Unlike other countries, Canadians haven’t erected many monuments to their former leaders. There are a few statues of prime ministers from the era that statues were a thing, but not much else. Even most of their graves are understated and ordinary and not the overblown, ornate tombs that are national pilgrimage sites in other countries.
So they wouldn’t fall into disrepair and lapse into obscurity, the federal government created a program in 1999 to conserve and promote, with dignity and respect, the grave sites of the country’s deceased prime ministers.
Aptly named, the National Program for the Grave Sites of Canadian Prime Ministers encourages Canadians to visit these historic sites in order to reflect on the the lives and accomplishments of former prime ministers who have had an impact on the history of the country.
If you were to plan a road trip to see them all, you wouldn’t even have to cross all of Canada, but you would have to go overseas to visit one of them. Eight former prime ministers are buried in Ontario, four are interred in Quebec, two in Nova Scotia, just one in Saskatchewan and the only one not buried in Canadian soil lies in England.
If you feel like paying your respects to some Canadian legends, here are a few more details on the gravesites of some of the country’s most famous leaders:
Sir John A. Macdonald
Buried in Kingston, ON
Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, has always been ranked among the country’s great political leaders, but his legacy is controversial mostly due to his assimilationist policies towards the country’s indigenous population. Born in Scotland and raised near Kingston, Macdonald was instrumental in the making of the Canadian Confederation.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier
Canada’s first francophone prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, followed policies of moderation and reconciliation and always held the belief that Canada is an English-French partnership. He served as PM from 1896 until 1911 during a period of rapid growth and immigration. Alberta and Saskatchewan were welcomed into Confederation while he was in office.
William Lyon Mackenzie King
At 21 years, King holds the record for being Canada’s longest-serving prime minister. He was Canada’s PM before, during and after the Second World War and into the beginning of the Cold War. Among his most notable accomplishments were social programs that are familiar to Canadians today such as unemployment insurance and family allowances. His government also introduced the Canadian Citizenship Act.
One of Canada’s most beloved leaders, John Diefenbaker was a prairie populist and a stirring orator. When he came to office in 1958, it was with the greatest electoral victory in the country’s history. He is responsible for introducing the Canadian Bill of Rights.
Lester B. Pearson
A diplomat-turned-politician, Pearson is most famous for winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Suez Crisis after he proposed the concept of peacekeeping in the United Nations. Social programs that his government introduced include the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans and universal health insurance. The maple leaf flag that is flown today was introduced during his time in office.
Pierre E. Trudeau
St. Remi, QC
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Pierre Trudeau was a giant in Canadian history. His vision of the country was always of a strong united federation with equality among provinces and guaranteed rights for individuals in a bilingual, multicultural Canada. His most lasting accomplishment was the repatriation of Canada’s constitution and the entrenchment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Richard Bedford Bennett
Mickleham, Surrey, England
Bennett was Canada’s prime minister during the Great Depression. Ultimately, he became linked to the economic hard times in the minds of voters and wasn’t re-elected. He retired to Great Britain where he sat in the House of Lords. Although he was born in New Brunswick, he was ultimately buried in England, the only Canadian PM not to be interred in Canada.