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Canadian History for Kids: Dief and Mike

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One and Canadian History for Kids have assembled 31 remarkable stories about incredible people, places and events which helped shape our amazing nation.

There are many significant stories to be told about the ‘war to end all wars’. Two of those individual stories involve political rivals and future Prime Ministers of Canada, John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson.

Former Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lester B. Pearson, served during the First World War in both the Canadian Army Medical and the Royal Flying Corps.

In 1917, Pearson transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, since the Royal Canadian Air Force did not exist at that time, where he served as a flying officer until being sent home with injuries from two accidents. Pearson learned to fly at an air training school in Hendon, England. He survived an aeroplane crash during his first flight.

In 1918, Pearson was hit by a bus in London during a citywide blackout and he was sent home to recuperate, but then he was discharged from the service. It was as a pilot that he received the nickname of “Mike”, given to him by a flight instructor who felt that “Lester” was too mild a name for an airman. Thereafter, Pearson would use the name “Lester” on official documents and in public life, but was always addressed as “Mike” by friends and family.

After the War, Pearson continued with his academic studies and in the 1920s lectured in history at the University of Toronto. In the late 1920s, Pearson started what was to be a long and productive career in the Department of External Affairs. In the late 1950s, he became the leader of the Liberal Party and succeeded John Diefenbaker to become the fourteenth Prime Minister of Canada. Two notable achievements of Pearson’s government were the introduction of the Canada Pension Plan and the creation of a new national flag, now known the world-over as the quintessential symbol of Canada. Born in Newtonbrook, Ontario in 1897, Pearson died in Ottawa in 1972.

John Diefenbaker, though better known for his political achievements, was one of the over 600,000 Canadians who enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Diefenbaker, who was injured in a training accident, never had the opportunity to serve in a combat role in the Great War.

Later, as the thirteenth Prime Minister, his government introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights (1958), appointed the first Aboriginal Senator (1958), extended the franchise to all Native Canadians (1960), and created the National Hospital Insurance Plan (1961). It was his government that also cancelled the famous supersonic Avro Arrow program. Born in Neustadt, Ontario in 1895, John Diefenbaker died in 1979 and is buried in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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