When John Diefenbaker, Canada’s 13th prime minister, became chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan in 1969 he announced his intention to bequeath to his alma mater his personal and political papers, his library, and memorabilia realting to his political hero, Sir John A. Macdonald (1815-1891). The University accepted Diefenbaker’s offer and constructed the Diefenbaker Canada Centre to house these resources and educational exhibits concerning the life and times of "the Chief."
The Diefenbaker archive, containing over three million documents, is a rich resource for anyone interested in the history of Canadian political advertising. In addition to saving the promotional materials he had used as a Conservative candidate and leader at both the provincial and federal levels, Diefenbaker collected examples of the “propaganda” produced by his political opponents in the Liberal and CCF parties. His collections also include examples of political advertising by earlier Conservative leaders including Macdonald and Sir Robert Borden (1854-1937).
Born in Neustadt, Ontario on September 18, 1895, John G. Diefenbaker moved with his family to the Northwest Territories in 1903. Desirous of having their children attend secondary school and the newly-established University of Saskatchewan, William and Mary Diefenbaker moved the family, consisting of John and his younger brother, Elmer, to Saskatoon in 1910. Diefenbaker may have been the first person to receive three degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, taking a B.A. in 1915, an M.A. in 1916, and an L.L.B. in 1919.
Diefenbaker established a law practice in Wakaw, Saskatchewan, in 1919, later moving his practice to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1924. Diefenbaker entered public life as a Conservative a year later, when he unsuccessfully contested the constituency of Prince Albert in the Federal Election of 1925. Diefenbaker contested Prince Albert again in 1926, placing second to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.
Subsequently Diefenbaker refocused his attention to his legal career, building a successful law practice, and gaining a reputation as a highly effective defence counsel. Politics, however, remained his primary interest, and Diefenbaker turned his attention to provincial politics. He was a candidate for the Conservative Party of Saskatchewan in the riding of Prince Albert in the 1929 provincial election, in which he came within a few hundred votes of defeating Saskatchewan Attorney-General T.C. Davis. Diefenbaker became president of the Conservative Party of Saskatchewan in 1934, and its leader in 1936. The Conservative Party was shut out of the Provincial Legislature in the 1938 election.
Despite giving strong consideration to leaving public life, Diefenbaker was persuaded to stand as the Conservative candidate in Lake Centre in the federal election of 1940, which he won. Diefenbaker took his seat in the House of Commons in May of that year, and subsequently won election to Parliament 12 more times, serving as a MP until his death in 1979.
Diefenbaker was elected leader of the federal Conservative Party in 1956, remaining leader until 1967. In this capacity he served as Leader of the Official Opposition in 1956-1957, and 1963-1967, and as Prime Minister from 1957-1963.
Diefenbaker’s accomplishments as Prime Minister included: giving Aboriginal Canadians the franchise and appointing James Gladstone of the Blood First Nation to the Canadian Senate; providing price supports to, and new markets for Canadian farmers; the construction of the South Saskatchewan Dam; forcefully advocating liberty for Eastern Europeans living under Soviet oppression; leading the movement for racial equality as a fundamental principle of the Commonwealth; creating the Canadian Bill of Rights; and fostering a diverse Progressive Conservative caucus, which included appointing the first female cabinet minister, the first Ukrainian-Canadian cabinet minister, and welcoming the first Chinese-Canadian MP.