Canada's Prime Ministers, Macdonald to Trudeau: Portraits from the «Dictionary of Canadian Biography».


476 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9174-1
DDC 971.009'9




Edited by Ramsay Cook and Réal Bélanger
Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


Since all fifteen of the profiles in Canada’s Prime Ministers are available on-line, if not in print, the obvious question to ask is why anyone would want to buy this book, other than contributing to the financial coffers of the University of Toronto Press, which must strain under the load of publishing the DCB?


There are four answers. First, this book contains oodles of illustrations that do not appear in the other formats. When the text notes that, at 5'7'' Prime Minister Sir John Thompson weighed over 225 pounds, it is handy to have a picture of him opposite, especially since his weight contributed to the massive heart attack that killed him. Second, by reading the biographies consecutively, which a book of this type makes easy, one can get an good overview of Canadian political history — at least at the federal level — and that kind of perspective is not easy to come by these days. Third, one can easily compare our PMs in terms of their personal and political lives. How, for example, did King’s vision of national unity compare to Meighen’s? Finally, as one focuses in on individual events, such as the Conscription Crisis of 1917 or the King-Byng crisis of 1926, one gets the story told from a variety of perspectives based on the PM being profiled. The index, which is fairly good, helps reinforce this strength.


Because these profiles have been written by some of Canada’s best historians, and because a number of them have been written years after the standard biography was published, one secures what amounts to almost the latest word on the subject.


It should be noted that, unlike the other formats, the suggestions for further reading at the end of each profile are pretty skimpy. More seriously, some of the earlier biographies mention folks no longer familiar to the reader, so the plot lines get a bit confused. But for those with access to the internet, the start of a solution is at hand: do a search for these people in the online edition of the DCB. It is an amazing resource.


“Canada's Prime Ministers, Macdonald to Trudeau: Portraits from the «Dictionary of Canadian Biography».,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed January 26, 2023,