Firm Foundations

John George Diefenbaker was born on 18 September 1895 in Neustadt, Ontario. In 1903 he, his younger brother Elmer and their parents William and Mary, moved to a homestead near Borden, Saskatchewan. In 1910, the family relocated to Saskatoon where Diefenbaker graduated from Nutana Collegiate.

Diefenbaker’s admiration for his parents was undeniable. He attributed his quest for knowledge to his father and his unrelenting determination to his mother.

In June of 1929, Diefenbaker married Edna Mae Brower, a teacher. During his early political career, Edna was her husband's strongest and most dedicated supporter. She died of leukemia in 1951 and is interred in the Diefenbaker family plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Saskatoon.

In 1953, Olive Freeman Palmer became Diefenbaker's second wife. Although the couple never had any children, they raised Carolyn, Olive's daughter from her previous marriage.

Elmer and John Diefenbaker
Edna Mae Brower
Olive Freeman Palmer

A Memorable Moment

The experience made such an impression on Laurier that he mentioned the paperboy during his speech on campus. According to Diefenbaker, he was that boy.

In 1910, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier came to the University of Saskatchewan campus to lay the cornerstone for the College Building. While touring downtown Saskatoon, Laurier purchased a newspaper from a paperboy and the two began talking. After a while the lad ended the conversation saying, “Sorry Prime Minister, I can’t waste any more time. I’ve got to sell my papers!"

John G. Diefenbaker and the University of Saskatchewan

Faculty and students in the College of Law, 1915-16.
Diefenbaker is at bottom right

Long before John Diefenbaker became Prime Minister, he was a student at the University of Saskatchewan, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics. He also received a Master of Arts degree in absentia, while serving in England with the 196th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (a battalion comprised of students and professors from universities in western Canada). In 1919, he finished a Bachelor of Law Degree and became the first person to complete three degrees from the University of Saskatchewan.

For seven decades Diefenbaker maintained close relationships with the UofS community. He served on the University Senate from 1932 until 1950, and he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law.

In his memoirs, Diefenbaker commented that the University newspaper, “The Sheaf,” predicted that he would be Leader of the Official Opposition in forty years — a projection that was only off by one year.

The Chancellor's Legacy

It was in 1969, during his installation as Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan — a position he held until his death — that Diefenbaker announced his intention to bequeath all of his papers and personal possessions to the University. On 20 September 1975, Diefenbaker himself turned the sod that began the construction of The Diefenbaker Centre. The building officially opened on 12 June 1980.

Diefenbaker's final request was that he be buried on the UofS campus. After his death, his body was transported by rail from Ottawa to Saskatoon. As the train traveled across the country, people lined the tracks to pay final tribute to Canada's 13th Prime Minister. Diefenbaker and his second wife Olive are interred behind the Diefenbaker Centre overlooking the South Saskatchewan River.