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.