Characters > Historical

Sir Robert Borden
Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada
1911 -1920

Photo of Sir Robert Borden

In Fire on the Hill I tried to portray some of the frustrations that Sir Robert Borden felt with the British Government during the First World War.

Some of this is revealed when we first meet Borden during a security briefing by the head of his Dominion Police’s Secret Service, Inspector Andrew MacNutt, on the activities of German military attachés Captains von Papen and Boy-Ed. The prime minister is briefed shortly before his meet-and-greet with Count Jaggi, a German secret agent who is using Belgian Relief as a cover.

An example of the prime minister’s frustration can be seen when, on January 4, 1916, Borden wrote to Sir George Perley, the Canadian High Commissioner in London complaining:

“During the past four months since my return from Great Britain, the Canadian Government (except for an occasional telegram from you or Sir Max Aitken) have had just what information could be gleamed from daily press and no more. As to consultation, plans of campaign have been made and unmade, measures adopted and apparently abandoned and generally speaking steps of the most important and even vital character have been taken, postponed or rejected without the slightest consultation with the authorities of this Dominion.
It can hardly be expected that we shall put 400,000 or 500,000 men in the field and willingly accept the position of having no more voice and receiving no more consideration than if we were toy automata. Any person cherishing such an expectation harbours an unfortunate and even dangerous delusion. Is this war being waged by the whole Empire? If I am correct in supposing that the second hypothesis must be accepted then why do the statesmen of the British Isles arrogate to themselves solely the methods by which it shall be carried on in the various spheres of warlike activity and the steps which shall be taken to assure victory and a lasting peace?"

Biography

When Canadians elected Borden in 1911, they knew very little of the man. He was a plain, shy man. He never really excited the public like a Henri Bourassa, with his fiery oratory, or a Sir Wilfrid Laurier with his elegant style.

He was a modest, hardworking man with plenty of common sense. He had earned a large fortune as a lawyer in his native province of Nova Scotia and was notoriously tight with his money. He enjoyed going with his wife, Laura, to the Ottawa’s Farmers’ Market and haggling with the vendors. When the weather permitted he rode his bicycle to his office.

He was a patient man by nature, which stood him well when he had to deal with his fractious cabinet. He rarely lost his temper but when pushed he delivered a brutal reprimand or a heavy, sarcastic remark in cold anger. Sometimes his patience worked against him as he waited before cutting a colleague loose when it became obvious they had become a liability to his administration.

With all of his and his administrations’ faults, such as the Ross Rifle controversy, a chaotic Naval Policy, and Shell Committee scandals, Borden stood firm on two points:

Sources and further reading

Web

Borden, Robert Laird, Parliament of Canada, Parliamentarian File, Prime Ministers of Canada 

Sir Robert Borden, Library and Archives Canada, First Among Equals, Prime Ministers of Canada

Sir Robert Borden - The Canadian Encyclopedia

Sir Robert Borden, Wikipedia

Sir Robert Borden - Forging the Weapon

Print

Allen, Ralph. Ordeal by Fire, Canada, 1910-1945. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961.

Hutchison, Bruce. Mr. Prime Minister 1867-1964. Toronto: Longmans Canada.

Borden, Robert Laird, Sir. Robert Laird Borden: His Memoirs. Toronto: Macmillan, 1938.

Brown, Robert Craig. Robert Laird Borden: A Biography. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1975.