By Terry Reardon
Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. William Lyon Mackenzie King. While the two were certainly very different, there were many similarities.
Both were Sagittarians. Churchill was born on 30 November 1874 at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. King was born just seventeen days later in Berlin, Ontario which was renamed "Kitchener" in 1914.
Both had famous ancestors; Winston's father, Lord Randolph Churchill, became Leader of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer; and their 18th century forebear was John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough. King's Grandfather, William Lyon Mackenzie, was the first mayor of Toronto in 1834; he led the 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada and went into exile in the United States until amnesty was granted him in 1849; in the 18th century two of William Lyon Mackenzie's great grandfathers fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden.
In politics, Churchill strove to follow his father's footsteps into Parliament. King first became interested in politics at the age of seven, when he heard Canada's First Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, speak during the 1882 election campaign: " Sir John A. was presented with some flowers by a pretty young lady whom he thanked with an embrace. I could do nothing but envy him and decided then that politics had its rewards."
While Churchill's academic achievements were modest, King's were impressive. He entered the University of Toronto in 1891 at the age of sixteen and graduated four years later with first class honours. He then attended the University of Chicago and Harvard on fellowships. In 1899 Harvard offered him a year of study abroad and he left for the London School of Economics and Political Science.
In 1900, while still in Europe, King accepted a position in Ottawa as editor of the Government Labour Gazette in Canada's new Department of Labour and within a few months had advanced to the rank of Deputy Minister of Labour. The job had come about from King's earlier activities against sweated workshops and child labour. Churchill, as President of the Board of Trade and Home Secretary in 1908-11, brought in many parallel reforms, including a maximum work day for miners, free medical care for children, and unemployment insurance.
King's conciliatory talents were soon employed and in the next eighteen months he brought to peaceful settlements eleven out of the fifteen strikes in which he was asked to intervene. Congruently, Churchill as Home Secretary worked to resolve strike actions, though he was misrepresented for certain of his efforts (see "Leading Churchill Myths," FH 128).