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Turner JohnTURNER, The Right Honourable John Napier Wyndham - P.C., C.C., Q.C. -

(1929–2020) 

John passed away peacefully at home in Toronto on September 19, 2020, at the age of 91.

He leaves behind his wife of 57 years, Geills McCrae Turner (née Kilgour); his sister Brenda Norris; his children Elizabeth, Michael, David and Andrew; and his eight grandchildren Clare and Fiona Jasper (David Jasper), Robbie and Christina (Lara Zink), Dylan and Olivia (Deirdre Horgan), and Jack and Luke (Leslie Black).

John Napier Wyndham Turner was born in Richmond, Surrey, England, on June 7, 1929, to Leonard Turner, critic for the Manchester Guardian in London, and Phyllis Gregory, from Rossland, British Columbia, who was studying at the London School of Economics.

When his father died in 1932, his mother returned to Canada. In Ottawa, John attended Normal Model School, Ashbury College and St. Patrick’s High School. After his mother’s marriage to Frank McKenzie Ross, the family moved to Vancouver in 1945.

John graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1949 with an Honours BA in economics and political science. In addition to academics, he excelled in swimming and track. John qualified for the 1948 Canadian Olympic team, but an injured knee kept him from competing in the London Olympics. He attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, receiving BAs in jurisprudence and civil law, and a Master of Arts. He also engaged in graduate studies in French Civil Law at the Sorbonne in Paris. At Oxford, he was on the track team with Roger Bannister and Chris Chataway.

In 1953, John returned to Canada and launched a law career that saw him called to the Bar in Ontario and Quebec, where he was named Queen’s Counsel in both provinces. He was also called to the Bar in British Columbia, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, as well as in Barbados and Trinidad. Of his call to the Bar in the Northwest Territories, which took place in Pond Inlet, John was fond of noting that he was the only member to be called inside the Arctic Circle.

In June 1962, John was first elected to the House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for St. Lawrence–St. George, in Montréal, and was re-elected in the general elections of 1963 and 1965. He served in several portfolios, including Solicitor General of Canada. John was re-elected in the riding of Ottawa–Carleton in 1968 and appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada in July 1968 and Minister of Finance in January 1972. He left politics in February 1976 to join the law firm of McMillan, Binch in Toronto.

In June 1984, John returned to political life and was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and Prime Minister. Though he lost the ensuing election in September 1984, he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra and carried on as Leader of the Opposition until 1990 and as a Member of Parliament until 1993.

John served in the House of Commons for almost 25 years and is the only person in Canadian history to have represented three provinces as a Member of Parliament: Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

Following his resignation as Leader of the Opposition, John returned to Toronto and joined the legal firm of Miller Thomson, where he practised until 2013.

A passionate outdoors man, John reminisced on his 77th birthday that he had been “out on the water” for 70 summers. Starting with summer camp at age seven, he took his final run, mobility waning and cane in hand, for a canoe trip in Algonquin Park in his 77th year. John canoed all over Canada including epic trips with his family and great friend Bob Engle into the waterways of the Northwest Territories.

John was an active member of the Roman Catholic Church, but mostly a committed Christian with close connections with the Anglican Church. During his career, he was counsel to the Archbishop of Montréal and later Archbishop of Toronto. John was a good friend to many, from the local bartender to the Queen, and was interested in everybody’s story.

He spent a lifetime persuading Canadians to become involved in the democratic process. “Democracy does not happen by accident,” was his constant refrain.

A state funeral in memory of the Right Honourable John Napier Wyndham Turner will be held on October 6, 2020, at 11 a.m. at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto. Due to public health COVID-19 protocols, the church service is by invitation only. Canadians will be invited to watch the ceremony live on CBC/Radio-Canada television and web streaming platforms. 

Mr. Turner’s family appreciates expressions of support and asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the World Wildlife Fund Canada at wwf.ca/gift-in-memory and the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation at lowwsf.com/donate.

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