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New Book by Trent University History Professor Demystifies the Phenomenon of Canada’s “Unusual” Prime Minister


Dr. Christopher Dummitt celebrates the release of “Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life”

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What happens when the private life of a politician becomes a national public interest story? Following the death of prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canadians quickly found out. In his newest book, “Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life,” Dr. Christopher Dummitt, a professor in Trent’s School for the Study of Canada, investigates King’s controversial diaries and the phenomenon that became “Weird Willie.”

“The story of how we came to find out about his oddities was as interesting as the oddities themselves,” says Professor Dummitt, an associate professor of History at Trent and faculty member in the School for the Study of Canada. “There was a real mystery there and people were fascinated by it. It does lead to the question of how in the 1970s, 25 years after his death, we came to let ourselves feature a politician’s personal life on television and in the media.”

This period marks a shift in Canadian culture as the line between political figure and pop culture icon was blurred, explains Prof. Dummitt.

“The book traces how Canadian culture evolved,” he adds. “It is the history of how we got to where we are today and how we began to view politicians as like us, which can be very positive and egalitarian, but we also lose a sense of respect for the privacy of political figures’ personal lives.”

Diving into stories of thefts in the public archives, the emergence of King’s diaries in underground markets, and the link between the missing diaries and Russian espionage, Prof. Dummitt’s book promises “a good story” and extensive insight into this formative historical moment of Canadian culture.

The public is invited to celebrate the launch of “Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life” at a special event on May 18 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Hunter Street Books in Peterborough. Prof. Dummitt will be in attendance and copies of the book will be available for sale.

About Trent University

One of Canada's top universities, Trent University was founded on the ideal of interactive learning that's personal, purposeful and transformative. Consistently recognized nationally for leadership in teaching, research and student satisfaction, Trent attracts excellent students from across the country and around the world. Here, undergraduate and graduate students connect and collaborate with faculty, staff and their peers through diverse communities that span residential colleges, classrooms, disciplines, hands-on research, co-curricular and community-based activities. Across all disciplines, Trent brings critical, integrative thinking to life every day. Today, Trent's unique approach to personal development through supportive, collaborative community engagement is in more demand than ever. Students lead the way by co-creating experiences rooted in dialogue, diverse perspectives and collaboration. In a learning environment that builds life-long passion for inclusion, leadership and social change, Trent's students, alumni, faculty and staff are engaged global citizens who are catalysts in developing sustainable solutions to complex issues. Trent's Peterborough campus boasts award-winning architecture in a breathtaking natural setting on the banks of the Otonabee River, just 90 minutes from downtown Toronto, while Trent University Durham – Greater Toronto Area, delivers a distinct mix of programming in the east GTA.


Kate Weersink, media relations & strategic communications officer, Trent University, (705) 748-1011 x6180 or

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