Political junkie donates private collection to Carleton

Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Robert Borden

Barry Wilson is a rare breed of political junkie.

The veteran journalist has collected the signature of every prime minister that has ever served in Canada – that’s 22 for anyone keeping count.

He has degrees in journalism, Canadian studies and political science from Carleton.

He’s even asked his wife to take a cab so that he could let a century old bust of Sir John A. Macdonald ride shotgun.

“His head was just (high enough) in the window,” says Wilson, laughing as he remembers buying the antique bust that survived the Parliament Building fire in 1916. Other motorists stared at what must have looked like an actual passenger.

After almost 50 years of acquiring rare and historically important keepsakes of Canadiana, Wilson has gone and donated it all to Carleton’s library.

“That was always my intention,” says Wilson on his massive donation of political memorabilia which includes a campaign poster from 1891 where Conservatives objected to a U.S.-free trade agreement. “Early on I decided if I ever finished it … I would give it away.

“I love Canadian history and I’d like others to have an interest in it as well.”

The entire collection is being scanned and will soon be available online, accompanied by an audio narrative that explains the significance of each piece.

It’s not hard to trace Wilson’s love of history back to its source.

In 1964, when Wilson was just a young teen living on his parent’s farm in Gatineau, Que., he designed a Canadian flag and sent it to then prime minister Lester B. Pearson.

“I was a patriotic young lad, so I created a flag that I thought would be worthy,” he says of his red maple leaf on a green field design.

Sure enough, several weeks later he got a response from Canada’s leader.

“I was incredulous,” he says. “A letter from the prime minister to a kid in Quebec. I was the talk of the town.”

Though his flag design was never adopted, the letter hung proudly in his bedroom for years – even surviving a house fire years down the road.

“I’m a political junkie,” he says, “but it all began with the Pearson letter.”

One of his favourite parts of the collection, which required the most elbow grease, is a Canadian Press photo of prime ministers Joe Clark, Jean Chretien, Kim Campbell, Pierre Trudeau and John Turner. He went to great lengths to get it signed by each person individually.

It was important for Wilson to get something from every single prime minister.

“While (prime ministers aren’t) always the most fascinating human beings in the world, there have only been 22 of them,” says Wilson, “so I’ve always taken an interest in who they were, how they got there and how they changed the country that I love.”


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Daniel Reid

By Daniel Reid

Whether it’s scientific breakthroughs, political manoeuvres or loaded technical jargon, Daniel Reid loves to untangle complex ideas to make them accessible to everyone. He is currently an editor at @newsrooms and is a former web editor at @CTVNews and homepage editor at @TheLoopCA. You can argue with him on Twitter at @ahatrack.

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