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Biography of Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson

Updated on October 7, 2015

Lester Pearson's Humble Beginnings

Lester Bowles Pearson was born on April 23, 1997 in Newton Brook, Toronto. His father Edwin Arthur Pearson was a Methodist minister, his mother Annie Sarah Bowles was a devoted homemaker.

Lester Pearson was the middle child and had two brothers named Marmaduke and Vaughan. The Pearson family moved often due to the fact that Edwin Pearson was often called to new pastor positions at different church locations.

The salary of a Methodist minister at the time was around $700 per year, which left the family of five living in poverty. Despite financial hardships and the challenges of relocating frequently the Pearson family was a happy one, led by affectionate parents.

The deeply religious family had a passion for learning and Lester Pearson earned good grades during High School. After graduating from Hamilton Collegiate Institute Lester Pearson went on to study at “Victoria College” at the University of Toronto when he was sixteen.

Pearson Playing Hockey In 1922

Lester Pearson playing ice hockey in Europe while in Oxford University (Pearson is pictured in the front right).
Lester Pearson playing ice hockey in Europe while in Oxford University (Pearson is pictured in the front right).

Life at Victoria College

While living in residence Lester Pearson stayed devoted to his strict moral upbringing and avoided substances such as tobacco and alcohol.

Much like his athletic father, Lester Pearson portrayed excellent athletic skills, particularly in baseball, hockey, and lacrosse. He even managed to earn extra money as a semi-professional baseball player during his summer holidays.


Surviving World War I

During the First World War Lester Pearson made the decision to enlist as a volunteer in the army, leaving University after the completion of his second year. He was stationed in England, Egypt, and Greece.

Lester Pearson volunteered to work with the Royal Flying Corps, a dangerous line of work with a high mortality rate. Lester Pearson was nicknamed “Mike” after a flying officer decided the name “Lester” was not a tough enough name.

After Pearson completed a short six weeks of pilot’s training he crashed during his first solo flight, miraculously surviving the serious crash.

After recovering from his plane crash he was then run over by a London bus during a city wide blackout. The accident did not disable him but caused an emotional breakdown and Pearson was sent home as unfit for service due to “neurasthenia.”


Returning To Canada

Upon his return Pearson returned to VictoriaUniversity and to sports, graduating with a BA in 1919. After working a short time in Ontario and then Illinois for a meat-packing company he decided to study history at OxfordUniversity in 1920 on a scholarship.

He continued to be a both a great student and was noted as OxfordUniversity’s best hockey and lacrosse player, becoming a member of the British Olympic hockey team in 1922.

After two years at Oxford University Lester Pearson received a BA in modern history and returned to Ontario to become the history lecturer at the University of Toronto. It was during this time that Lester Pearson met student Maryon Moody, whom he married in 1925. Pearson and his wife had two children, a daughter named Patricia, and a son named Geoffrey.

Newspaper photograph of Lester Pearson in August 1944 published in the Star Newspaper Toronto.
Newspaper photograph of Lester Pearson in August 1944 published in the Star Newspaper Toronto.

Lester Pearson's Career

Lester Pearson began his career with the Department of External Affairs in the late 1920’s. In 1931 he served as secretary to the royal commission to inquire into trading in grain futures and then in 1934 “price spreads.”

In 1943 he became the chair of the United Nations Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture, and in 1945 Canada’s second ambassador to the United States.

In 1946 Lester Pearson served under Louis-Stephen St-Laurent as “undersecretary of state for external affairs,” playing a large role in the development of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Lester Pearson was appointed “secretary of state for external affairs” in the St-Laurent government on September 10, 1948. He ran for and won a seat in The House Of Commons and remained Canada’s “minister of external affairs” until the Liberals were defeated in 1957.

Nobel Peace Prize Award

On October 14, 1957 Lester Pearson won “The Nobel Peace Prize” for his part in bringing about a peaceful resolution to the “Suez Canal Crisis.”

Lester B. Pearson Speech - November 22, 1963

Lester Pearson Prime Minister of Canada

Lester Pearson became the fourteenth Prime Minister of Canada on April 22, 1963; he celebrated his sixty-sixth birthday the next day. As Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s government worked to develop Universal Health Care, the Canada Pension Plan, Student Loans, the Order of Canada, and the current red and white Canadian flag which features a maple leaf.

The Pearson government is also responsible for setting the foundation of bilingualism in Canada, making French, in addition to English, an official Canadian language.

Pearson’s Final Years

After leaving office in 1968 Lester Pearson became chancellor of Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. After learning that he had cancer in 1970 he chose not to retire but instead quickly write his “Prime Ministerial Memoirs” which reached publication in 1972. Lester Pearson died the same year on December 27.

Article References:

Ramsay Cook and Real Belanger. Canada's Prime Ministers-Macdonald To Trudeau-Portraits from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. University Of Toronto Press, 2007

Bruce Hutchison. Macdonald To Pearson - The Prime Ministers Of Canada. McCorquodale and Blades Printers.Ltd., 1967.

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