The late Edgar Benson, a former Canadian Minister of Finance was born in Cobourg, Ontario in 1923 to a poor family and lived in a home on the waterfront of Lake Ontario. Edgar John Benson was the youngest of three children born to Franklin and Julia. During the depression years Franklin was incapacitated by epilepsy. To support their family, his mother Julia worked as a house painter and a guard at the Cobourg jail and Edgar worked at a local garage. In 1941, Edgar graduated from the Cobourg Collegiate and immediately enlisted with the army and was assigned to the 1st Survey Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery and during World War Two he served in Britain, France, Holland and Germany as a ‘flash spotter’ which meant that he would fix the positions of enemy artillery.
After the war Benson returned to Canada in 1946 with a Dutch war bride, Marie Louise. Enrolling at Queen’s University in Kingston he earned a Commerce degree while spending the summers as a surveyor on the building of the Alaskan Highway and soon became a Chartered Accountant. In 1962 Benson entered the political arena with a federal nomination for Kingston and the Islands. In 1964, the 41 year old Benson was named to Lester Pearson’s cabinet as Revenue Minister and later served as the first President of the Treasury Board. Benson was at the Cabinet table as the Pearson government debated the introduction of a new Canadian flag and the timing of a national Medicare program.
On Pearson’s retirement in 1967, Benson threw his support behind Trudeau and with Quebec Cabinet Minister Jean Marchand chaired Trudeau’s leadership bid in 1968 which led to a majority government. In his later years as finance minister, Benson would reform the country’s outdated tax system and introduced a capital gains tax despite opposition from Canada’s business community. Benson served a brief stint as Canada’s Minister of Defence, but decided not to run in the 1972 election.
Edgar Benson played a direct role in helping the country set up two of our most lasting systems of welfare for our aging seniors, old age pensions and RRSPs. Canadian parents can thank Benson for child care tax deductions to help mothers enter the work force and for his part in establishing the Canada Housing Corporation. After retirement from politics, Benson continued to serve Canada as President of the Canadian Transport Commission and as our eleventh Ambassador to Ireland. The Honorable Edgar John Benson passed away September 2, 2011.
Note: Edgar Benson was related to the large Benson family from the Port Hope and Bewdley areas, most notably his aunt Mina (Benson) Hubbard. Mina Benson grew up on an apple farm near Bewdley, her primary education was in the in the village school and she taught in Cobourg for two years. She earned a place in history in 1905, as the first non-indigenous person to cross and explore the most remote back country of Labrador. The Nascaupee and George River System were first accurately mapped by her in 1905. Mina was the wife of Leonidas Hubbard who was famous for his ill-fated expedition to Labrador in 1903. Mina Benson’s historical plaque can be found on Cavan Road, south-east of Bewdley.