Memorable Manitobans: John Whitney “Jack” Pickersgill (1905-1997)
Born in Wyecombe, Ontario on 23 June 1905, brother of Frank Pickersgill, he moved when young to a Manitoba homestead. He graduated from the University of Manitoba with a BA in 1927, moving on to Oxford to study history. In 1929 he accepted a lectureship at Wesley College in Winnipeg, and he taught history there until 1937, when he wrote the civil service examination and finished first that year. He was appointed to the Prime Minister’s Office and remained there until 1953, rising to become Clerk of the Privy Council in the St. Laurent government.
Pickersgill was one of the most ardent supporters of Newfoundland’s entry into Confederation in 1949. With Joey Smallwood’s assistance, he ran for Parliament for the riding of Bonavista-Twillingate in 1953, serving in Parliament until 1967. He held several Cabinet portfolios (Secretary of State, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Transport Minister) before arranging his own appointment as Chair of the Transport Commission, which he as Minister had created. He retired from that post in 1975.
Pickersgill was an active writer on politics and political biography, as well as a memoirist. His first work was Canadian Responsible Government from British Hansard and Other Sources (1927). He also wrote The Mackenzie King Record (1960), The Liberal Party (1962), My Years with Louis St. Laurent: A Political Memoir (1975), Louis St. Laurent (1981), and The Road Back (1986). He was the author of an autobiography, Seeing Canada Whole: A Memoir (1994). He was given honorary degrees by the University of Manitoba (1967) and the University of Winnipeg (1982).
He died at Ottawa, Ontario on 14 November 1997.
“Pickersgill rumored for cabinet,” Winnipeg Free Press, 14 May 1953, page 19.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 22 November 1997, page 58.
We thank David Frank for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 12 March 2018
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