in the Commons. He then delivered what has become the most famous eulogy in Canadian political history.
“Sir John Macdonald now belongs to the ages,” Laurier told the hushed chamber, “and it can be said with certainty, that the career which has just been closed is one of the most remarkable careers of this century … As to his statesmanship, it is written in the history of Canada. It may be said without any exaggeration whatever, that the life of Sir John Macdonald, from the date he entered Parliament, is the history of Canada.”
Watching Laurier speak from the from the public galleries was a Nova Scotia lawyer destined, far in the future, to delivery his own eulogy to Laurier. Sir Robert Borden described watching Laurier’s Macdonald tribute decades later in his memoirs.
“I was in attendance at the Supreme Court of Canada when the tolling of all the church bells in the city announced the death of Sir John A. Macdonald,” Borden wrote. “The Supreme Court adjourned and there was practical cessation of business throughout the city. It was my good fortune to be in the House of Commons when Sir Hector Langevin and Sir Wilfrid Laurier paid their tributes to his memory.”
“I had heard Laurier when I was practicing in Kentville in 1881; he was there making a political tour of Nova Scotia with his leader, Edward Blake. Blake’s speech was cogent, but Laurier’s was eloquent and impressive,” Borden continued. “Thus, in 1891, I heard him for the second time and he rose to the full height of his splendid eloquence. On neither occasion had I even the faintest idea that in future years it should be my fate to enter the political arena against him.”
In 1927, as a former Prime Minister, Borden delivered a generous tribute to Laurier at the unveiling of the Parliament Hill statue of his former foe.