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The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

With a lawyer, an author and a few activists in the mix, these political spouses are more than just the women behind the men.
The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Canadian PM Wives

Agnes Macdonald (married to John A. Macdonald, in office 1867–73, 1878–91)

The second wife of Canada’s first prime minister, Agnes proved to be serious, puritanical and a spectacularly bad hostess. She learned to loosen up, riding 600 miles on a “cowcatcher” at the front of a Canadian Pacific train, with only an umbrella to protect her from rain and falling rocks.

The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Jane Mackenzie (married Alexander Mackenzie, in office 1873–1878)

The second wife of Canada’s second prime minister, Jane bore no children herself, but acted as stepmother to Alexander’s daughter from his previous marriage — an unorthodox arrangement for their times.


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Mary Abbott (married to John Abbott, in office 1891–1892)

Mary’s blood ties are worth mentioning: She’s the daughter of former McGill University President John Bethune and a distant relative of Dr. Norman Bethune, inventor of a mobile blood-transfusion service for frontline soldiers in the Spanish Civil War.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Annie Thompson (married to John Thompson, in office 1892–1894)

By all historical accounts, Annie was a bit of a spitfire: She encouraged her husband to vacate his position on the Supreme Court of Canada — which she said was stacked with “old crows” — to become Minister of Justice in 1885.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Frances Tupper (married to Charles Tupper, in office 1896)

Little is known about Frances herself, but she is the granddaughter of Col. Joseph Morse, a founding father of Amherst, Nova Scotia.


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Zoé Laurier (married to Wilfrid Laurier, in office 1896–1911)

Sundays were busy for this political wife: A formal luncheon preceded an open house, which was followed by family dinner and, finally, a game of cards — always bridge in the evening, though Zoé was known to prefer poker.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Laura Borden (married to Robert Borden, in office 1911–1920)

Robert Borden once called her the “chief support of all his life’s labours,” but Laura wasn’t about to be pigeonholed by wifely duties. She worked for the Red Cross during WWI and served as president of the Local Council of Women in Halifax. After Borden left office, Laura was active in the women’s guild of the All Saints Anglican Church in Ottawa, where she threw a garden party for the group every year on her husband’s birthday.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Isabel Meighen (married to Arthur Meighen, in office 1926)

Her first name was actually Jessie.


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Jeanne St. Laurent (married to Louis St. Laurent, in office 1948–57)

Sixty-two when her husband took office, Jeanne was the first resident of Sussex Drive. Displeased with the place — eyeing its hallway, she gasped, “I cannot live with that wallpaper!” — Jeanne rarely entertained, preferring the company of television and cigarettes.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Olive Diefenbaker (married to John Diefenbaker, in office 1957–63)

Theirs was a courtship that lasted three decades: John and Olive first met when she was 15; then again a decade later, by chance, on a train; 16 years after that, they spoke briefly in the back of a crowded hall; and nine years later, in 1953, they married.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Maryon Pearson (married to Lester B. Pearson, in office 1963–68)

Maryon established two enduring traditions at 24 Sussex: She hung the walls with Canadian art, and she launched an aggressive campaign of redecoration. After seeing the results, Oliver Diefenbaker complained that the gold and white dining room resembled a “watered-down shoebox.”


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Margaret Trudeau (married to Pierre Trudeau, in office 1968–79, 1980–84)

Margaret had two sons born in office on two separate Christmas Days, which invites comparisons to the Madonna. In hindsight, she might be a bit more like that other Madonna — equally adept at reinvention.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Maureen McTeer (married to Joe Clark, in office 1979–80)

A lawyer, a mother, a pro-choice advocate, an author and a skilled political campaigner — none of these attributes defined Maureen as much as the decision to keep her last name. Also, she made the unpopular decision to chop the Trudeaus’ yellow silk curtains in half; the press called it the Battle of the Draperies.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Geills Turner (married to John Turner, in office 1984)

Geills (pronounced “Jill”) is the great-niece of John McCrae, best known for his poem “In Flanders Fields.” In March 2008, she sued the City of Guelph over the ownership of her great-uncle’s wartime medals; four years later, the suit was settled, with the city’s McCrae House museum holding onto the hardware.


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Mila Mulroney (married to Brian Mulroney, in office 1984–93)

Referred by one columnist (not disapprovingly) as a “throwback to old times,” homemaker and mother of four Mila played a traditional role at 24 Sussex. Not everyone was pleased that she took a back seat, though: When Chatelaine named her Woman of the Year in 1985, the angry letters poured in.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Aline Chrétien (married to Jean Chrétien, in office 1993–2003)

Though fluent in four languages, Aline was a woman of few words during in tenure in Ottawa. Still, she was a great patron of the arts and showed prowess on the golf course, once landing a 105-yard hole-in-one.

The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Sheila Martin (married to Paul Martin, in office 2003–2006)

Before her husband took office, Sheila channelled her literary interests into an Ottawa-based committee called Politics and the Pen, which allocated funding to Canadian writers. She’s also something of a figure in the nautical community: “Sheila Ann,” a Canada Steamship Lines vessel, is named in her honour.


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Laureen Harper (married to Stephen Harper, in office 2006–2015)

Glimpsed details from this spotlight-shy Albertan show she had a politician’s gift for compromise: An avowed dog lover whose schedule couldn’t accommodate one, she instead fostered kittens from the local animal shelter; a proper Ottawa hostess, she tempered the refinement by bombing around town on a motorcycle.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wives

Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau (married to Justin Trudeau, in office 2015– )

Canada's reigning first wife cut her teeth as an entertainment reporter for Quebec TV stations LCN and CTV before entering the world of philanthropy. The list of charitable causes Grégoire-Trudeau currently supports is nothing to shake a stick at: mental health, clean water, domestic violence and eating disorders. Oh, and she's also a certified yoga instructor and mom of three. Phew.


The surprising lives of the Canadian prime ministers' wivesCredit, Anya Chibis.

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