In the early winter of 1886-7 Laurier went boldly into Ontario where, addressing great audiences in Toronto, London and other points, he defended his position and preferred his indictment against the government. This was Laurier’s first introduction to Ontario, under circumstances which, while actually threatening, were in reality auspicious. It was at once an exhibition of moral and physical courage and a manifestation of Laurier’s remarkable qualities as a public speaker. Within a few months Laurier passed from the comparative obscurity to which he had condemned himself by his apparent indifference to politics to a position in public life where he divided public attention and interest with Edward Blake and Sir John Macdonald. When a few months later Blake, in a rare fit of the sulks, retired to his tent, refusing to play any longer with people who did not appreciate his abilities, Laurier succeeded to the leadership—apparently upon the nomination of Blake, actually at the imperious call of those inescapable forces and interests which men call Destiny.
Laurier, then in his 46th year, became leader of the Liberal party in June, 1887. It was supposedly a tentative experimental choice; but the leadership thus begun ended only with his death in February, 1919, nearly thirty-two years later. Laurier was a French Canadian of the ninth generation. His first Canadian ancestor, Augustin Hebert, was one of the little band of soldier colonists who, under the leadership of Maisonneuve founded Montreal in 1641. Hebert’s granddaughter married a soldier of the regiment Carignan-Salieres, Francois Cotineau dit Champlaurier. The Heberts were from Normandy, Cotineau from Savoy. From this merging of northern and southern French strains the Canadian family of Laurier resulted; this name was first assumed by the grandson of the soldier ancestor. The record of the first thirty years of Wilfrid Laurier’s life was indistinguishable from that of scores of other French-Canadian professional men. Born in the country (St. Lin, Nov. 20, 1841) of parents in moderate circumstances; educated at one of the numerous little country colleges; a student at law in Montreal; a young and struggling lawyer, interested in politics and addicted upon occasion to political journalism.—French-Canadians by the hundreds have travelled that road. A fortunate combination of circumstances took him out of the struggle for a place at the Montreal bar and gave him a practice in the country combined with the editorship of a Liberal weekly, a position which made him at once a figure of some local prominence. Laurier’s personal charm and obvious capacity for politics marked him at once for local leadership. At the age of 30 he was sent to the Quebec legislature as representative of the constituency of Drummond and Arthabaska; and three years later he went to Ottawa. The rapid retirement of the Rouge leaders, Dorion and Fournier