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David Lewis (BBHS ’27)

1909, Svisloch, Russia – 1981, Ottawa, Ontario

David Lewis was born in war torn Russia, living through the German Invasion and the Russian Revolution before moving to Montreal with his family in 1921.

Lewis attended BBHS in September 1924. There he was friends with A.M. Klein, who became one of Canada’s leading poets. During this time he acted as a political mentor to Irving Layton, another future prominent Canadian writer. Upon graduating from Baron Byng, Lewis attended McGill University where he helped found the Young People’s Socialist League and The McGillliad campus magazine. He graduated with a B.A. in 1931.

In 1932 Lewis was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University where he earned his M.A. in Law and Politics in 1935. While at Oxford, Lewis developed a number of relations with the socialist British Labour Party.

Upon returning to Canada, Lewis practiced law, labour law and worked with various political groups including the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and the League for Social Reconstruction. Throughout his career, Lewis made significant efforts to keep communism out of the labour movement.

In 1961, Lewis helped form the New Democratic Party (NDP). He then served as a party member and party debater, where he achieved a great deal of political prominence, including getting parliament to pension index significant institutions like Petro-Canada and the Foreign Investment Review Agency.

In 1971, after a tumultuous leadership convention, Lewis became leader of the NDP. In following election, in 1972, the NDP party elected the greatest number of NDP MPs enabling the party to hold the balance of power. The NDP propped up Pierre Trudeau’s minority Liberal government in exchange for the implementation of NDP proposals such as the creation of Petro-Canada as a crown corporation.

In the 1974 election, the NDP were reduced to 16 seats. Lewis lost his own riding, leading him to resign as party leader in 1975. In 1976, Lewis was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Canada in recognition of the contributions he had made to labour and social reform and the deep concern he had for his adopted country. David Lewis Public School in Scarborough, Ontario is named in his honour.

In 1943, Lewis co-wrote Make this Your Canada with F.R. Scott, then the CCF’s National Chairman. By Canadian standards, the book was popular, and sold over 25,000 copies in its first year of publication.  Lewis completed the first of two volumes of his memoirs, The Good Fight: Political Memoirs 1909–1958 in 1981.  He died shortly after on May 23, 1981, in Ottawa.  He is the father of Stephen Lewis, who in the early and mid-first decade of the 21st century was the United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

David Lewis, The Canadian Encyclopedia
David Lewis, NDP History
David Lewis, Wikipedia