Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Mitchell Hepburn

Mitchell Frederick Hepburn (August 12, 1896 - January 5, 1953) was Premier of Ontario from 1934 to 1942.

The Hon. Mitchell Hepburn
(Image to come)
First Term:July 10, 1934 - October 21, 1942
Predecessor:George Stewart Henry
Successor:George Daniel Conant
Date of Birth:August 12, 1896
Place of Birth:St. Thomas, Ontario
Political Party:Liberal

Born in St. Thomas, Ontario, Hepburn worked as a farmer and also worked for the Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1913 to 1917. He briefly served in the Royal Air Force in World War I before returning to his farm. In 1926 he was elected to Parliament as a representative of Elgin West, and was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1930. In 1930 he became leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario. His support of farmers and free trade allowed him to defeat the unpopular premier George Stewart Henry in the midst of the Great Depression in 1934.

As premier, Hepburn closed the residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and cut back on other government spending in an attempt to alleviate the effects of the Great Depression, which Henry had been unable to solve. Hepburn also cut spending on electric power from Quebec, gave money to mining industries in northern Ontario, and introduced compulsory milk pasteurization.

He was opposed to unions and refused to let the CIO form unions in Ontario. On April 8, 1937, the CIO-backed General Motors plant in Oshawa went on strike, demanding 8-hour workdays, a seniority system, and recognition of their CIO-affiliated United Auto Workers union. The strikers were also suppoted by the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, Canada's left-wing party at the time. Hepburn, supported by the owners of the plant and General Motors, organized a volunteer police force to help him put down the strike when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King refused to send the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This force was somewhat derisively known as "Hepburn's Hussars," or the "Sons of Mitches." Cabinet ministers who disagreed with Hepburn over the issure were forced to resign. However, the strike held out Hepburn capitulated on April 23.

Hepburn remained a bitter opponent of Mackenzie King after the strike, and harshly criticized King's war effort in 1940 after the outbreak of World War II. He thought Canada should be doing more to support the war, and helped organize the military districts in Ontario, encouraging men to volunteer when Mackenzie King chose not to introduce conscription. Hepburn supported Mackenzie King's opponent Arthur Meighen in a by-election in Toronto in 1942, helping Meighen recover his seat in the federal government. However, King was politically much stronger than Hepburn, and Hepburn resigned in 1943. He became leader of the opposition in Ontario in 1944, but lost his seat in the 1945 provincial election and retired to his farm in St. Thomas, where he died in 1953.

Preceded by:
George Stewart Henry
List of Ontario premiers Succeeded by:
Gordon Daniel Conant