Jack Pickersgill

John Whitney "Jack" Pickersgill, PC CC (June 23, 1905 November 14, 1997) was a Canadian civil servant and politician. He was born in Ontario, but was raised in Manitoba. He was the Clerk for the Canadian Government's Privy Council in the early 1950s. He was first elected to federal parliament in 1953, representing a Newfoundland electoral district and serving in prime minister Louis St. Laurent's cabinet. In the mid-1960s, he served again in cabinet, this time under prime minister Lester B. Pearson. He resigned from parliament in 1967 to become the president of the Canadian Transport Commission. He was awarded the highest level of the Order of Canada in 1970. In his later years, he wrote books on Canadian history, and he died in 1997 in Ottawa.

Jack Pickersgill

Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Bonavista—Twillingate
In office
August 10, 1953  September 18, 1967
Preceded byFrederick Gordon Bradley
Succeeded byCharles Granger
Personal details
Born(1905-06-23)June 23, 1905
Wyecombe, Ontario, Canada
DiedNovember 14, 1997(1997-11-14) (aged 92)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Political partyLiberal
OccupationTeacher, civil servant, politician

Early years

Pickersgill was born in Wyecombe, Ontario, on June 23, 1905,[1] the son of Frank Allan Pickersgill (1877- ) and Sarah Smith (1878- ).[2] His parents were born in Ontario. When he was a young child,[1] the family moved to Ashern, Manitoba, where his father was a farmer. John was the older brother of Thomas, Walter, Bessie,[3] and Frank Pickersgill, all born in Manitoba. He was educated at the University of Manitoba and the University of Oxford, and he taught history in Winnipeg.[1]

On July 3, 1936, at Emmanuel College Chapel, Toronto, J.W. Pickersgill married Beatrice Landon Young (1913-1938). A graduate of the University of Manitoba, Beatrice was born in Winnipeg, the daughter of Dr. Fred Armstrong Young (1875-1964), MD, and Landon (Wright) Young (1878-1931). The marriage ceremony was attended only by immediate family members. A gravestone in Old Kildonan Cemetery in Winnipeg memorializes the 1938 death of Beatrice, "wife of John W. Pickersgill."[4]

Senior civil servant

He joined the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa, and he was soon working at the Prime Minister's Office as Assistant Private Secretary to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.[1] In 1945, he became Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, and he was officially in charge of the Prime Minister's Office. He stayed on to work for King's successor, Louis St. Laurent, and became Clerk of the Privy Council in 1952.[5] He was a senior and trusted adviser to both Prime Ministers: "Clear it with Jack" was the byword on Parliament Hill for years.[1]

MP and Cabinet Minister

Pickersgill entered the House of Commons of Canada as Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Bonavista-Twillingate, Newfoundland, as a result of the 1953 election.[5] Pickersgill had become involved in Newfoundland politics at the informal request of leading federal politicians in the late 1940s and was instrumental in supporting Newfoundland's pro-confederacy movement. Pickersgill had no prior connection to the island.

He entered the Canadian Cabinet as Secretary of State for Canada in 1953, and he was named Minister for Citizenship and Immigration in 1954.[5] In 1956, when he addressed First Nations at a banquet following a re-burial ceremony, he suggested that the First Nations chiefs present should take jobs that would make them independent of government support.[6]

When the Liberal government was defeated in the 1957 election, Pickersgill was re-elected as an MP, and he became a leading tormentor of the new government of John George Diefenbaker from the opposition benches.[1] With the 1963 election and the coming to power of Lester Pearson as Prime Minister, Pickersgill returned to Cabinet, first as Secretary of State for Canada and Government House Leader, then as Minister of Transport.[5] In 1967, he retired from politics to become president of the Canadian Transport Commission.


In 1970, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada and was invested into the order in 1971.[7] He was later bestowed the title "The Right Honourable", usually reserved in Canada for certain members of the Privy Council (which he was a member of and its Clerk from 1952–1954),[5] for Prime Ministers, Governors-General and Chief Justices, as recognition of his service.


He and D. F. Forster authored the four volumes of The Mackenzie King Record, which was based on King's diaries. Pickersgill was a literary executor for King's diaries. Pickersgill is also the author of three political memoirs: My Years with Louis St. Laurent (ISBN 9780802022158), The Road Back (ISBN 9780802025982), and Seeing Canada Whole (ISBN 9781550410693).


  1. Canadian Press (1997-11-15). "Jack Pickersgill's influence spanned 30 years". The Toronto Star. Toronto. p. A16.
  2. Ontario Birth Index, 1905, microfilm number 2313288.
  3. 1911 Census of Ashern Township, Dauphin, Manitoba. Retrieved through FindMyPast.com (2019-08-26).
  4. "Beatrice Landon Young Weds J.W. Pickersgill in Toronto at Noon Today". The Winnipeg Evening Tribune. Winnipeg. 1936-07-03. p. 9.
  5. "PICKERSGILL, The Right Hon. John Whitney, P.C., C.C., M.A., LL.D." Parlinfo – Complete Parliamentarian file. Ottawa: Parliament of Canada. 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  6. Wencer, David (February 28, 2015). "Historicist: The Tabor Hill Ossuary". Torontoist. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  7. "J.W. Pickersgill, P.C., C.C., M.A., LL.D." It's an Honour. Governor General of Canada. 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
Frederick Gordon Bradley
Member of Parliament from Bonavista—Twillingate
Succeeded by
Charles Ronald McKay Granger
Political offices
Preceded by
Gordon Minto Churchill
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Guy Favreau
Preceded by
Lionel Chevrier
Liberal Party House Leader
Succeeded by
Guy Favreau
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