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Pembroke honouring Paul Martin Sr.

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Photo courtesy of Champlain Trail Museum
Paul Martin Sr. is joined by his wife, Nell, son, Paul Martin Jr., and daughter-in-law, Sheila Martin, as the MP for Essex East celebrates another election win. The former external affairs and health minister will be honoured today at Algonquin College's convocation when former Prime Minister Paul Martin accepts an honourary degree on behalf of his late father.

Photo courtesy of Champlain Trail Museum Paul Martin Sr. is joined by his wife, Nell, son, Paul Martin Jr., and daughter-in-law, Sheila Martin, as the MP for Essex East celebrates another election win. The former external affairs and health minister will be honoured today at Algonquin College's convocation when former Prime Minister Paul Martin accepts an honourary degree on behalf of his late father.

Had it not been for “Trudeaumania” history may well have recorded Paul Martin Sr. as the first Canadian prime minister to hail from Pembroke.

 

When the Liberals went to select the successor to Lester Pearson in April, 1968, Martin was the elder statesman with a wealth of cabinet experience and a stellar record on the world stage. In the end, he tied John Turner on the fourth ballot and withdrew from the race.

It marked the climax of a remarkable political career that spanned more than 33 years. Although he served under four prime ministers and eventually lost the chance to lead this nation to Pierre Trudeau, Martin Sr. arguably made some of the greatest contributions to our country though his work as a senior Liberal cabinet minister.

On Friday, the late external affairs and health minister's impressive legislative legacy, which included a national health program, unemployment insurance, old age security and UN peacekeeping in Cyprus, will be celebrated when his son, former Prime Minister Paul Martin Jr. accepts an honourary degree during Algonquin College's convocation ceremonies at the Pembroke Memorial Centre. This day will also give the community to reflect on one of its most famous sons.

Although he was born on June 23, 1903 in Ottawa, Martin Moved to Pembroke with his parents, Lumina and Joseph Philippe when he was just eight months old. They lived on Moffat Street opposite the Bishop of Pembroke’s residence near St. Columbkille Cathedral. His father found employment as a clerk at a grocery store owned by his sister's husband, Isidore Martin, who went on to be elected mayor of the Town of Pembroke. As a youth, Martin attended Pembroke Separate School on Isabella Street and spent much of his time at the newly built Carnegie Library on Victoria Street.

His first job was as a paperboy for the Pembroke Standard. Eventually Martin was inspired to go into politics after attending a political rally at the O'Brien Opera House where Prime Minister Robert Borden was delivering a speech. Like his hero, Sir Wilfred Laurier, Martin opposed Borden's conscription policy.

In 1918, Martin Sr. left Pembroke to attend high school at Collège Saint-Alexandre in Gatineau, Quebec. Initially he sought to enter the priesthood, however, he changed his mind during his third year and was admitted to St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto. During the summers, he returned home to work in the town's lumberyards.

Martin entered the political arena here in 1928 when he ran in a provincial byelection against Conservative Edward Dunlop, who won with 5,385 ballots to Martin's 3,184. After establishing a law practice in Windsor, Ontario, Martin Sr. won the federal riding of Essex East serving from 1935 to 1968. As health minister, Martin is widely credited along with Tommy Douglas as the fathers of universal health care in Canada. He also initiated the introduction of mandatory polio vaccinations for children. He joined the senate as the government house leader and finished his political career as the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

In a rare honour, the federal government granted the honorific of “Right Honourable” on Martin in 1992 despite the fact that he was not a prime minister, Governor General or chief justice of the Supreme Court. Later that year, he died at the age of 89.

The City of Pembroke has formally declared Friday as “Paul Martin Sr. Day.” In reading the declaration, Mayor Mike LeMay noted that Martin maintained a lifelong family connection to this community. Paul Martin Jr., a former businessman and finance minister who served as Canada's 21st prime minister from 2003 to 2006, will deliver the keynote address to Algonquin College's annual convocation at the Pembroke Memorial Centre.

As prime minister, Martin's administration passed the Civil Marriage Act, created the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, appointed Michaelle Jean, Canada’s first black Governor

General and reached a historic consensus with Canada's First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. Friday morning, the former Prime Minister will make a brief visit to the Champlain Trail Museum prior to the college’s convocation ceremony.

SChase@postmedia.com